Nestled between fire-tinged hills, we sailed down I-79. My mother sat at my side, triumphant (and flushed) from an afternoon hiking Coopers Rock, a breathtaking rock outcropping near Morgantown, West Virginia. We chatted over the natural profusion of rhododendron (a Midwestern rarity) and other disparities between the Great Plains and the Appalachia.
My relief was palpable: my mother had enjoyed an outing into the wild. Finally, I was able to show her the one thing I love about West Virginia: despite its chemical valleys, coal ash lakes and industrial refuse, pockets of majestic natural beauty can still be found.
Not only that, but they hide in secrecy.
Any sane U.S. citizen who needs a dose of rugged, natural beauty makes a beeline for Yellowstone or Estes Park. Who would think to trek through the New River Gorge, a prehistoric setting for the world’s fourth-longest single-span bridge? Just 900 feet below lies the best rapids in this part of the country. (Not that I would know; I settled for spectating.) West Virginia is the nature tourist’s best-kept secret.
That being said, I still miss the sky of the Plains. I resent every missed sunrise and sunset that takes place beyond the hills of the Ohio Valley. And thunderstorms. The pattering rain pales in comparison to the raging thunderheads of the plains. But in these hills lies an incredible history. Even now the coke furnaces of yesteryear are being reclaimed by the trees and the vines, readying the land for a new future.
In West Virginia, nature still reigns supreme.