Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Dolly Sods

It's time to get back to blogging about our everyday life again, now that I have finally (well, almost) exhausted the memories of our trip to England and Wales. What better place to start than our recent visit to Dolly Sods?

Dolly Sods is a wilderness area in Grant county, WV and is named for the Dahle family who were early German settlers in the area and once owned the mountain.

Its rugged terrain with some of the highest altitudes in our state. These days it is a popular destination for hikers and campers, and berry pickers often come in summer to hunt for the wild blueberries and huckleberries.
There are signs around the area warning of live bombs and ammunition, remnants of World War II training that was conducted here.

It has been quite a while since we were up on Dolly Sods. I had a storytelling event in Grant county last week though, and combined a visit with my oldest son and his family who live in Grant county, the storytelling performance and a quick trip to see the spectacular views from the mountains.

I was surprised that there were so many people there on a Monday.It was very windy and chilly, but there were a lot of people, especially on Bear Rocks which supplies some easily accessible, stunning views. In summer, one needs to be wary of snakes--rattlesnakes and copperheads love this wild land and all the rocks. The wind was so fierce when we were there this time that I had to be extremely when I was out on the cliffs taking photos.

Bears are frequently sighted here, and the smart visitor knows to keep their distance because while black bears are generally not aggressive, a person could inadvertently irritate the bear by getting too close to its young, for instance. We saw neither snakes or bearss this visit, although we have seen both in the past.

About 20 years ago Larry and I camped up on Dolly Sods, and I came away with two memorable stories. Well, maybe three. First, my son and grandson came up to visit us at our campsite. Clayton was 4 or 5 years old I think. We had a campfire and roasted hotdogs and marshmallows, and  Clayton and I went bear-hunting. It was such fun to play imaginary games with him! I still smile, remembering how much he loved being up there, and how he begged to spend the night with us. My son knew his boy, though, and was pretty sure that come midnight, Clayton would have been wanting to go home.

Teaberry is abundant on Dolly Sods. The berries smell exactly like
Clarks Teaberry Gum!
The second memory is of an elderly gentleman who was camping nearby. He was a member of the Dolly family and told us about his boyhood in the area, and about coming up on the mountain to pick berries. According to him, everyone turned their cattle, sheep and hogs loose to grave on the mountain in the summer, and they would go up and round them up in the fall--very like the Swiss do.
He also told us that people used to set the mountain on fire intentionally every 3-4 years so that the berries would grow. This kept the trees and other growth from shading out the berry bushes.

Erosion is evident on the rocks, and most of them seem to be
made of sedimentary material--which is odd, considering
that they are on top of a mountain. The red leaves of a
blueberry or huckleberry bush are behind it.
He said that once the federal government took it over they had to stop the burning, although they would still sneak up there and do it for the first few years after the government came in. He said the burning was probably the reason for all the exposed rocks, and that could be true, as the settlers took the practice from the Native Americans, so who knows how long that had been going on? Given the winds and the relatively dry climate on Dolly Sods, it seems reasonable to think that the top soil would have blown away, exposing the rock. True or not? I don't know.

Wikipedia offers a different version of the history of the area: "The area surrounding Dolly Sods was formerly described as the best spruce-hemlock-black cherry forest in the world, with some enormous trees up to 12 feet in diameter. The huge spruce and hemlock became accessible in 1884 when the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railroad, a predecessor of the Western Maryland Railway, first arrived at nearby Davis, from a junction with the B&O Railroad at Piedmont. In 1899, the Parsons Pulp and Lumber Company (PPLC) established a sawmill at Dobbin on the North Branch Potomac River in Grant County. In 1902, the PPLC installed a new band saw mill on the main stem of Red Creek. The lumber boom town of Laneville soon sprang up around it with a population that peaked at over 300 people.[8]Shay locomotives climbed the temporary railroads into the mountains and backcountry logging camps sprang up throughout the Sods, clearing away the virgin forest to feed the hungry mills. Teams of draft horses dragged all the commercial timber to the nearest tracks. When the timber was exhausted in the sector around one camp, the rails were taken up and reused elsewhere. It was into the mill at Laneville that most of the timber of the southern two thirds of the Sods disappeared.

"Unfortunately, however, the humus covering the ground dried up when the protective tree cover was removed. Sparks from the locomotives, saw mills and logger's warming fires easily ignited this humus layer and the extensive slash — wood too small to be marketable, such as branches and tree crowns — left behind by loggers. Fires repeatedly ravaged the area in the 1910s, scorching everything right down to the underlying rocks. All insects, worms, salamanders, mice and other burrowing forms of life perished and the area became a desert. The destruction was extraordinary.[9] The complete clearcut of this ecologically fragile area, followed by extensive wildfires and overgrazing, exacerbated by the ecological stresses of the elevation, have prevented quick regeneration of the forest which has taken decades to recover. The Monongahela National Forest was created in 1915, largely motivated by a desire to mitigate the sort of wholesale destruction that had swept over the Sods. In 1916 most of Dolly Sods was purchased by the federal government for the MNF from the Bridges Estate." 

The third memory is a story that I laugh at now although at the time it wasn't quite so funny. On that same camping trip we had dropped off our youngest son to spend a week with our son in Virgina. It was a treat for us to have a camping trip with just the two of us. After my son and grandson left, we prepared for bed. I went to get my bag and it wasn't there.

"Larry," I said, "did you get my bag?"

"We just have one, don't we?" he asked. "I gave Tommy his two, and ours is in the car."

Um, no. We had two--one for him and one for me. So there I was on top of lonely Dolly Sods with no clean clothes, no sweatsuit to sleep in (gets cold up there, even in August), and no clean underwear.

You can imagine how quiet it was in our tent that night. I was so angry but knew better than to start talking!

Next morning we went out to pick berries, the reason we were there in the first place. As I stretched to reach one patch, my foot slipped and I heard a R-R-R-I-I-I-P-P-P! That was the seat of my pants--and my shirt did not come down far enough to cover the hole. The trip home was even quieter than the night in the tent--I had no clothes to change into so any bathroom breaks for me meant a run into the bushes. That was a trip to remember--and now to laugh about.

One path I went down took me to a lovely spot, a small clearing surrounded by tall pines.

In its center was a witch hazel tree in bloom.

Such a pretty, unexpected sight when all other trees are losing their leaves.

We did not get to the very end of Dolly Sods. Time passed so quickly up there, and we needed to get back so I could prepare for my storytelling event that evening. I hope we can return soon, perhaps in the spring after the snow melts and the road re-opens.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without to Susanna Holstein.


Mac n' Janet said...

Sounds like a great place to visit. Your problem with the suitcase or lack there of, sounds like something that would happen to us.

Granny Sue said...

I can imagine, Janet! You do a lot of traveling...which means anything can happen.

Brig said...

Such interesting tales you have, I enjoy them. I don't go very far from home without my bugout packpack, and it has extra clothes.

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