Thursday, November 22, 2007

Weekend Post 5: Smoke Hole

There is a place in West Virginia I'd always meant to visit. Each time we passed the road that said "Smoke Hole" I'd feel pulled to turn in and explore. But we were always on our way somewhere else and on a schedule. So Smoke Hole remained on my to-see list.

I'm not referring to Smoke Hole Caverns, the touristy stop on Rte 28 that offers tours of some interesting underground caves. I've been there several times with my sons and grandchildren. The real Smoke Hole is another cave, but this one is on top of a mountain. The cave is shaped like a beehive, with a hole in the top. Native Americans used to smoke their meat in the cave, hence the name.

On our return trip last Sunday, we had to pass the road to Smoke Hole. "Turn up there," I told my husband. He sighed; he knows my whims and my urge to "just look" at places along our travels. And that I'll probably ask him to stop many times so I can take photos. The man deserves a badge for patience.

Soon after we started up Smoke Hole Road, this sight greeted our eyes...

And it just got better from there. Tumbles of rocks, small caves, sharp turns with breathtaking views were everywhere. After what seemed like 10 miles, but probably was more like 5, we came to a small settlement. Fishing camps were everywhere, because the road came out on a back stretch of the South Branch of the Potomac. An old store and this log church were on the bank above the river. The church was built about 1850 and was known as the Episcopal Meeting House.

We turned right to head back to a highway and home, realizing that we'd taken a good long detour with this trip. We did not try to hike up to the Smoke Hole--that will have to wait for a trip dedicated to that purpose. But as we drove along the side of the river, a historical marker caught our eye.
It turned out to be the site of the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier named William Eagle. He joined the army in 1776, fought with several companies, was at Valley Forge and Yorktown, then returned to the mountains. He lived until 1848, a grand old man of 87.

A nearby rock outcropping, called Eagle Rocks, was named in his honor. I tried to imagine what this place was like back when Mr. Eagle was living--it is remote enough today, accessible by a twisting one-lane road, bound by high mountains, and enjoying fairly rugged weather in winter. Back then, the natives probably weren't too welcoming either, and there would have been plenty of bear and panthers about. But peaceful too, quiet and incredibly beautiful.
Even today the water in the South Branch is crystal clear. A few trout fisherman were casting lines as we passed, and one told us he'd caught a four-pound trout the day before.

Not a bad place to spend eternity, is it?

We finally got out to Rte 220, and came out at last back on Rte 33 after completing a long, large circle through the mountains. Seneca Rocks was a beautiful as ever in the late autumn sunlight.

When we got home, we were greeted by our visitors, oldest son George and his son Clayton. They came home for a few days of deer-hunting. Luck was with them, because they both went home yesterday with a deer for the freezer.
I do believe this is the last of the posts from last weekend's journey. Family, storytelling, sightseeing, old graves, fruitcakes, and home. It just doesn't get any better than that.

1 comment:

Matthew Burns said...

Great post. I might clarify a little, there are many caves in the Smoke Hole region. Some say they were used for smoking meat, hence the name Smoke Hole, others say the "smoke" comes from the fog that rises out of the caves. Many of the caves were used for salt petre back in the day, since it was a necessity from making gunpowder. There's not just one Smoke Hole cave, that whole mountain is riddled with caves. If you cross North Mountain, which is the western border of Smoke Hole, you will cross into Germany Valley. There is another pretty well known path that was used for travel before they built Route 33 that went from Smoke Hole to just below Seneca Rocks. It is still locally used for cattle drives and such.

The early records of Pendleton County refer to this region as "Smoke Holes" plural, rather than the singular name of today. My Kile family (earlier spelling was Coil) came from this area, and later settled in Germany Valley.

Also, another thing about Smoke Hole. As many will recognize, Pendleton County is a good decade behind the rest of the state in progress. Well, just as Pendleton County is behind the rest of the state, Smoke Hole is a decade behind the rest of Pendleton County. I think that is a good thing. Until the government made a road and a campground down in there, the people there maintained a really old way of life that had been handed down for generations.

I remember one time when I was in my early teens, we went camping and stayed right under Eagle Rock. I didn't sleep all night and took a swim in the river just as the sun was coming over the mountains. It was really beautiful, and that water was so cold. Of course, it was in April! I still remember floating down that river as the day was breaking.

Thanks for taking me home in this post. I appreciated the quick trip down memory lane.

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