Thursday, December 27, 2012

12’s Eleven Best

As the year 2012 comes to a close, I (like many other people) enjoy reflecting back on my fondest memories from this year. Last year I wrote an essay entitled “11's Twelve Best” ( about my top activities of that year, so this year I’ve written “12's Eleven Best.” These are not in any particular order, except for the first one, which wins the prize as my top experience of the year. [Yes, I’m very grateful that I have had the resources to enjoy these experiences.]

1.) The “Via Ferrata” at Nelson Rocks in Pendleton County, West Virginia was the most incredible thing I did this year. With metal rungs and a safety cable, anyone can become a rock climber. It feels so good to have taken this challenge, and to have conquered it. You can read the story and see more pictures at

The views were tremendous, and the weather that day was fantastic—unlike the first time I wanted to try the Via Ferrata. However, despite the poor weather for my first attempt, I still had a great time in Pendleton County during that earlier trip. I visited Seneca Rocks, Seneca Caverns, and the new Stratosphere wild cave nearby. You can read about that adventure at I’d also like to mention that I enjoyed exploring Elkins, where I stayed the night before my Via Ferrata trip. I would encourage everyone to check out this beautiful area of West Virginia, and consider challenging yourself on the Via Ferrata.

2.) The Key West/Orange Bowl trip we made in January barely lost out to the Via Ferrata for the top pick. The bowl victory was fantastic,

exploring South Beach on Segways was fun, but driving all the way to the end of the road at Key West was something I’ve wanted to do since grade school.
We had a great time at Key West watching the sun go down and exploring lots of the tourist spots. I especially enjoyed bicycling around the island and our trip on a glass bottom boat to a coral reef. I hope to someday return to this enchanting string of islands.

3.) I had a great long weekend in Fayette County planned around July 4th. What I hadn’t planned for was the lingering after effects of the derecho that caused major power outages in the area. Luckily, I was still able to do nearly everything I had planned. It began with a whitewater rafting trip down the lower New River, which finishes with a great view as the rafts go underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. Then, we went back to the lake at the outfitters, and participated in the blob competition. This involved a huge but not fully inflated “pillow” floating below a tower. Anna’s lightweight nieces would jump into the pillow, scurry to the end, then I would jump on it and “eject” them high into the air.

We didn’t win, but we had a great time. The next day, we walked across the “catwalk” below the New River Gorge Bridge. It was fantastic to look down on the river after having looked up at the bridge the day before. In addition to the BridgeWalk, we also hiked to “Long Point,” an outcropping of rocks with a great view of the New River Gorge Bridge.
The last two days were spent kayaking on Summersville Lake (known for its clear waters and rocky cliffs) and on the New, Gauley, and Kanawha Rivers near Gauley Bridge (including around the famous bus turned into a house on the rock in the middle of the river, as pictured here). Read more of the details at

4.) My daughter graduated from WVU in May on a Saturday, and she had a full-time job on Monday. To celebrate her achievements, we took her (and her boyfriend) for a long weekend trip to New York City. Everyone had a great time in the Big Apple, which included seeing Cirque du Soliel at the iconic Radio City Music Hall.

You can read all about it at

5.) WVU is an important part of my life. We enjoyed a number of events on campus this year. I wrote about the “stripe the stadium” football game at Anna, Halley, and I did a roadtrip to see WVU play at the Redskins Stadium (which was a bit like a bowl trip).

I will also long remember the WVU-Texas volleyball game (the very first Big XII event on campus) which included the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band performing inside the Coliseum. In addition to athletic events, I also enjoyed hearing another lecture from Prof. Bowman, while I was sitting between my daughter and West Virginia Secretary of State (and former Mountaineer) Natalie Tennant during a Mountain honorary dinner. Plus, I went to my first show in the new planetarium.

6.) My other alma mater, the University of Charleston, is also an important part of my life. This year, we attended several UC events. You can read about the alumni gathering at the Governor’s Cup Regatta at During Festivall Weekend, I got to live in a dorm again, and had a great time ( The "Blues, Brews, and BBQ" event on the riverbank is shown below.

For Homecoming Weekend (which included my fourth Blue Man Group show), I discovered a hidden gem I had never explored in Charleston ( By the way, that was the second football game I attended that year, having ventured down for a Thursday night game early in the season. Finally, I made a sad trip to Charleston this past year, for the funeral of my favorite professor of all time (

7.) Another interest of mine is motorsports.

