It’s possible you’ve visited Pocahontas County and never knew it. But chances are high, you’ve never seen this wild, wonderful part of the mountainous state, and it’s time you make that trip.
West of Harrisonburg and Staunton, Virginia, the drive to Pocahontas County requires traversing up and over the highest mountain range in the Appalachians. What makes the land here different from the panhandle of Virginia are the frequent valleys mixed with intermittent steep and rolling peaks. These mountains are covered with hardwood trees, dark green in the summer months and bursting with color in the fall. Due to frequent rainfall, the valleys below are lush with swaths of wildflowers and grasses. These forests, streams and wilderness areas are part of the Monongahela National Forest.
Wildlife thrives here. You’re likely to see a bald eagle soaring overhead, a few deer passing through, along with foxes, beavers, wild turkeys, and an occasional bear. Thanks to the patron saint of West Virginia, Senator Robert Byrd, these West Virginia roads are recently paved and well maintained. The signage is pretty good too, but you’ll still need a map. You can’t get a cellular signal out here—so no GPS (but you have a good excuse not to check email)!
There are countless boiling brooks, and fast moving streams crossing through the fields. Because the county is mostly uninhabited, at night, the dark sky yields one of the most vivid views of the Milky Way on the East Coast. On clear nights, when clouds don’t get in the way, you can watch as shooting stars cross the galaxy, so often, you’ll lose track of how many.
An occasional farm or clapboard house dot the countryside. Lots of picturesque barns house horses, cattle, goats and even llama. Look for the quilt signs on the sides of barns. These are like a “coat of arms” in this part of the world.
Plan to stay the night—it’s a pretty tiring drive out there. Book a reservation to stay in the mystical corridors of the Inn at Mountain Quest. This Inn/Science Center feels delightfully otherworldly, thanks to the unique collection of objects the owners have collected in their travels. Alex and Dave, the owners, were both practicing scientists before leaving the Washington DC Area. Since they built their dream retreat from a 1905 farmhouse, they continue their passion for knowledge and neuroscience, focusing on the mysteries of the earth, human interaction and spiritual beings.
Wife Alex is famous for her original photos of ghostly figures made of fog, an unexplained phenomena, while husband Dave proudly shows off their breathtaking two-story library, complete with mobile ladders and handsome wood paneling. Their library features thousands of science books and journals and is officially part of the West Virginia library association. So while you’re here, feel free to borrow a book (but you must return it by mail). Each of their guest rooms have a different theme, so you may end up sleeping under mosquito netting in the Africa Room, or tapestries in the Olde World room.
The cook at the Inn at Mountain Quest is the shy and talented Chef Andrew. He prepares multi course meals of fresh vegetables and perfectly cooked proteins. His desserts are all baked from scratch. The Inn serves breakfast, cooked to order, with your choice of eggs, waffles or pancakes, from 8-9 am.
One of the many interesting features of the grounds surrounding Mountain Quest, are the cobble stones buried in the ground in the shape of a labyrinth. You can walk the meandering paths and use it to meditate, or just relax to the sound of the rushing spring behind the Inn.
Just a few miles from the Inn at Mountain Quest is the Green Bank Telescope. Operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cass, West Virginia, this world premiere astronomical telescope and Observatory has an active engineering research and development program focused on digital, mechanical, structural and software engineering. Its remote location in Pocahontas County makes the Green Bank laboratories ground zero for a variety of research experiments, and it serves as a field station for international and university research teams.
Despite the long drive to this pastoral region, the Green Bank Science Center is visited by more than 50,000 people every year. We took one of the five daily tours to see the Telescope and learn about its complicated mission. The Telescope needs complete isolation from high frequency radio waves that could disrupt the readings it maintains; disruptions from machines like microwave ovens, garage door openers and even digital cameras. To maintain this pristine state, Green Bank sends a team in a ghostbusters-like-van to hunt down violators of their clear radio frequency space. Green Bank Visitors Center also has a very entertaining exhibit space where you can further explore the concepts they teach, as well as a snack bar and gift shop full of science toys and gifts.
Near the Telescope grounds are a few shops with handmade crafts and locally produced food, including Green Bank Art Center and Durbin Art Center. These shops have treasures made of reclaimed wood, handmade jewelry, charming pottery, crocheted clothing and beautiful quilts. The Green Bank Art Center also hosts regular art classes, while the Durbin Art Center, next door, sells coffee beans, honey and maple syrup all produced locally.
During different parts of the year, Pocahontas County hosts a few events, including a world renowned herbal fair, the quilt trail and a few mountain music festivals.
Besides seeing the Telescope, spend some time visiting the beautiful Lake Moomaw, take a ride through the mountains on the Cass Scenic Mountain Railroad, or head to Snowshoe Mountain Resort for some skiing, mountain biking or hiking. This MidAtlantic destination, with its exciting combination of science and nature, is different from any other.
All photos and images are copyright protected by Renee Sklarew
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.