By Charlene S. Mixa
A Wild and Wonderful Mountain Vacation
Imagine scenic vistas with verdant mountains of steep hills and deep valleys, serene retreats, country culture, and serious adventure! The best kept secret in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains is Southern West Virginia. A wild and wonderful destination with exciting adventures of rafting and climbing, hunting and fishing, thrilling winter sports, amazing artisans, beautiful unique regional crafts, and wonderful mountain cuisine. This corner of West Virginia offers scenery and natural beauty for all four seasons. Surrounded by spectacular views and teaming with exciting activities there is always something wonderful to see and do.
With my early childhood years in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, I am a “mountain girl” at heart. Trips to the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia are exciting where the views are breathtaking, the air cooler, outdoor activities plentiful, the rivers exciting and all with that special country, down home charm. Our drive to West Virginia takes us along the winding mountain roads. In some instances tunnels actually go “through” the mountains. The Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia spread out before us covered with lush forests.
Arriving in Beckley, WV in the southwest corner of the state, we spot the peaked red roof of Tamarack and its attractively landscaped grounds. This one-stop-shop features West Virginia culture, heritage, fine art, regional cuisine and music. We browse the shopping area admiring the quality and creativity of the craftsman and artisans work with textiles, metal, wood, pottery and even coal. I love the quilts with the unique and colorful patterns. Employing a rigorous jurying process, Tamarack assures product quality and authenticity. The food court is not your usual food court. Managed by the famous Greenbrier Resort, the eclectic menu offers dining from deli-style sandwiches to hot foods. Richard has a yummy home-made chicken pot pie and I try a regional favorite the southern fried green tomato sandwich with layers of fried green tomato, crispy bacon and melted Swiss cheese on a toasted bun. After lunch we continue shopping the fantastic local and regional crafts.
A short drive from Beckley is the Resort at Glade Springs with its spectacular setting in the midst of a gorgeous 4,100-acre property in the Appalachian Mountains. Touring the property we are impressed with the variety of recreational activities. At the Club House, the Pro gives us information and recommendations on the resort’s three championship golf courses. The large outdoor pool is busy this Sunday afternoon as is its cozy Small Talk Café. Driving to the Leisure Center we locate the Spa, Bowling Alley, Indoor Pool, Fitness Center, Video Arcade and a Cinema where people are gathering for an afternoon show. There is even an Equestrian Center.
Our King Executive Room with a parlor is actually two separate hotel rooms. One large room features a king bed with fine linens, a comfy couch, a desk, TV and entertainment center. An elegant and spacious bathroom has granite countertop with two sinks, an oversized Jacuzzi tub and a large closet with plush bath robes and safe. The parlor is a connecting room offering a large sitting area with a couch and chairs, a gas fireplace, a spacious desk and TV plus a granite topped wet bar with a refrigerator and sink An extra plus is the separate bath and shower allowing each of us to have our own bathroom. The balcony allows us to relax and enjoy the views and cool mountain air.
For dinner it’s Pasquale’s Mira Italian Restaurant in Beckley. Sitting in the enclosed patio room with rich stone walls and huge windows we enjoy the open-air feel. “Fried olives,” a unique appetizer of black olives stuffed with cheese, breaded and deep fried, are delectable. My angel hair pasta with meat sauce is delicious and Richard enjoys his tasty veal piccata. Owners Donna and Brian Williams stop by and share their story of getting into the restaurant business in Beckley. The ultimate restaurateurs, Donna and Brian visit each table chatting with their customers.
It’s time for a family feud! Not us, but the Hatfields & McCoys, the famous family feud is an outdoor drama at the Theatre West Virginia. Marking 40 years, the drama premiered in June 1970 at the Cliffside Amphitheater in the Grandville State Park. With front row seats, we are close to the action. As the sun goes down gun shots are heard with Yankee soldiers chasing the McCoys. The drama unfolds of these two pioneer families getting into a feud that lasts four decades. With its strong musical score and dignified portrayal of mountain history, the show brings to life the challenges of these country folks and the personalities in each family. A great show it touches all the emotions from love to rage impacting the lives of these two families for so many years.
