Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Satellite image of West Virginia at night

New NASA satellite imagery of the Earth at night is making rounds on the Internet, and I was determined to discover what might be seen of West Virginia, my home state. It turns out, quite a lot. The Charleston - Huntington metro corridor, and the Teays Valley, in between, are obvious features. They run nearly east to west. I've added a "C" to the image just northeast of Charleston. Beckley (B) and Oak Hill, to its north, cast a glow  near the center of the southern state.

Extending northeastward from a cluster of lights at Parkersburg (P), a thin but distinct ribbon follows the Ohio River and widens at Wheeling and Weirton. Morgantown (M) is the largest of clusters that follows the west flank of the Chestnut Ridge southwest to northeast from Clarksburg, to the south, far into Pennsylvania near Latrobe. One of the most surprising features, in my mind, is the scattered dim light in the coalfields south of Charleston (C) and west of Beckley (B). I expect this comes from the many small coal camps and surface-mining operations.

Other distinct features that might be discerned in this image include Columbus, (the bright, concentrated node of light northwest of Parkersburg), Pittsburgh, the large cluster of lights north of Morgantown, the D.C.-metro area along the eastern edge of the image, and the thin ribbon of development that follows Interstate 81 across the image from northwest to southeast.

I've included a reference map here to help orient readers who'd like to further explore this image.

Read about dark skies in West Virginia

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Burgess photography to help define W.Va.

Photographer Rick Burgess has agreed to provide West Virginia Explorer with imagery needed to help define West Virginia. His landscapes will be featured as editorial content when the remastered version of the guide is unveiled in late October, according to David Sibray, editor and publisher of the online guide to West Virginia.

"Rick has been able to help illustrate a version of West Virginia of which I think many West Virginians were unaware, to say nothing of tourists," Sibray said. "When his work began to appear on Facebook, I though to myself, 'Here's a guy who's seeing the state as no one else is seeing it.'"

Sibray said West Virginia Explorer, which was first launched in 1999, will be opening its pages to photographers who wish to share their vision of the Mountain State. Potential contributors are welcome to call Sibray at (304) 575-7390 or contact him at

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Burning Rock underwrites ATV content

Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park has agreed to underwrite the expansion of ATV touring information at West Virginia Explorer. Perhaps best known as a destination for ATV touring, the park's partnership with the online guide will provide vacationers detailed information on off-road adventures throughout the Mountain State. Please visit the website for Burning Rock to find out more about the cabins, camping, and off-road adventure packages the parks offers as well as its 2,500 foot zip-line. Thanks, Burning Rock!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ACE helps sponsor reboot of WVExplorer

ACE Adventure Resort has been named among the chief sponsors of the reboot of the West Virginia Explorer, the Web-based guide to West Virginia first launched in 1999. Long one of the chief advertisers associated with the guide, the resort has provided the funding necessary to write and edit thousands of pages of information.

After September 1, explorers of West Virginia will find forums, galleries, and thousands of interactive articles authored by professional writers where the long-standing flagship site for West Virginia Explorer had existed. The site will also solicit visitors to enlist for free memberships, which will qualify them for travel packages and prompt them to sign up for specialty newsletters. Thank, ACE, for helping us build West Virginia!

UPDATE: ACE's investment paid off in February 2014 when the reboot of West Virginia Explorer was unveiled. LinkedIn Version: ACE reboot: a big win! - West Virginia Explorer

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Allegheny Restoration sponsors new historic landmarks content

If you're a fan of West Virginia architecture, you may already know their work. Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University, the West Virginia Capitol at Charleston, the B&O Roundhouse at Martinsburg -- each of these buildings, and many more throughout the Mid-Atlantic, have been expertly restored with the help of Allegheny Restoration & Builders Inc. Their work in restoration and new construction is renowned.

