Tuesday October 13, 2020
Today we continued our journey through the Allegheny Mountains, stopping briefly for lunch and a short walk at a little hidden gem called Gaudineer Overlook in the Monongahela National Forest. The famous Green Bank Observatory was nearly along our path, so we made a slight detour to take a look at the world’s largest fully steerable parabolic dish antenna – The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
After leaving our campsite at Tygart Lake State Park, we struggled to find a way back to the highway heading south without backtracking through the town of Grafton. At times the roads shrank to single lanes, and we crossed over several one-lane bridges which seemed barely capable of handling the load of the van and trailer before we finally came out on the highway headed toward Virginia.
Around lunchtime we took a little detour off the main road to go for a short walk and have our lunch. After following a branch trimmer for several miles up a gravel road, we stumbled on a hidden gem in the Monongahela National Forest – Gaudineer Overlook. By a quirk of history, this tiny sliver of old-growth virgin red spruce has been preserved. The cool, dark path through this forest is enchanting. I almost expected one of the little people to pop up and scold us for threatening his pot of gold.
After leaving Gudineer Overlook, we continued south toward our goal for the evening – Roanoke, VA. Along the way we took a detour to see the world’s largest steerable parabolic antenna at the Green Bank Observatory.
Little did we know (although we probably should have) that we had been driving inside the National Radio Quiet Zone practically since leaving our campsite in the morning. Within the zone, radio transmissions are severely restricted so as not to interfere with the scientific observations at Green Bank, so we had no cell phone service all day. It was only after we got home to South Carolina and did a little research, that we realized we had been in violation of the rules at Green Bank where cell phones, Bluetooth, WiFi, digital cameras, and even microwave ovens are prohibited. We were finally able to contact my high school friend John who lives in Roanoke when we reached White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Leaving there, we nearly got lost. Since we had the routing preferences on our navigation app set to “avoid highways” it led us up a narrow mountain road which we learned later was called Virginia Line Road. Eventually this led us to Virginia State Highway 311 which led a very winding way up to the top of the ridge above Roanoke, Virginia. At the top, there was a tunnel. In the direction we were heading, the tunnel was a single lane of ordinary construction. In the opposite direction, the tunnel was a huge corrugated drainage pipe with a flat road surface laid in its lower quarter. It had apparently been inserted into the blasted and bored out rough tunnel passage, and then back-filled with concrete. I was so worried about being lost, I forgot to get a photo of it, but here’s what it looks like on Google Maps Street View.
After passing through the tunnel, the road led us so steeply down that I could smell the brakes of the van nearly smoking despite having the transmission in third gear the whole way. We finally parked the camper in John’s driveway just a little before dark. John pampered us with a supper of wonderful slow-roasted pork loin and venison with potatoes and beans from his garden. We stayed up until 3 AM talking before we finally retired to the camper.