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Chipmunk - Gary Carter

Where the Chipmunk's Run ...
Wild West Virginia

Gary Carter & Janice Carter | E-Mail | Posted 08-18-09

There was a famous song by Flats and Scruggs that went something like this "Now listen up and let me tell you a story about a man named". Well this story is not about a man, but about an area in West Virginia known as Canaan, Blackwater, Dolly Sods and Seneca Rock.

The photographic possibilities in the land of Canaan Valley are endless. Around any bend in the road, and there are plenty of bends, you're apt to see some type of natural wonder. Black bear, chipmunk, grouse, turkey, white-tailed deer, songbirds, scenic scenes, and wildflowers all abound in the area.

In fact, Canaan Valley is the largest wetland complex in West Virginia and is the highest valley of its size east of the Rockies. According to the West Virginia "Wildlife Viewing Guide" there are 288 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, plus some 600 species of plants. I would suggest that you purchase a copy of "West Virginia Wildlife Viewing Guide" to assist you in locating the many wildlife areas.

Dolly Sod area

Dolly Sod area - Gary Carter

Located in Canaan Valley are several prime photographic locations. These include Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley Resort, Dolly Sods, and Seneca Rock and Caverns all within easy driving distance of each other.

Blackwater Falls State Park is located just outside the town of Davis. It has a lodge, restaurant and gift shop. The main attraction is the 62 feet tall Blackwater Falls. The falls is a short walking distance from two different parking areas. If the sun is shinning you'll want to wait until mid to late morning to photograph the waterfalls. Prior to this time, the falls will be partly shaded and you'll have to worry about sunspots.

Another attraction in the park is the Balanced Rock formation. The trail to the rocks starts at the cabin area of the park. It was a nice walk in the woods, but the rocks were hard to see and photograph.

Beartown State Park

Beartown State Park - Gary Carter

Canaan Valley State Resort is located just 10 miles south of Davis and has a lodge, restaurant, gift shop, outdoor center, and several walking trails. The park contains a portion of the 6,000 acres of wetlands found in this area. You should see lots of white-tailed deer, so be careful while driving through the park.

On the Deer Run Trail we found an albino deer fawn that posed for us for several minutes. There was also a wildlife observation platform on the trail overlooking an open meadow and we found several nice mushrooms to photograph.

You will be able to use a variety of lenses while in the park for the mammals, plants, and scenic. We did not see any black bear or other mammals while in the park. There are a variety of birds as the valley is part of the migration route of many species..

One of the areas we enjoyed visiting was Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is located 18 miles from the entrance to Canaan Valley Resort Park. Dolly Sods was designated a wilderness area by congress in 1975 due to the scenic and biological significance of the area.

Dolly Sods is part of the Monongahela Forest and covers some 10,215 acres. It has many scenic overlooks, hiking trails, picnic area, and a camping area. It was also a bombing practice range during World War II and there are signs warning that you are not to touch any of the bombs if you are lucky enough to find one.

White-tailed Deer Fawn

White-tailed Deer Fawn - Gary Carter

One of the most interesting things at Dolly Sods was the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory. The AFMO nets birds for banding and helps keep track of songbird population trends and migration patterns.

We talked to Joan Pattison, whose father, Ralph Bell established the banding station in the fall of 1958. The Brooks Bird Club has been banding and counting birds for some 43 years.

If you're lucky you might get to meet Mr. Bell, who's now in his 80's. The banding takes place from around mid-August to mid-October. Mrs. Pattison said her favorite bird was the Purple Martin and her father's favorite bird was the Louisiana Water Thrush.

The AFMO has banded, measured and sorted by species over 186,000 birds. Some of the banded birds have been found miles away in unusual places.

Canaan Valley area

Canaan Valley area - Gary Carter

For instance, a Cape May Warbler was found in Russell, Manitoba, a Tennessee Warbler in Guatemala, and a Blackburnian Warbler in Honduras.

The AFMO usually sets out 25 to 30 mesh nets along the hillside in front of their banding station to catch birds. The birds caught in the nets are taken to the banding shed in a cloth-covered cage or box. There the species is determined, wings and tail are measured, and the bird is weighed.

Before the bird is released it is recorded, banded, a photo taken, and an attempt is made to determine body fat and age of the bird. A total of 119 species have been recorded at the AFMO since 1958. It's not unusual for the club to count from 3000 to 8000 birds during the two months they are at the observatory area.

Each year both public school children and college groups are frequent visitors to the AFMO. During our visit to the AFMO members were friendly and more than willing to share their knowledge. They let my wife hold and release a Gray Catbird. Mr. Bell has always encouraged visitation and encouraged people, especially the children, to learn about birds. Mrs. Pattison told us that over the years many visitors have returned to the AFMO and told her about talking with her father and how he had influenced their lives when it came to bird watching. If you are in the area and decide to visit the observatory you should know there is no sign for the AFMO. There is a parking area and a trail in front of the Red Creek Campground that leads down to the banding station.

Seneca Rocks is 35 miles south of Davis on State Routes 32 & 55. There is a nice visitor center and an old farmhouse at the Seneca Rocks Park. You won't have any trouble seeing the towering rocks as they extend well above the tree line. This is a popular rock climbing location and there is a rock-climbing school located just outside the park. They even have an artificial mountain for you to learn how to mountain climb. If you plan on photographing the mountain, remember the sun does not light up the front of the mountain until mid-afternoon. Unless you want to climb the mountain, the photo locations are from the visitor center, old farmhouse parking area, and the picnic area.

Dolly Sod area

Dolly Sod area - Gary Carter

There are no fast food places in the area. So you need to plan on eating some good old country food while in the area. All the food we had was good and reasonably priced.

Places to eat:
Sawmill Restaurant - Country Cooking - Best Western Motel - Davis, WV.
Sirianni's Restaurant - Italian Cuisine - Davis, WV.
Blackwater Falls Lodge Restaurant - Davis, WV.
Canaan Valley Lodge Restaurant- 10 miles south of Davis, WV.

Places to Stay:
Best Western - Davis, WV
Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge
Canaan Valley Resort Lodge

Well that's just a brief overview of some of the wonderful places located in the Canaan Valley area. No wonder Jim Clark and others have published photographic books of wild and wonderful West Virginia. Next time I'll explore some areas further south of this wonderful valley. Hey, there goes another chipmunk. We must have seen a hundred of them, with their mouths full of food, running toward their nesting holes. So until then, travel safely and keep on taking those wonderful photographs.


Chipmunk - Gary Carter


Chipmunk - Gary Carter

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