What better sponsor for our forthcoming guide to historic landmarks could we find? When we unveil our new online compendium of West Virginia in September, you'll be able to peruse more than 200 pages of historic site and district information sponsored by Allegheny Restoration. Their builders, designers, and carpenters share our enthusiasm for maintaining the best of West Virginia, and we couldn't be more happy to partner with them. Please be sure to consider a consultation with Allegheny Restoration before you embark on a renovation of a historical structure. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New River Climbing School to sponsor new rock climbing content

West Virginia is among the chief rock climbing destinations in the eastern United States, and West Virginia Explorer and New River Climbing School are teaming up to provide the most thorough guide to West Virginia climbing available online. New River Climbing School has agreed to sponsor the development of our climbing information and help guide us in our mission to explore new climbing areas across the state. Instructors David and Molly Wolff will also serve as editorial advisers, assisting in our effort to expand the sport. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Once Upon a Pavilion in West Virginia

An early spring snowfall blankets the White Sulphur Spring.
PERHAPS NO IMAGE OF WEST Virginia hospitality is more enduring than that of the pavilion at The Greenbrier at White Sulphur Springs. Since the 1830s, the dome that shelters its famous mineral spring has come to symbolize the brand of gracious accommodation for which the southern Allegheny Mountains of the state are renown.

But the pavilion at White Sulphur is only one of several that decorate such springs in the Virginias. I asked Dr. Robert S. Conte, resident historian at The Greenbrier, what he knew of the tradition. Conte and author Stan Cohen have traveled the region together before, seeking out such landmarks. Conte says these buildings appear to take two forms, depending upon their function. Those that shelter springs in which the visitor is expected to bathe are usually enclosed by bathhouses. Those in which the water is imbibed most often take the form of the pavilion.

Endangered pavilion
at Blue Sulphur Spring
Why a pavilion? Why the columns? Conte says it's no surprise that mineral springs would attract attention in a classical form. "If you think about it, springs are pretty miraculous. They're places where a life-sustaining force issues out of the ground. And in this case, we're not talking about just any water."

Mineral springs such as those at The Greenbrier, at Bath, England, or at Bath, West Virginia (better known as Berkeley Springs), have long been thought to be imbued with healing properties, and the tradition of visiting them for the purpose of health is traced back to Classical times in Western society.

Pavilion at Pence Spring
So it's not surprising to find a statue of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, adorning the dome at White Sulphur Springs, nor should it be surprising for the Classical form of a columned pavilion to be found at White Sulphur Springs or at other springs in the region. The equally massive pavilion at Blue Sulphur Springs, now endangered, is a second example of the style on a monumental scale (and is all that survived destruction by Union forces at the site.)

Pavilions at Salt Sulphur Springs
In West Virginia, spas took on added importance. Wealthy residents from the South could also escape the summer heat when they visited the mountains. In a verifiable sense, Conte said, their vacation saved them from diseases which flourished in the southern heat. The elite would spend much of the season traveling between spas. As might be expected, a prevailing sense of taste and pageantry developed around the custom of visiting the spas in a circuit.

Pavilion at Barger Springs
As a result of the demise of the Antebellum economy during the Civil War, many spas fell into economic ruin. Some, such as The Greenbrier and the nearby Pence Springs Hotel, were invigorated by completion of railroads later in the century. Others wholly collapsed. Still more exist in some intervening form -- stable, endangered, undergoing restoration.

I've had the chance to visit many of these landmarks and have mapped some in hopes of encouraging interest. Several pavilions, such as the example at Blue Sulphur Springs, are in dire need of restoration, but all deserve appreciation.

Lee Spring, Lost River State Park
For more information on mineral springs in Virginia and West Virginia, I recommend what many enthusiasts consider the seminal work on the subject "Historic Springs of the Virginias: A Pictorial History" by Stan Cohen. I've also created a rudimentary map of spring pavilions in West Virginia at Google Maps, which includes these and other pavilions and springs -- West Virginia Spring Pavilions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

John Henry Statue to be removed for repairs Wednesday afternoon

Detail of John Henry statue near Talcott, W.Va.
Photo courtesy West Virginia Explorer
Motorists who are accustomed to passing the world-famous statue of John Henry on Big Bend Mountain over the last 40 years have one more day to enjoy the ritual.

