West Virginia Weekend Trip

Jefferson

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At the start, let me say you can also view the youtube video to go along with this post (and some of my other older videos) at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7yOTq5_QlOEMfdL3g1JQ8Q.

Anyway, this Saturday, Bethany and I decided to take a little jaunt northwest from the Shenandoah Valley and spend some time high in the spruce and northern deciduous trees of the Alleghenies in West Virginia. Bethany had never seen a few of the most common species in the Eastern WV mountains, like Allegheny Mountain duskies and Valley and Ridge, nor had she seen the rare, endemic Cheat Mountain Salamander, which I needed a better picture of anyway. So it was that we got rolling around lunchtime under partly cloudy skies toward Staunton, where we'd start heading west after bypassing the city on the Woodrow Wilson Parkway (which I jokingly call "The worst president ever parkway"). Headed west into the Virginia portion of the Alleghenies, the western skies darkened with building rain clouds, though not severe, and the gently rolling land and comely foothills of the Valley gave way to steep, piney, rocky, imposing knife-edged mountains that enveloped valleys of dairy farms and grazing land. The temperature dropped as our elevation gained, and mountain laurels and the smell of rushing mountain waters graced our crossing into the Mountaineer state, where the mountains got even closer, craggier, shorter but steeper, and all-encompassing.


Our first spot in the high mountains, flanked by rhododendron, beech, maple, and various conifers, as I predicted to Bethany before we got out of the car, yielded an Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander within five yards of trail, though we lost the caramel-striped critter in the leaf litter. Higher up the mountain, we had no shortage of duskies young and old to photograph, from a reddish-tan striped one to a very old melanistic individual that had lost nearly all coloration. But duskies weren't our main target on this moss-covered, spruce and fly-infested mountaintop. No, that creature was found not fifteen minutes after we filmed some duskies and set them back. Under a narrow spruce log nearly sewn into the bright green moss, at first I found nothing, but at the very end of where the log had been, something black and gold-speckled caught my eye, something Plethodon-shaped. Cheat Mountain Salamander!!! We were elated, and pictured the videotaped the salamander as if it were a Democratic presidential candidate embroiled in scandal and we reporters from Fox News.

After getting our fill of this unique Appalachian endemic, we set him and the log back where found and drove down off the mountain back toward the Virginia line. We stopped at a beautiful mountain river on the way back before crossing into Virginia, ostensibly to look for Hellbenders, but also because it just felt good to wade in a picturesque stream with the hills all around us, looking at orange and blue crayfish and darters and feeling the frigid water around our calves. After again crossing the border on the 15mph curves into Virginia, we stopped at a Civil war battlefield, the Battle of McDowell in Highland County, Virginia, to see some historical sites. There, Confederates delayed the Union seizure of the Shenandoah Valley, the South's main breadbasket, by turning back the advance of Ohio and West Virginia units (W.Va split off from "Old Virginny" because as a mountain region with very few slaves, it saw little reason to fight for the South and leave the Union). Among the troops who marched through that section of Virginia in the campaign to take the Shenandoah Valley at places like McDowell, Fisherville, and New Market was my great-great-great-great grandfather, Henry, who fought under the 3rd West Virginia light artillery. A surreal experience to be sure, and it also yielded a slimy salamander as a solid final herp of the day. As Bethany says, "You haven't been herping unless you have slimy salamander slime on you." Pictures are below. As always, I hope you enjoyed the read, and happy herping to you all!
 

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