Wild and Wonderful West Virginia: The State With NO DIRECT ROUTES to Any Destinations Other Than Those Directly Attached to Interstates 79, 77, and Route 19- PART ONE OF TWO

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Stephen Arch                   sparch@comcast.net

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I want to start this article off with a brief story (as brief as I can make it).  Several times a year we travel to either Charleston, South Carolina (Kiawah Island) and now to Charlotte, North Carolina (our daughter Antonia has been a special education teacher in Charlotte for the past three years).  Although the drive the length of West Virginia (Interstate 79, Route 19 South and Interstate 77 South) can be excruciating at times (West Virginia is roughly 300 miles long - translating to 6.5 driving hours mostly due to an hour to get from the New River Gorge Bridge through the slow moving, traffic-laden Sommersville with seemingly 30 traffic lights and a police cruiser on every corner waiting to pull anyone over who is driving more than 40 mph). But it is a beautiful state with scenic vistas for miles and miles.  Actually captivating - such a gorgeous state.

When driving down and up and through the mountains of "The Mountain State," you drive past exit after exit on Interstate 79 and 77 and Route 19 that either has a gaggle of fast food restaurants, home cooking style restaurants, mini marts, gas stations, or just plain nothing. (The same is true when you get into the northern part of Virginia heading south through Wytheville, Virginia - pronounced "With-vul" by the locals).  Often times, when pulling off to get a bite to eat, get a coffee to stay awake, or even use the bathrooms, I often wonder where the people who operate and work at these roadside facilities live.

Last January, after driving back from our New Year's stay on Kiawah Island (Charleston, SC) as opposed to Charleston West Virginia, we stopped at a pet friendly hotel in Wytheville, Virginia (that's where I learned to pronounce the name of the "town").  Curiosity got the best of me, and when I went out to grab a bite to eat at the local Bob Evans, I asked a guest sitting next to me as we waited for a table to open where the fine people of Wytheville do their shopping?  "Mostly at Walmart," I was told. Walmart?  I hadn't seen a Walmart around Wytheville.  She told me it was about forty miles away.  I like Walmart.  But to have Walmart as the only store in which to shop and the  necessity to drive 40 miles to go shopping is a trek these days seems a bit much; however, I understand that "necessity is the mother of invention" and I guess that is why, when I actually had the chance to visit some of the small towns hiding behind the interstate signs, I realized the need for so many Dollar General and Family Dollar stores prominently featured in each and every town. 

Fayetteville, west virginia

Just a few days ago, we decided to take a short weekend trip to Charlotte to visit with our daughter. It was a quick, get down to see her, spend some time with her, and then turn around and come home.  A very, very short weekend.  We made a decision, however ill-advised, to visit The Greenbrier "on the way home" since it had been some time since we were in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia and loved it the last time we stayed.  We weren't planning on staying at The Greenbrier - just to take a "short" detour (since it is technically on the way home) and stop by, eat, relax, and then come home.  This decision turned into both a blessing and a curse at the same time, if that really can happen.

Leaving Charleston on Monday morning, my wife asked if we could stop and find a map of the area - since we were going into "uncharted" territories for us.  I laughed and wondered, in this day of the GPS and OnStar, why in the world would anyone need a map.  Of course, it did cause an argument with her quizzing me "how do I know that OnStar is giving us the 'best' directions?"  I didn't. But I assumed that OnStar had it's cartographers updating maps on daily and that traditional cartographers must have their hands full as areas grow and change in this country.  And how in the world, I argued, could map companies keep up with this ever changing topography with new roads, neighborhoods, etc.... For emergency reasons, I keep and older, un-updated GPS unit in my car - just in case something happens to OnStar, and I haven't "updated" it for some years. This very reliable GPS doesn't know (since I haven't updated it) the new and faster way to get from my house to Interstate 79 because in the past 8 years (the time I haven't updated it) several new and quicker routes have popped up.  It still wants to take me the longer, older way to get from my house to my destinations.  