The next morning it’s a buffet style breakfast which is included in our room package at the Resort at Glade Springs. So convenient we select from the wide options of the hot and cold breakfast choices. The staff at the Resort is most helpful in providing suggestions and a detail sheet of driving directions to various attractions. Ranking as the United States’ largest steel-arched bridge, the New River Gorge Bridge is a “must see” and is only 30 minutes away. As we approach the bridge the weather clears with the sun peaking out of the clouds. Spanning 3,030 feet and some 870 feet above the river, this magnificent bridge provides an awesome view of the gorge and the New River. At the Visitor Center we gain more insight into this man-made wonder and New River Gorge’s history. Taking the path from the Visitor Center, a wooden platform provides magnificent views. Descending 200 steps to a lower level we are greeted with an even more spectacular view of the bridge and gorge. Awesome!
Back at the Resort, the sun is out and the rains have passed for the day. We have a light lunch at Bunkers Sports Bar before tackling the Cobb Golf Course. A one-of-a-kind golf course the Cobb Course is consistently ranked by Golf Digest among the top 5 in the state. In addition to the courses 54 sand bunkers it has the most challenging greens. They are “huge!” Pre-warned by the Starter we still have many three-putt and even four-putt greens. While the tree lined fairways appear to be wide open their subtle slopes do surprise us. It’s a terrific afternoon for golf as the sun stays out, the temperature is cool and the Cobb Course challenges our golf skills.
For dinner we are off to The Char in Beckley. Located in a beautiful woodland setting on Dry Hill Road, The Char boasts over 40 years of experience in delighting customers with the finest dining experience in the area. Entering the restaurant we immediately notice its intimate and upscale style. Even on Monday evening the restaurant is bustling. The stone and wood décor add to the charm while the food, service and setting make it an extra special dining experience in Beckley.
Packed and fortified with a good breakfast from the Resorts breakfast buffet, we head to the New River Gorge Bridge Visitor Center to take the Fayetteville Station Auto Tour. A scenic drive this seven mile one hundred year-old road with its many hair-pin turns winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across the Fayetteville Station Bridge and up the other side. As the road twist and turns to the bottom of the gorge, we stop at the scenic vistas of the river, the bridges, lush old forests and remnants of some of the former coal mining towns of the New River Gorge. The New River Gorge Scenic Drives brochure and its map take us back to this earlier time when coal was king and coal mining communities sprang up along the New River Gorge.
It’s time for some whitewater! At Songer Whitewater Rafting we prepare for an exciting Express Trip up the New River. Putting on life jackets, helmets and paddles we pile into the bus with 30 other brave souls to take on the New River Gorge River, the second oldest watershed in the world. After a short bus ride to the entry point Richard and I are assigned the lead guide Matt’s raft with six rafters. With some quick instructions of paddling commands of “forward, backward and slow forward” we are off.
Following an age-old channel the New River Gorge National River winds northward through the spectacular New River Gorge. It is gorgeous. Magnificent views surround us of the gorge’s steep lush mountains bordering the river. Sitting on the front of the raft Richard and I prepare for the first rapids. Our adrenalin is pumping as the raft leaps high in the roaring rapids and crashes down drenching us. Fantastic! Fun and exciting we tackle Class II, III and VI rapids with names of Lower & Upper Railroad, Keeney Rapids, Dudley’s Dip, Double Z, Greyhound and Fayette Station. Luckily, between rapids is calm water, giving a chance to relax while Matt prepares us for the next rapid. As we reach the take out point the rains come. Water pouring off the New River Gorge Bridge creates a unique and dramatic scene. The four hour Express Trip covering over eight miles of exciting whitewater rapids is thrilling.
The mountains of southern West Virginia live up to our expectations as a wild and wonderful destination. These lush mountains are a great place to return for autumn foliage, winter sports, magnificent spring and great mountain activities with wonderful southern hospitality. Hope we can plan a trip back soon.
If you go:
New River Gorge National River, http://www.nps.gov/neri/
Pasquale’s,, 224 Harper Park Dr., Beckley, WV 2580; 304.255.5253; www.beckleyitalian.com
Resort at Glade Springs, 255 Resort Dr., Daniels, WV 25832-9293; (304) 763-2000; www.gladesprings.com
Songer Whitewater Rafting, 3069 Miller Ridge Road, Hico, WV 25854; (800) 356-7238; Songerwhitewater.com
Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1406 Harper Rd., Beckley, WV 25801; 1-800-847-4898; www.visitwv.com
The Char, 100 Char Drive, Beckley, WV 25801; 304-253-1760; www.the-char.com