Vagabonding Day 3: A Tour of West Virginia

Thursday, October 3
Began the day in: Huntington WV
Ended the day in: Snowshoe WV

Daniel and I awoke bright and early on Thursday morning ready for adventure. My in-laws, Mary and Greg, had a big day planned for us. West Virginia is a beautiful state and each time we visit Daniel’s family introduces me to someplace new. This time we piled in the car and headed east towards the Monongahela National Forest.

I present my new in-laws: Mary & Greg!

Selfie with more of the extended family. From left to right: Levi, Greg, Maggie, Shelly, Mary, Daniel and me.

The previous day, Mary and Greg greeted us warmly at the Huntington Airport when we finally arrived from Charlotte. Daniel and I were worn out from travelling and so we decided to keep the day low-key. We drove out to Beech Fork Lake and spent the afternoon tooling around on a fancy boat that we rented from the Marina. It was wonderfully relaxing and good preparation for the adventures in store for us the following day.

Walking to the Marina with Daniel’s parents.

Cool boat. We’ll take it!

My father-in-law, Greg, is a smooth operator. Of boats, that is.

Chilling on the boat at Beech Fork Lake.

We’re on a boat!

Daniel strikes a pose.

Fast-forward back to Thursday. For the first stop on our road trip, we planned to check out the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and ride the steam train. To reach Cass, we drove for approximately four hours along both major highways and windy country roads. It was a pretty drive through the forest which was just starting to turn autumn colors. Too bad we won’t be here in a week or so when the fall colors will be in full swing.

The Monongahela State Forest Greenbrier Ranger Station.

When we arrived in Cass, we were disappointed to learn that no more trains ran for the afternoon. However, we were in luck – another steam train was scheduled to run in the nearby town of Durbin. So we booked it over to Durbin and scored train tickets just in the nick of time.

The Durbin Train Station.

At that point, we all collectively realized that it was way past lunch and we were starving. Everyone knows that hungry Katy equates to grumpy Katy, so I hustled along Durbin’s main street looking for food. It was all I could do to avoid the senior citizens that were swarming around the train station. The city was unusually crowded today as a group of senior citizens on a bus tour were also onboard the same train. The rest of the town seemed more or less abandoned as most businesses were boarded up and devoid of occupants.

I finally hit the jackpot at Al’s Upper Inn Club, located adjacent to the Durbin Rail & Trail Store. I plopped on a bar stool next to some local folks and miraculously the restaurant staff made us 4 burgers to go just in time for the train tour.

And that is how I found myself on a historic steam railroad tour in rural West Virginia, gobbling down a burger, with my in-laws and a train full of energetic seniors for company. It was another hot sunny afternoon but we were seated in a covered car with open windows and the breeze felt lovely. Smoke and cinders from the steam engine wafted inside the car occasionally and left smudges on my face. The train travelled at a leisurely pace for 5 miles and then we stopped for a few minutes before returning to the Depot.

Black smoke billows from the historic Durbin Rocket Locomotive.

Sun filters through the trees and the dense cloud of smoke.

Stopping at a stream to collect water for the steam engine.

Lunch time for the train engineers.

After the train tour ended, we headed to the nearby Green Bank Observatory and Telescope. The Green Bank Observatory is home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. The Green Bank Telescope is absolutely enormous – it has a surface of 2.3 acres and can be seen from miles away. The Observatory is located in a unique area called the National Radio Quiet Zone in which radio transmissions are heavily restricted. This helps to protect the telescope from interference.

Welcome to the Green Bank Observatory!

Daniel and I were really excited to check out the observatory as it was recently featured in our favorite podcast, The Adventure Zone. The Adventure Zone stars 3 brothers and their dad who play role playing games together. The show started out basically as a way for the brothers to tell corny jokes but evolved into some really interesting and touching story telling. We’re huge fans of The Adventure Zone which made visiting the Green Bank Telescope even more fun.

The Green Bank Telescope from afar.

A model of the Green Bank Telescope inside the science center.

We booked a tour at the observatory which included a bus ride that drove right to the base of the Green Bank Telescope. We were not allowed to take any photos once we approached the telescope but it was amazing nonetheless. As we stood gazing up at the telescope, it rotated to point to an entirely different location in the sky. It moved surprisingly fast for such a big structure. Neat!

Taking the bus tour to the Green Bank Telescope.

Cheesy photo op inside the observatory. We’re space aliens!

By this point it was getting late and we were nowhere near Huntington. So we found a hotel in the town of Snowshoe to spend the night.

What a day!

Sunset over Snowshoe Mountain

Sunset selfie!

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