My biggest memory will be going to Columbus Motor Speedway and driving one of their Legends cars ($50 for twenty laps).

This year I thoroughly enjoyed spending a day with historic sports cars at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grandprix (which also included a few sessions of racing go-karts).

Continuing the vintage theme, I traveled to Terra Alta to see lots of motorcycles I knew from youth at the vintage motocross meet.

I also went to High Point raceway (just above the stateline from Morgantown) for a taste of the AMA Motocross weekend. Although there was no racing that day, I enjoyed stopping at Bristol Raceway as we were passing through the area. Finally, I got to see old-fashioned drag racing at the Waynesburg Airport on a Sunday afternoon.

8.) Kayaking is a lot of fun, and this year I got to explore some new areas.

I wrote four essays about some of these trips (,,, and, but there are a couple of others that I must mention as well. I paddled to the uppermost part of the Cheat Lake, where the first rapids from the river begin. I wanted to get to the bend with the island that can be viewed from high above at Coopers Rocks. It was fantastic to get the opposite vantage point of looking up towards Coopers Rocks. Whenever I see pictures taken from Coopers Rocks, I will always remember that day (pictured here).
Finally, I will long remember the day Anna and I set out from Point Marion and ventured up the Cheat River towards the Cheat Lake Dam. Unfortunately, a summer thunderstorm surprised us, requiring us to hunker down on the riverbank until it passed.

9.) I also enjoy biking and got to log a few miles this year. In particular, I finally went all the way uphill into Preston County to the end of the Deckers Creek Rail Trail, exploring the beautiful waterfalls along the way. It is a lot easier on the way back downhill to Morgantown! I also went north from Morgantown to Point Marion, PA, and then biked up the road to the Cheat Lake Dam. On another day, I went south from Morgantown to Pricketts Fort in Fairmont (as mentioned above in the essay). I also spent some time on the North Bend Rail Trail as well this year.

10.) Sometimes I like hiking, competitive walking, or running. I ran about a half-dozen 5Ks this year, plus a five miler at UC. I also walked some 5Ks and finished first in my age group (and eighth overall) in the Parkersburg Two-Miler (part of their big Half-Marathon). I also got to do some fun hiking this year. In addition to the hike to Long Point at New River Gorge mentioned above (and pictured below),

we also enjoyed hiking to Raven Rock at Coopers Rock State Forest, as well as thoroughly exploring Cathedral State Park (

11.) Finally, I’m using this item to lump together several small but fun trips I made over the year. My work required me to make several trips to the DC area this year, and I used Megabus for some of them ( I was also fortunate enough to be in DC when the space shuttle did its final flyover, providing a nice connection between my first federal job and my last one (I assume). On another DC trip, I was able to join an old friend to see a presentation by Colin Powell. Anna and I also enjoyed a trip over there to see the wedding of a high school/college friend of hers. We made several trips to Columbus, Ohio, and always enjoyed visiting with our friends at Shadowbox Live ( A Tennessee trip over the Veterans Day weekend was also a highlight ( We also made a few interesting trips into southwest Pennsylvania. I recently wrote about our trip to see two different houses designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (

We made our first trip to California—as in California, Pennsylvania—the home of California State University. It was a bigger school than we had thought. We went there because they had a really nice traveling exhibit featuring recreations of Leonard DaVinci inventions. Last but not least, we went to Pittsburgh a few times, most notably for a special trip with Anna’s niece.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Of Waterfalls and Wright

Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania is a favorite of ours. We’ve gone whitewater rafting on the lower section of the Youghiogheny River and enjoyed kayaking on the milder middle section of the “Yock.” Separating these two sections of this mountain river is a broad waterfall adjacent to the quaint small town of Ohiopyle. The rail trail that runs through town allows one to bicycle all the way (if you so desire) to Pittsburgh or to Washington, DC—although I’ve only biked from there as far as Confluence, PA. Whether it is hiking, biking, or whitewater, Ohiopyle is a great place. Best of all, it is less than an hour away from Morgantown now that the four-lane from Cheat Lake to Uniontown is open.

Another reason to visit this area is that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright built two homes in this area. Probably his most famous project was “Fallingwater,” a house built over a waterfall for the Kaufmann Department Store family. Lesser known but still interesting is the house he built for the Hagan ice cream family at Kentuck Knob, which also includes an interesting sculpture garden on the grounds. Both of these design gems are open for touring, and we made a daytrip to see them recently.

