In our previous blogpost, Grammi and I were in West Virginia exploring the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. I ended that post while we were hiking the Rim Trail in the Grandview area. If you have not yet read that post, I urge you to do so by clicking the link here. I will begin this post from where we left off.
The Rim Trail passes through a grove of rhododendron shaded by hardwoods and hemlock. It was a warm day and we were thankful to have some refuge under the trees’ canopy. As we progressed along the trail, ever so often, we came to a path that branched off toward the edge of the gorge where an observation deck afforded an amazing panoramic view. At each overlook, we lingered and savored the sight across the gorge. It seemed we could not get enough of that wonderful view.
Eventually, we emerged from the trees and headed back to the parking lot, but first, we stopped at the Cliffside Amphitheater. Our campground host at Little Beaver State Park had told us that one of the best things to do in the area was to see a show at this outdoor venue. As part of the local community, it has hosted outdoor dramatic performances for the past 61 years. Now in cooperation with a new landlord, the National Parks Service, it continues the tradition. It is the only outdoor amphitheater presenting live performances within a national park.
We were hoping to look at the theater and find some information about upcoming shows. We were successful. After talking with the General Manager of Theatre West Virginia, we made plans to return that evening for the opening performance of Rocket Boys the Musical by Homer Hickam.
We arrived in plenty of time to purchase our tickets, stop at the concession for popcorn, and be escorted to our seats located center stage row K. It was not a sellout, but it was a respectable crowd. The warm temperatures from earlier in the day abated and the evening thunderstorms we had experienced the previous three nights did not make an appearance. It was a perfect evening for an outdoor show.
Some years back, Homer Hickam, a writer and former NASA engineer, wrote an article about his time growing up in the coal mining town of Coalwood. It described how he and a group of boys from school successfully built rockets culminating with them winning the National Science Fair. The article received so much attention that it inspired him to write a New York Times Best Selling book which lead to a Hollywood movie titled October Sky, and thus to this Broadway aspiring musical.
Mr. Hickam, a native son of West Virginia, was present at the show. He was invited on stage prior to the performance to address the crowd. His words drew laughter and applause as he told stories about his fascination with Sputnik when he was a kid and his time spent in Russia when working for NASA. He ceremoniously presented the ‘Key of Coalwood’ to the mayor of Beckley for their generous contribution toward the play’s production. Then Mr. Hickman was presented a Quilt of Valor for his military service during the Vietnam War.
When the performance started, it became immediately apparent this was no ordinary community playhouse. It had the quality of a professional play. The cast and crew were skilled and talented.
For the most part, the play went well. However, there were problems with the audio. The wireless headset microphones worn by the cast would sometimes cut out, leaving the audience struggling to hear.
In addition to the microphone headset, the performers also wore distracting face shields due to an outbreak of COVID-19 that hit the cast and crew just days before. The outbreak resulted in some cancelations that delayed the opening of the show until this night. How awful it must have been for them, after hours upon hours of work and preparation, to have this happen? I felt genuine empathy. I do not know for sure, but I believe it was the face shields that affected the audio.
Nonetheless, the mantra that “the show must go on” prevailed and notwithstanding the audio problems, the performers did an admirable job. Despite the troubles, Grammi and I were able to follow along with the story and we enjoyed the performance. However, given the chance, I would like to see it again with better sound.
A couple of days later we drove to the south end of the national park to see Sandstone Falls. Recommended as a “not to miss sight” by the park ranger, we had it on our list of things to see. It was a 40-minute drive from the Sandstone Visitor Center through the town of Hinton, crossing a bridge, then back down the other side of the river. Shocking when you consider the parking area for the falls is less than two miles away from the visitor center as the crow flies.
At first, the waterfall, dropping just twenty feet, was underwhelming. It was only after crossing a footbridge or two and walking along a boardwalk to an observation deck on an island did I appreciate this very wide waterfall.
At 1500 feet, it is the widest waterfall in West Virginia. So wide in fact, that there was no one place to observe a close up view of the entire length.
We tried though. We ventured off the boardwalk to search for the perfect vantage point to see all the falls, but soon gave up on that adventure. It was rocky with a lot of boulders and driftwood scattered around making for a somewhat treacherous endeavor.
It was from an overlook on Route 20 that we saw a distant view of its entirety.
Next we went to Pipestem Resort State Park where we took a slow scenic aerial tram ride into the gorge. At the bottom was a 30 room lodge and gourmet restaurant that can only be accessed by the aerial tram. With a view of the Bluestone River, we sat around a fire pit and had a lovely chat with a couple from New Jersey and another local couple from Beaver. Both couples were very curious about our travels and asked a lot of questions. It seems we are the envy of future retirees.
Envious or not, it should be pointed out that everyday is not a fun day when traveling. Some days are work days. What I mean by that is sometimes you have to sweep and mop the camper floors, clean the bathroom, wash the truck, fix something that broke, go to the grocery store, and my most loathed chore—laundry. We found a laundromat in Beckley and spent the better part of a morning washing, drying and folding. One thing that caught my eye was every washing machine had a sign stating “No Mining Clothes”. I imagine the black coal dust can ruin a washing machine.
We will remember our time in West Virginia, not only for the beautiful landscape, but also for its people. Without exception, everyone was kind, welcoming, and eager to help us make our visit a more delightful experience. Everyone we met—from the guy at the gas pumps that noticed our out-of-state license tag and proceeded to tell us, for twenty minutes, all the places we should visit to the lady working at the laundromat that said we had to see Tamarack Marketplace where we ended up spending a couple of hours browsing the galleries of the state’s best artist and artisans—were good people. We discovered West Virginians are proud of their state.
West Virginia is beautiful. The mountains, the rivers, the history and culture display a unique quality not found anywhere else. Whitewater rafting enthusiast know about West Virginia, but other than that, I don’t think it gets the recognition as a vacation destination it deserves. I suppose you can say West Virginia is a hidden gem. However…now we know about this special place. We look forward to visiting again.
Until next time…Happy Days and Safe Travels.