Finishing West Virginia, Day 3



Flatwoods Monster


Flatwoods Monster

As I mentioned in the previous post, we spent the night at a nondescript hotel along Interstate 79 in Flatwoods, West Virginia. I’d never heard of Flatwoods although my son registered a flash of recognition. "Isn’t that the home of the Flatwoods Monster?" he wondered as we pulled off the highway.

What Flatwoods Monster? Yes, apparently West Virginia offered enough room for two mysterious creatures. We came for the Mothman and stumbled upon the Flatwoods Monster story by chance. As West Virginia History and Culture described the legend,

“A fireball, it seems, had fallen from the sky. A few residents witnessed this phenomenon and had gone to investigate. When they got there, they discovered a hideous monstrosity with fiery red eyes. Some of the search team reportedly were overwhelmed by a highly noxious odor and ran for their lives.”

Flatwoods celebrated its monster much like Point Pleasant revered its Mothman. I would have visited Braxton County’s Flatwoods Monster Museum had I known about it earlier. It was closed by the time we arrived in town. Instead we appreciated one of the several monster chairs spread around the county to amuse cryptozoology tourists. They stashed one right behind our hotel. Personally, the Flatwoods Monster seemed pretty lame compared to Mothman.


Spruce Knob


Spruce Knob

I enjoy elevation highpoints and no mountain in the Mountain State rose higher than the mighty Spruce Knob. Better yet, a road ran nearly to the top of its 4,862 foot (1,482 metre) summit. However, while paved, the state always left it unplowed after snowstorms. Melting needed to occur naturally. We delayed our trip by two weeks after a late-season snowfall blew across West Virginia on our intended date. A little residual snow crowning the summit validated our decision to wait.

I’ve seen more remarkable highpoints although this one seemed nice enough considering the convenience of our "mountaineering." The summit included an attractive viewing platform although vistas actually appeared better from a road pullout at a slightly lower elevation. My son liked this highpoint a lot better than Maryland the previous year where I forced him to hike a mile-or-so uphill. I can’t say I blame him.

That made ten state highpoints (I think) plus the District of Columbia that I’ve conquered. A couple of them actually required modest amounts of effort.


Smoke Hole Caverns


Smoke Hole Caverns

We captured the final two counties of the trip, Webster and Pocahontas, on the way to Spruce Knob so we achieved every geographic landmark on our list. Time to head home. However, a final stop beckoned. Abundant caves dotted Appalachian ridges near Seneca Rocks and we still had a little extra time.

Smoke Hole Caverns seemed convenient enough. We wanted to see the underground formations, and we did, although the proprietors also built an entire business empire around their hole in the ground. I certainly appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit. Visitors could play miniature golf, pretend to be gold prospectors, browse through a massive gift shop or even stay overnight in lodge houses in addition to gazing upon stalactites and stalagmites. While tempting, we left only a few dollars behind and stuck to the subterranean attraction.


Mail Pouch Tobacco


Mail Pouch Tobacco

Certain themes reappeared throughout the entire drive. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a density of churches anywhere else including the Deep South. Wind down any lonely country road, drop into a hollow, pass through a hamlet of a dozen families along a riverbank and there would be a church. Mobile homes, so many mobile homes too. Some of them reached such a level of permanence that residents built additions onto them. It seemed so stereotypical and yet these trailers increasingly dominated the landscape the farther we pushed into the state’s interior.

Mail Pouch Tobacco murals adorned the sides of barns across the state too. I kept wanting to take a picture although we usually shot right past them just as the thought crossed my mind. Finally, stopping briefly for road construction, I got my chance. I pulled a camera out from behind the driver’s seat and snapped a quick photo as the flagman moved us along. It wasn’t my greatest effort, from the wrong side of a bug-splattered windshield, but I finally got my picture. That seemed like a fitting final conclusion to our journey.


Articles in the Finishing West Virginia Series:

  1. The Premise
  2. Driving Out
  3. The Big Day (morning)
  4. The Big Day (afternoon)
  5. Coming Home

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

3 Replies to “Finishing West Virginia, Day 3”

  1. Hope you caught a glimpse of Seneca Rocks on your way from Spruce Knob to Smoke Hole! A really wonderful rock formation.

  2. I worked for a summer at Smoke Hole Caverns. I think I used to dream the tour speech at night. The Hedrick family has really built the place up. The gift shop is relatively new; the previous one (where I worked) burnt down (arson).

    As for mobile homes, remember that some of them actually are vacation homes. Also, many people I know began living in them after their homes were washed away by the river in 1985. My grandparents’ “house” was really two mobile homes; after their old log house burnt to the ground (not arson), my grandfather “united” two trailers with a hallway and some extra rooms. But, yes, many people are poor.

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