At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, according to state officials, the 2.5-ton bronze likeness of Henry will be removed from its pedestal along W.Va. Route 3 and will be reconditioned by a local wright before being installed near the mouth of Great Bend Tunnel at Talcott, W.Va.

Since its installation by the Hilldale-Talcott Ruritan Club in 1972, the statue has been repeatedly vandalized and repaired. Many bullet-holes pock its thick casting. The likeness has often been painted black to help cover graffiti.

Sculptor Chales O. Cooper, of Williamstown, Mich., was commissioned to create the eight-foot tall statue, according to Rick Moorefield, project director for the John Henry Memorial Park.

The statue will be unveiled in 2013 when the John Henry Memorial Park is officially opened in the valley of the Greenbrier River upstream of Big Bend Mountain.

Henry joined the ranks the world's greatest folk heroes during construction of the Big Bend Tunnel in the early 1870s. According to legend, Henry, who was employed to drive steel wedges into the rock, was able to win a contest against a driller who was operating a steam-powered drill. The contest reputedly cost Henry his life.

By David T. Sibray
West Virginia Explorer

Spring wildflower programs hosted again in the New River Gorge

Red Trillum, a favorite flower in the gorge in April
Photo courtesy National Park Service
Every April the National Park Service in southern West Virginia hosts a cavalcade of events celebrating the appearance of spring wildflowers. Wildflower lectures and workshops are sponsored throughout the month, but the highlight coincides with the peak of the season, generally the last weekend of April.

Please feel free to join me and a dozens of other lovers of the outdoors on at least one of these outings. If you know next-to-nothing about wildflowers, that'll soon change. Rangers and other enthusiasts, expert and amateur, will be happy to share their knowledge.

Friday, April 27, 2012

1-2 p.m. -- Wildflower Wonders Lecture in auditorium at Tamarack, at Beckley, W.Va.

1-3 p.m. -- Blooms of Glade Creek Leisurely two-mile stroll along a mountan stream, near Prince, W.Va.

6-7:30 p.m. -- Basics of Field Guide Skills Bring your field guide for the easy walk at at Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, W.Va. field guides are available (at cost) at Tamarack and at the National Park Service's visitor centers at Sandstone and Canyon Rim, both of which are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

7-8 p.m. -- Not Just a Pretty Face Lecture on the edible and medicinal uses of wildflowers at Hawks Nest State Park, at Ansted, W.Va.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

7:30- 8:45 a.m. -- Early Birding at Grandview Bring your binoculars to Shelter No. 4 at Grandview

9 a.m-1:30 p.m. -- Hike Into Spring A leisurely 2.5-mile descent along an old trail from Grandview Shelter No. 4 to the New River. We'll return by shuttle. As this hike is popular and requires shuttle service, reservations are requested by April 24; please call 304-466-0417.

2:30-4:30 p.m. -- Youth Art at Grandview Art projects for youth in the amphitheater at Grandview, W.Va.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

9-10:30 a.m. -- Spring Birding at Babcock Stroll diverse habitat in search of more secretive birds at Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, W.Va.

10 a.m.-1 p.m. -- Falls & Flowers A 2.5 miles round-trip hike along Brush Creek on this easy 2.5-mile round trip walk. Caravan from Pipestem State Park near Pipestem, W.Va.

11:30 a.m.-Noon -- Youth Art at Canyon Rim Art projects for youth in the amphitheater at Canyon Rim Visitor Center at Lansing, W.Va.

3-5 p.m. -- Hawk's Nest Wildflower Stroll A moderate one-mile wildflower scavenger hunt from the lobby at Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, W.Va.

Dutchman's Breeches
Photo courtesy National Park Service
For more information on these spring wildflower hikes or associated lectures, please visit the Ranger Programs page or contact either of the two visitor centers for the New River Gorge National River:

Sandstone Visitor Center (304) 466-0417
Canyon Rim Visitor Center (304) 574-2115

All spring wildflower hikes and lectures are open to the public and free of charge, though reservations must be made by April 24 to participate in the "Hike into Spring" excursion on Saturday at Grandview.

