West Virginia is one of my favorite states. To me it is a land of wild and wonderful yet obscure places. I grew up going snow skiing in WV at resorts like Snowshoe and Winterplace. In August of 2015 Nella and I stayed at an Airbnb in Beckley, WV in order to do three photo shoots. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go back and see more of the state and surrounding areas! On this trip we stayed in Parkersburg and Huntington and took day trips to Marietta, Ohio; Ashland, KY; Buckhannon, WV; Point Pleasant, WV; and visited Valley Falls State Park as well as Audra State Park.
MAY 10-11: The very first thing we did after leaving home was take in an awesome acoustic set by Joe Purdy in Atlanta. The next day was spent driving through GA, SC, NC, VA, and WV to Parkersburg. We both slept hard that night after the long drive.
MAY 12: On our first full day in West Virginia we actually decided to go to another state to see the sites in Marietta, Ohio. It was an overcast, cool day with occasional brief and sprinkling rainfall. In spite of the dreary day the air wasn't particularly muggy or think like it is in Georgia this time of year. In fact, the high temperature for the day was in the 60s. I've always been fascinated with the Ohio River Valley so I was excited to explore a new town. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory and was founded in 1788 by officers of the Revolutionary War who were given land grants for their military service. We drove around the beautiful little downtown and eventually stumbled upon a quaint cemetery at the top of a hill that formed a square surrounded by historic homes. At the center of this cemetery is an ancient Native American burial mound known as Conus and was estimated by archaeologists to have been built between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. We were not expecting to find this so we decided to explore and take the stairs to the top of the mound. The view was largely shrouded by the tall, old trees in the cemetery but it was none-the-less a great view of the surrounding land. We also located a plot of Revolutionary War veterans. Before leaving Marietta, Nella and I stopped by Jeremiah's Coffee House and it was pretty awesome.
MAY 13: We decided to take a jaunt over to the central part of West Virginia to do some hiking at two state parks. Again, it was a cool and overcast day. I decided to take my Yashica Mat-124 G twin-lens camera along with me on the trails. I don't develop my film very often and have about 5 rolls sitting around my studio — So, I often take a through-the-lens photo to have something more immediate than the physical print. Being out in the hills, walking along rivers and waterfalls with Nella was amazing. We saw some pretty interested sites as we moved on from the parks as well. We came across something known as the "Pringle Tree" near Buckhannon, WV. Two brothers, John and Samuel Pringle, once lived in a hollowed out sycamore tree for the better part of three years starting in 1764. They eventually founded the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Nella and I got to see the third generation sycamore that occupies the same spot and it too is a hollow tree. We continued on to Buckhannon, WV and discovered that the West Virginia Strawberry Festival was going on! Honestly, it wasn't any spectacular but it was nice and we could tell it meant a lot to the little town. We had the most delicious chocolate covered strawberries and also purchased some strawberry syrup for my mother.
MAY 14: After breakfast at Tim Horton's we left Parkersburg, WV and crossed over the Ohio River. Hugging the river we traveled down Ohio State Route 7 through Pomeroy and Gallipolis before crossing into Huntington, WV. Nella discovered something interesting on the Internet — Camden Park. Founded in 1903, Camden Park is one of the oldest amusement parks still in operation. Walking around this obscure yet popular local fun park was a genuine treat for Americana-Kitsch enthusiasts like myself. As soon as I walked in I couldn't stop smiling. I wasn't sure if it was because I had found the epicenter of working class America, if it was because I has been essentially taken back in time, or both. We took a ride on a 64 year old roller coaster complete with chipped paint and semi-rotten wood. We also got our bones rattled on a ride called the "The Whip". Camden Park has a legit carousel and twister ride called the paratrooper as well. We got raspberry slushes and walked around taking it all in. Being at Camden Park feels like you're watching a 90s movie set in the 1960s.
MAY 15: Our hotel was in Ashland, Kentucky but only because we found a mega cheap hotel there. I think it was $47 per night with tax included. Ashland was a starting point for our next set of adventures. We drove up through Ohio and stopped by the tiny town of Rio Grande, the home of Bob Evan's. Imagine a restaurant like IHOP, Denny's, Cracker Barrel, and Shoney's crammed all into one and you'd have Bob Evan's. At the farms in Rio Grande we briefly tour THE Bob Evan's homestead and museum dedicated to his entrepreneurial spirit.
After that we continued on to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. This town is home to one of America's greatest modern folkloric tales and pop culture elements. Referenced on TV shows, fireside ghost stories, and even a movie starring Richard Gere called The Mothman Prophecies. You should read up on the real legend on your own time but a brief description is in order: Point Pleasant is a small town on the Ohio River that was the location of the Mothman sitings and influence. Many of the town's people claimed to see a large creature resembling a human except it had moth-like wings and red eyes. It terrified the community from 1966 to 1967. During this time hundreds had various experiences ranging from sitings of the creature, UFOs, strange military personnel, premonitions of doom, individuals experiencing unusual emotional stress, and other strange phenomenon. The culmination of events occurred on December 15, 1967 when the Silver Bridge collapsed killing 46 people. Some people in the area claim to have had precognitions of the bridge's collapse. All-in-all it's a very weird account! We thoroughly enjoyed touring the roadside attraction known as the Mothman Museum as well as the Mothman statue in downtown. We even went to the old "TNT" area north of town to explore the military weapons storage igloos dating from WWII. Supposedly Mothman was sited in the vicinity many times.
Out of Point Pleasant we headed south along West Virginia Route 2 hugging the banks of the Ohio River. Outside of Huntington we stopped at another kitschy road-side attraction called Hillbilly Hot Dogs. I absolutely love hot dogs. I tried the Harrison Dog which comes with "hot dog sauce", nacho cheese, sautéed onions, sour cream, and bacon bits. It was insane but good. The attraction to the place is all of the stuff they've collected over the years. Old school buses, cars, strange little artifacts of yesteryear which lost their purpose long ago. They even have a Hillbilly wedding chapel. It was quite the experience.
MAY 16: Once we got to Beckley, WV I had two shoots. One was a video shoot for a friend named Ryan Smith whom I met in 2014 when I photographed his band. This go 'round he wanted a video of him playing acoustic songs to present to venues for booking purposes. His style is traditional mountain finger-picking. His goal is to play more shows at local festivals, music venues, and even churches. The other shoot I did was for Emmalea Deal, whom I had also worked with in the past. After the shoots, Nella and I had dinner that night at Poncho & Lefty's, a Baja style taco restaurant in West Virginia.
MAY 17: It was time make the long drove home. Me and Nella ended up stopped in Asheville, NC for dinner as well as exploring some other things we spotted along our drive home. It was wonderful trip!