After work on Saturday we hopped in the car and were off to Cathedral State Park.
Cathedral has a stand of virgin hemlocks, and it used to have the largest hemlock in the US till it was lost to a lightening strike in 2004. These trees were BIG. Not as big as I remember the trees in Muir Woods, but these are much closer to home.
We took Rt 7 through Kingwood and Terra Alta, and I could see on my map a road that connected to Aurora, but we couldn't find the road. So it took a little longer than I planned, since we drove into Maryland and down to Rt 50 and then back into WV. Almost 2 hours, with stopping for gas. But it was worth it!
Keith and I love these broad trails through shady woodlands, I think of them as "The King's Road" and we imagine what it would be like to be Aspar White, the King's Holter. His job was to protect the forest and the travelers who passed through it. Yes, we pretend to be characters out of storybooks when the trail is easy walking (as most of the trails at Cathedral are). When we have to scramble up steep slopes or over loose rocks, we shut up and concentrate on not falling down. So we basically never shut up the whole trip.
The Hemlocks are HUGE. There was no way to capture the whole tree in a photo. The biggest one in the park is 22 feet around.
I spent a good deal of time standing with my head tilted back trying to see the tops of them.
The Partridge Berry trail was the first detour we took from the Cathedral Trail. If you are hiking in this park, beware! The trails are not marked very well. Cathedral Trail is marked with a red blaze, but not very often. We got lost about halfway up the Partridge Berry Trail. I guess because there is not a lot of undergrowth in this kind of forest, and even where there is it is leafless this time of year, so we couldn't distinguish path from not-path. Keith's tactic is to follow the sound of water, streams are good landmarks. So we found the stream. And evidently others before us had done so as well, because we found a graveyard of old liquor bottles.
We wandered around in the Trackless Woods for a while till we stumbled across a trail. Keith knew it was a trail because a log had been chainsawed to clear the path. We checked out the Trillium Trail, but we're either too late or too early for trilliums. There are more than 50 species of wildflowers growing in the park, but we didn't see any of them.
I did see plenty of moss, apparently it thrives there. Fallen trees were covered with it, it was almost 3 inches deep in some places. The trail map says 3 species of club moss grow here. Nine species of ferns have been identified too, although I left my fern book at home I had a lot of fun trying to tell them apart.
The Cathedral Trail circles the entire 133 acre park, which doesn't really feel that big, compared to, say, the Monongahela National Forest where we usually hike. It didn't take us long to find ourselves back at the picnic area, so I took the opportunity to put my sweatshirt in the car and go to the bathroom. We had a little snack and then took off on the upper leg of the Cathedral Trail.
A little ways up the trail we encountered a sign thumbtacked to a tree warning us of a large hole in the trail and suggesting we turn back. Not Likely, says Keith. Seems like a tree fell and it's root system took out a good portion of the trail. The root ball was probably 8 feet across. Neat. We hiked on...
Eventually Keith asked me where I put the car keys, and my blood ran cold. I had left them in the bathroom. So we turned around and jogged all the way back to the picnic area. I felt sick. They weren't in the restroom.
But they were at the Ranger's Office. The park ranger didn't even ask us anything, as soon as he saw us stagger onto his porch he held the keys up and jingled them, saying "Looking for these?" Yay, someone found them and turned them in (instead of determining that there was only one VW in the parking lot and choosing to steal it). So after the adreanline of terror started to fade, we decided to call it a day. We headed out on Rt 50 West with the idea that we would stop at Cool Springs for dinner. Cool Springs was so packed with tourists that there was no place to sit down, and you couldn't walk through the aisles of the junk store without rubbing elbows with someone.
We got back on the road, ending up at a local place called Monroe's Family Restaurant in Kingwood. It was OK food. The onion rings were AWESOME, but everything else was just so so. I ordered a salad and it had ONE PIECE of lettuce in it (it was a big piece, but still) and instead of capicola it had rolled up pieces of ham lunch meat, and the house "vinagrette" was so sweet I could taste nothing but the HFC. Keith ordered a steak hoagie, and I am guessing that there arean't very many Italians in Kingwood because it was not up to our standards of a REAL hoagie. But Keith said it was tasty enough. The servers were nice, the prices were reasonable, and if I find myself in Kingwood again I might stop in there to eat. But I would not drive to Kingwood on purpose to eat there.