Reported by David T. Sibray
For West Virginia Explorer

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moundsville's Mound and Penitentiary

Old penitentiary as seen from top of mound
MOUNDSVILLE, W.VA., IN MY ESTIMATION, ranks as ideal among the traditional working-class cities of the northeast U.S. Its 10,000 residents, many who speak Pittsburgh English, hold dear their sports teams and dearer their traditions. Though a rust-belt city, the 'Ville on the Ohio River hasn't suffered the economic decimation to which similar cities have fallen.

Much of what I know of Moundsville, I've learned since being drawn there by two of its best-known landmarks -- Grave Creek Mound and the old W.Va. State Penitentiary. Two more eerie monuments would be difficult to otherwise find in such proximity. In many respects it's hard to believe such an energetic community could be associated with death and earthly perdition.

The mound itself has little association with the dark aspects of human existence. If anything, its builders were motivated by honor and their respect for the death of forebears. Construction required that members of the prehistoric community who lived here spend more than 100 years raising the mound to its present height of nearly 70 feet. From about 250 to 150 BC, they carried more than 60,000 tons of earth to the site.

Looking northward from compass monument atop mound
The "Mammoth Mound," as it was also sometimes called, and the complex surrounding it was far larger than that which exists today. Though still recognized as the largest mound of its kind, erosion over the past two thousand years may have helped lower its height. And much of the original burial site was destroyed as the town was established. A 40-foot-wide moat encircled the mound and a series of earthworks extended outward.

According to Delf Norona, founder of the W.Va. Archaeological Society, early European observers reported that the mound had been surrounded by other mounds and mysterious ridges of earth "sometimes arranged in squares, sometimes in octagons or circles, broken passageways and looking very much like medieval fortifications and connected with each other by roads..."

Earthworks as they may have appeared
The ancient "city of the dead" at Moundsville must have inspired awe. Based on earlier observations, Norona mapped the locations of earthworks that extended northward from the mound. Pictured at left, his diagram shows the mound as the smaller circle toward the bottom of the map and a large octagonal earthwork to the north beyond Second Street and across from the entrance to present-day Moundsville Junior High School. Norona's map, models of the mound, and cases of artifacts are on display at the Delf Norona Museum, part of the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, which is open to guests year round. The $3.1-million W.Va. Archaeology Center was also opened at the complex in 2008, providing scholars a research center through which to explore the region's prehistory.

When I'm sitting atop the mound -- as I'm now keen to do of an evening -- I invariably try to imagine what prisoners housed among the gothic walls of the penitentiary across the avenue must have thought about the earthwork. When one has all the time in the world to spend in the consideration of such things, what does one make of a monument to timelessness? In the minds of the mound's builders, time and timelessness were certainly considerations. Would their mound last until the end of time? Would the prisoner with too much time on his hands more than 2,000 years later take time to consider this?

Castellated western entrance to old penitentiary
I suppose it might be worth asking the ghosts who reportedly haunt the penitentiary. What are their opinions about the mound? Thousand of prisoners lived and died in the infamous W.Va. State Penitentiary between 1876 and 1995. The building has become a part of American pop culture and is featured in the novel "The Night of the Hunter" and in the 1955 film by that name and in the book and movie "Fool's Parade."

Today the prison functions as both a tourist attraction and a training facility. I've not personally toured the spooky old edifice, though plenty of ghost hunters have spent hours on location there, filming paranormal investigation programs for television. Most recently, the Discovery Channel's "Ghost Lab" program toured the building. For more information on exploring the penitentiary, visit the West Virginia Penitentiary site, which also includes a compendium of ghostly videos and visitors' tales.

Grave Creek Mound from north
For more information on visiting Moundsville and surrounding Marshall County, I find the Marshall County Tourism site invaluable.

You'll find plenty more information on the culture of the prehistoric peoples in North America who built mounds at Wikipedia's Mound Builders article and more information on prehistoric sites in West Virginia at the W.Va. encyclopedia at