Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day: Elakala Falls/Pase Point

Monday, Labor Day itself, was day two of our overnight getaway to Davis WV and Blackwater Falls State Park, one of the great outdoor treasures of this country. After a night in the Blackwater Falls Lodge, built in 1957 and showing its age a bit, a night of enduring screaming children running up and down the halls and other loud noises, I was up before dawn and up two-and-a-half hours before I woke Annie.

While the sun was getting up, I had plenty of time to google around for things to do on day two using the lodge's piss-poor WiFi. I really shouldn't complain. I didn't expect WiFi at all. Ann had mentioned the afternoon before that she would like to go visit Pendleton Lake on the other side of the river and perhaps see Pendleton Falls. She showed me a really intriguing photo of Pendleton Falls the evening before, but when I started looking into it, I saw that Pendleton Falls is where the outflow from Pendleton Lake meets the Blackwater some 200 feet below on the canyon floor. Moreover, to see the falls is a bushwhack with no maintained trail and a very, very steep bushwhack at that. Ann's left foot isn't 100% or I would have gone for it. But I really didn't want to get all the way down in the canyon and she not be able to walk out.

Backpedaling on Pendleton Falls, I looked around for other amusements in the area and quickly came upon Elakala Falls and Douglas Falls, both of which I had heard Ann mention the night before. I found that Elakala Falls is a series of falls on Shays Run right next to the lodge while Douglas Falls was a couple of miles from the park. The pictures of Douglas Falls had me salivating: we had to go there.

After a coffee run down to the lobby of the lodge (free coffee!), we got showered, packed up, checked out, and our stuff packed into the Jeep. Then we walked across the front of the lodge and into the dark hemlock Hansel und Gretel woods just to the west. Not 100 yards later did we hear a waterfall and then suddenly we came to a wooden footbridge across a creek. We were standing on top of the first of a series of four falls on Shays Run collectively known as Elakala Falls as they make their way down the canyon wall to the Blackwater below.

Elakala Falls
A group of photographers had left a rope going down the hill to the first set of falls and we very gratefully used that to get down where we took these photos. The photographers were down below at the second set of falls so we had the top fall to ourselves. It was quiet, beautiful, and surprisingly, not at all slippery. I imagine that with a little rain, that all changes, and the rocks would be incredibly tricky to navigate. Call us lucky.

And a Slower Shutter Speed

More of Same

Elakala Falls Up Close
We descended to the top of the second fall and watched the photographers down below with their high-dollar equipment mounted on tripods. It must be nice but I don't have the budget or the inclination to lug a lot of equipment into the woods. For me, it's about getting outdoors and recording the memories, not making the best photos. I would have liked to have gone further down and seen more of the falls, but I was very worried about Ann's foot, which fortunately, didn't bother her too much.

On our way back to the lodge, Ann spotted the gleam of water in this sluice. Although on rare occasion she remarks that I sometimes spend too much time taking pictures, she's really good at pointing out things I should photograph. I hustled upstream to see what the sluice was all about. I still don't have any understanding of why it is here but it is pretty cool, especially because it makes the big right-hand bend that you can see in the photo.

Sluice on Shays Run
From here, we decided to go to Pendleton Lake, look about, walk over to Pendleton Point, have a look-see at the way down to Pendleton Falls, and make our way out to Pase Point per the ranger's suggestion the day before, leaving Douglas Falls for the afternoon before heading back. Starting at the parking lot by the lake, we walked southwest along the lakeshore through the trees and across a big open lawn to the Pendleton Point observation point just opposite the Lodge. The views from this side of the canyon were just as good if not better than the views on the other side where we were the day before.

The short traverse through the open woods led us through an area with many small shrubs with lots of berries, shrubs with which I am not at all familiar. This area was also full of high-bush blueberries, tall purple and tall white asters, and lots of other flowers. I certainly expected to see lots of deer in the open woodland and I would not have been surprised to surprise a bear feasting on the berries, but we didn't see a single large animal the entire trip, though Ann said she saw some deer dropping near the lake.

Unknown Berries: Another Harbinger of Fall

There Should be Dozens of Deer Here

The Lodge from Pendleton Point

Blackwater Canyon from Pendleton Point
Backtracking through the open woodlands and berry scrub, we made our way back to the lake and across the dam, headed in the direction of Pendleton Falls and Pase Point. The fully sunny open ground around the lake was a great place to shoot wildflowers, with about 25-30 species in a single area.

Pendleton Lake

Lilies, The Water Shield, Brasenia schreberi

Unopened Milkweed Pods

Ironweed, Vernonia spp.

A Really Nice Snakeroot
And the woods along the Dobbin House and Pase Point trails were good for groundcovers. We saw a lot of running cedar, a club moss, along the Dobbin House trail (and a whole lot more of a slightly different kind near the bogs on the Yellow Birch trail the day before). When I was a kid, my mom would send me out into the woods to gather running cedar with which to wrap our banisters at Christmas. I also saw a fair amount of wintergreen as I have all summer, but this was the first I've seen with any berries.

Running Cedar, Diphasiastrum digitatum

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens
There were also very large patches of a groundcover that is unknown to me. It almost looks like a shiny-leaved strawberry, but it has little prickles on the stems. It's not really a vine and not a shrub. I'm perplexed.

An Unkown Groundcover
After a few minutes of gentle walk, we came to the end of the Pase Point trail where the turn-off to the overlook was flanked with twin rock cairns. From here, it was maybe thirty yards to some pretty breathtaking views. Pase Point is the most western point along the canyon on the north side of the Blackwater, situated high above the confluence of the Blackwater and the North Fork of the Blackwater.

Cairn at Pase Point

Looking Southwest, North Fork Merges on Right

Photographing the Photographer

Enjoying the View

Blackwater River from Pase Point
We took our lunch here at Pase Point which we had pretty much to ourselves. It was quite delightful to get away from everyone. As much as we enjoyed the view, we needed to get on to see Douglas Falls before starting on the drive back to Winchester, and so we made our way back along the fairly flat trail that skirted along the cliff edge to the lake.

Six-Leaf Whorl of a Joe Pye Weed

Basketball-Sized Joe Pye Weed

On the Dam: Rudbeckia, Red Clover, Queen Ann's Lace

A Hypericum on the Dam
We really enjoyed our time at Blackwater, but after a pit stop in the Nature Center at the lake, we headed out to try to find Douglas Falls, leaving behind Blackwater Falls State Park for good. But more on that in the next post.

Previous: Part Two of our Labor Day Getaway, Next: Part Four of our Labor Day Getaway

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