So I was wary that a map couldn't be that accurate in figuring out the most convenient, quickest way to get from Charlotte to The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.  Mimi and I, being excellent "debaters" had one of our usual "heated debates" over the accuracy of "the map" versus "OnStar GPS."  I found myself in Walmart in Charlotte scouring the store for a map (almost embarrassed to ask for one for the aforementioned reasons).  The clerk and I had a good laugh at my wife's expense about the usefulness of maps, other than to actually "see" what the city, town, state, etc. looked like.  I purchased a $7 Rand McNally huge Road Atlas just in case she wanted to see what other states looked like in the future.

lewisburg, west virginia

Turns out, traveling "off the beaten path" in West Virginia really means traveling off the beaten path.  Neither the map nor the OnStar GPS gave us a direct route.  Rather, we found "routes" that consisted of single lane winding roads up and down mountain sides, traveling through some extremely beautiful areas, although we didn't have time to enjoy the vistas because our mission to get from Point A to Point B was of more importance.  Travelling through beautiful towns but hurrying because our destination seemed so far away.  I only wish on this particular trip we could have stopped and visited in these small, unique, historic, sometimes kitschy towns.  But we were on our mission.

The Greenbrier

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 

It's just that wild and wonderful West Virginia has no direct routes to any of it's destinations. Once you leave the any of the three interstates moving north to south or south of north throughout West Virginia, you're kind of on your own.  Did the map help?  Absolutely (not). Did the OnStar GPS work? Absolutely (not).  What I mean by this is that, yes, we followed a prescribed route from Bluefield to White Sulphur Springs, but the "prescribed route" turned out to be a series of one lane roads (all posted with a 55 mile per hour speed limit but impossible to drive that rate on roads that take a ninety degree right turn followed by a 90 degree left turn followed by a 110 degree left and an up hill no shoulder, twisting, turning series of roads:  Route 219 left, Route 219 right, Route 219 straight, Route 60 (turning and turning and turning and turning around unbelievable bends in the road, Route 63 East and onto Route 60 East.  That is roughly 80 miles of driving that takes roughly 3 hours.  We saw that Interstate 64 appeared somewhere near White Sulphur Springs, but that is just an illusion. Route 64 takes you back to more winding and turning roads that eventually allow you access to arrive back on to Route 19 North, roughly 100 miles from Morgantown.  After we finally were able to get from White Sulphur Springs to Route 19 (at Summersville), we traveled from Summersville to Morgantown in just over 1 1/2 hours on Route 19.

When I arrived home, I checked the "pathways" to important West Virginia attractions such as Canaan Valley Ski Resort, Snowshoe Ski Resort, and Stonewall Resort, and not one of these revenue sites has a direct route on which to travel.  I remember taking a summer trip to Snowshoe resort in 1990 and it literally took us forever to find it.  In fact, if you drive down Interstate 79, Route 19, or Interstate 77, there are NO SIGNS WHATSOEVER on these roads to take you to Snowshoe.  In fact, when we "popped out" onto Route 19 in Summersville after our extremely long trip out of White Sulphur Springs, I checked the exit we just pulled out from and there was no signage that told travelers that The Greenbrier was "that way."  In case you want to get to The Greenbrier, take the Summersville exit on Route 19 and travel southeast.  Believe me, there will be no sign.

Canaan Valley

Davis, west Virginia

Please look at the West Virginia map at the beginning of this article.  Try to find Canaan Valley, Snowshoe, Stonewall Resort, or The Greenbrier on the map.  They are not on the map. The four largest resorts in West Virginia do not appear on the map.  By the way, just to let you know, Canaan Valley Resort is in Davis, West Virginia.  Another test.  Please find Davis West Virginia on the map above.  Snowshoe Ski Resort is in Snowshoe West Virginia.  Once again, go to the map above and pinpoint the town of Snowshoe West Virginia.  Bet you can't find that either.  These are beautiful resorts.  

snowshoe ski resort

snowshoe, west virginia

The point is that West Virginia is a beautiful state.  However, unless you are a skilled cartographer, have a keener than superior sense of direction, or have a good GPS, you are NOT going to be able to get from Point A to Point B, for some inexplicable reason, West Virginia keeps these gems hidden from day trippers or those of us who love to explore different locations.  

new river gorge 

"You can't miss it" West virginia

However, try to AVOID the New River Gorge, and there is NO WAY you can get around it.  

stonewall resort

Roanoke, West virginia

Why is West Virginia, THE state with an identity issue, hiding these places?  My only suggestion.  Forget the traditional map.  If you have OnStar GPS, STRESS to them you want the quickest route to these destinations.  If you are using a regular GPS, I highly suggest you update the device before you begin your travels.  You will be sorry if you don't.  However, if you don't take that "leap" into WVa, you'll be sorry you didn't. It's just that you have to find the beautiful places all by yourself.  The leadership of West Virginia and the cartographers aren't going to help!