We started the day at Kentuck Knob, which is built into the peak of a mountain. As with most Frank Lloyd Wright houses, there is a strong effort to appreciate nature in the design. Our tour guide took us through the house and explained many of the highlights. Upon conclusion, we decided to walk back to the visitor center to check out the sculpture garden in the meadow below. There were a variety of items there, ranging from rock cairns to London phone booths to a section of the Berlin Wall. Although not as famous as Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob is interesting in its own right, and visiting both on the same trip gives one a good appreciation for Wright’s genius.

After leaving Kentuck Knob, the road winds down the hill into the Youghiogheny gorge. As we entered the state park area, a designated parking area on our left beckoned us to check out what might be there. To our surprise, there was a beautiful 30 foot waterfall as Cucumber Creek made its final rush to join the Yock. A pathway down the hill makes it easy to get to the lower end of this natural wonder. We will definitely return to visit this waterfall again and play in the creek.

There is another designated parking area on the main road just outside the town of Ohiopyle where another creek, Meadow Run, joins the river. This creek cuts a sluice through a long section of rock, creating a natural waterslide that I had heard about but had never seen. Needless to say, the water was cold and running high this December day, but I found it hard to envision "body surfing" through this rock-lined water chute. We need to come back in the summer to see how this is done without getting scraped up.
We then stopped at the overlook for the major cataract across the Yock River. This is the focal point for the state park and for the town of Ohiopyle. We had visited here several years ago during the one day of the summer when they let kayakers go over these 20 foot falls (the picture below is from that day). It was entertaining enough just watching kayakers go over this major waterfall, but one guy was successfully doing it with a stand-up paddleboard!
We had a snack at the historic general store and roamed around the little town (they’ve added a new ropes adventure course in the wooded park above the town!) before heading a couple of miles up the road to Fallingwater. Upon arrival, there is a nice area near the parking lot with a snack bar and gift shop. The tours leave from here and walk down to the house itself. We were on the final tour of the day, and it was just us and the tour guide. As with Kentuck Knob, there is no photography allowed inside, but of course photos of the outside of house, especially showing the falls, are legendary. You really have to take the tour to appreciate the cantilevered design and all the subtle features that went into this iconic house.
It made for a fun December daytrip to visit these outstanding examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. Combining these man-made landmarks with the natural landmarks of Ohiopyle State Park is a great way to appreciate this mountainous area.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Support the teams!

I AM A WEST VIRGINIA FAN! My home state, and its namesake institution of higher learning, means a lot to me. I attended the WVU men’s basketball game on Saturday, December 8, and was treated to a thrilling victory over undefeated Virginia Tech. Then I watched the WVU women’s basketball team trounce St. Bonaventure. After the women’s game, WVU Coach Mike Carey (a West Virginia native) had a message for WVU fans.

"I want to thank the people that stayed after the men’s game, and shame on the people that didn’t. It’s a funny thing; you say you’re a West Virginia fan – man, I kind of question some of that. If you’re a West Virginia fan, you like all sports. If you’re a West Virginia fan, you cheer for everybody. If you’re a West Virginia fan and you’re here, you don’t freaking leave. Shame on the people who left, ran out of here. Shame on them,” he said.

I just want to point out that in the eyes of Mike Carey, I’m proud to say I AM A WEST VIRGINIA FAN. I have attended not just football and basketball games, but also men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, hockey, rifle, track, swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, and baseball games. The only sports I’ve never watched are cross country, tennis, and women’s crew—which I hope to rectify someday.

Football and men’s basketball get most of the attention, but the other sports are entertaining as well. Whenever a student athlete puts on a gold and blue uniform with that flying WV, they are representing our state and its people, and we should be behind them. Athletes in these minor sports put in lots of hard work to represent us, so I try to back them when I can.

Many of our new Big 12 schools support their minor teams more than we have in the past. West Virginians like to think that we have a strong fanbase, but we need to step it up in this new league. I would encourage others to check out some of these minor sports—you might be surprised at how much fun a night at the Dlesk Soccer Stadium can be, or how exciting a volleyball game at the Coliseum can be, or how crazy things can get at the Morgantown Ice Rink for a Mountaineers hockey game. Get out there and cheer them on! Go Mountaineers!!!