www.wvgazettemail.com Travel http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2016, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers New app gives visitors self-guided tours of Paint Creek Scenic Byway http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160426/GZ07/160429667 GZ07 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160426/GZ07/160429667 Tue, 26 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400 Rick Steelhammer By Rick Steelhammer BECKLEY - A 44-mile-long scenic corridor sprinkled with historic points of interest as well as places to fish for trout, ride bikes, view wildlife and paddle kayaks weaves its way over, under and alongside the West Virginia Turnpike between Beckley and the Kanawha County river town of Pratt - although most Turnpike travelers are oblivious to it.

To let more people know about the Paint Creek Scenic Byway and what it has to offer, the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association has created the Paint Creek Driving Tour, which uses a free downloadable mobile device app to give byway explorers access to 10 audio pieces with information on those who lived along the stream, from American Indian times through European settlement and farming to its coal mining boom and bust and present-day era of watershed restoration.

The mobile app, developed by i-Treks of Lewisburg, allows visitors to simply hit the Byway, starting from Tamarack, and as they approach points of interest, listen to site-appropriate audio stories automatically activated by arriving at preset GPS coordinates.

After three years of researching, recording and editing, "visitors now have the chance to learn about an area of Southern West Virginia as told by people who have lived there their whole lives," said project director Catherine Moore.

In addition to oral histories and historic sidebars, the audio tour features traditional Appalachian music. Additional information, plus a gallery of original photography, is available on the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association's website, paintcreekwv.com, where the free app for the driving tour can also be found.

American Indians once followed bison trails along Paint Creek to travel between the mountains of Southern West Virginia and the Kanawha Valley. The Shawnee who captured "Follow the River" heroine Mary Draper following an attack on settlers at Drapers Meadow, Virginia, in 1755 followed Paint Creek to travel between the Bluestone and Kanawha Rivers.

"I think people will really enjoy this trail," said Howard Hughes, president of the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association, whose great-great-grandfather founded the Paint Creek community of Pax in Fayette County.

"A lot of coal camps were built here and a lot of history took place along this creek," Hughes said. "While Blair Mountain gets all the publicity, the West Virginia Mine Wars started on Paint Creek."

In 1912, nine years before the Battle of Blair Mountain, thousands of miners went on strike along Paint and Cabin creeks in Kanawha County. After being evicted from coal company housing, the miners established tent cities that were fired upon, and in at least one case, machine-gunned by personnel hired by coal operators. Fiery labor organizer Mother Jones took part in the strike and was jailed in Pratt, while more than 100 miners were imprisoned through military court martial proceedings after state officials declared periods of martial law.

Although the driving tour begins by passing through several miles of picturesque farm country just south of Beckley, most of the drive takes travelers through what was once prime coal country. Mining developments began appearing in the Paint Creek watershed soon after the area became accessible to railroads in 1873.

"Pax used to be surrounded by coal mines and from Mahan on down Paint Creek to Pratt, it was one coal camp after another," said Hughes. "Now they're all gone."

Dave Cottrell and Darrell Preece of the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association grew up in Mahan and attended high school at Kingston, a Paint Creek community that no longer exists. Both men now live in St. Albans, but continue to volunteer time and effort to making Paint Creek a more attractive place for visitors.

"We're trying to give something back to the place where we grew up," said Cottrell. "This creek is one of the best-kept secrets in West Virginia. We want to help get the word out to bring more people in."

"We're both in our 70s now and no longer live here, but we still want to make a contribution to the place where we grew up," said Preece. "We had a good life here. Our memories are good."

The town where Cottrell and Preece were raised is a far cry from the Mahan of today.

"There's just four or five houses there now," said Preece. "There were at least 500 people living there when we were growing up. There was the company store, a community hall where we had cake walks and dances, a barber and a doctor who came to town twice a week. Now it's a ghost town."

"Back then, our fun was swimming in the creek, swinging from vines, and sliding down the slate dump on sheets of tin roofing," said Cottrell.

"We'd fish, but back then, about the only fish in the creek were suckers. Now, it's one of the state's more prominent trout streams. Last Thursday, my son and I went trout fishing here. He caught nine and I caught seven."

Prior to the formation of the Upper and Lower Paint Creek Watershed Associations in the 1990s, "Paint Creek was a sewer and a public dumping site," said Dwight Siemiaczko, founder of the Lower Paint Creek Watershed Association. The cleanup started in 1995, Siemiaczko said, "when we started at Mahan and began walking down the creek, picking up trash as we went."

Since that first cleanup, the watershed groups have removed more than 11,000 bags of trash, 4,000 tires and 865 tons of discarded appliances and other forms of solid waste from the stream. They have built stream structures to flush silt from the creek and oxygenate its waters to enhance fish habitat. The have built a picnic area, fishing piers and installed signs and information kiosks to tell the creek's story to visitors.

"Since the cleanup got underway, the water quality has improved so much the fishery has exploded," Siemiaczko said. "Twenty years ago, if you happened to look down from the Turnpike and see Paint Creek, it was an embarrassment, with junk cars and tires all through the water. Now, if you look down when you drive by, you see people fishing. It's turned 180 degrees."

The Paint Creek Audio Driving Tour and website were made possible through grants from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Fayette County Commission.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Explore Chattanooga's storied past, colorful present http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160424/GZ05/160429898 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160424/GZ05/160429898 Sun, 24 Apr 2016 04:00:00 -0400 By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team By By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team Chattanooga may well be best known for the "Choo-Choo" ditty that's easily stuck in your head. While the historic hotel by the same name is an attraction in the Scenic City, it's only the beginning of what this 143-square-mile city has to offer.

Chattanooga came to life in 1815 as a trading post. The Union forces occupied the town during the Civil War. Many of the historic areas have been preserved in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The Chattanooga National Cemetery was established in 1863. The Andrews Raiders Monument marks the graves of the participants in the 1862 Andres Raid or "The Great Locomotive Chase."

History buffs have a great deal of yesteryear to discover. You may want a tour of Tennessee Stillhouse. At the height of the pre-prohibition era you could find 20 distilleries throughout town. For another throw-back tour, hop on the Southern Belle Riverboat and take a river gorge tour. Don't miss the opportunity to see the International Towing and Recovery Museum, which includes the first tow truck in the world. It was made in Chattanooga in 1916.

The Native American history starts with Ross's Landing on the downtown riverfront. John Ross was the chief of the Cherokee nation. Ross's Landing is a public art memorial named "The Passage." You can splash in water running down steps alongside large clay medallions while learning more about the Cherokee history.

The list of outdoor options is lengthy - from mildly to extremely adventurous. You can run, mountain bike, camp, hang glide, paddle and more, all around the area. Spend the day paddling through downtown, gliding under the city bridges to the entrance of the Tennessee River Gorge.

If you're looking for new heights, you may want to try hang gliding from Lookout Mountain, the highest elevation in Chattanooga at 2,388 feet. If you want to hop on the Appalachian Trail, many sections are close to town, making about 50 miles of the trail accessible. If you're looking for a leisurely stroll, rent one of the Chattanooga city bikes found at docking stations around the city. Segway tours are also available.

Try the zip stream or white water rafting at several locations. The rock formations at the Rock City Gardens provide great views and a few active challenges. Fall Creek Falls offers prime real estate for camping and backpacking with waterfalls, steep gorges and forests. The whole family can scale a rock wall at High Point Climbing and Fitness.

After the kids check out the kid zone at High Point you may want to ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.

The Chattanooga Ducks are always a hit with young and old and a great way to take in the city.

The Tennessee Aquarium is a must-see, especially for the touch tanks of sturgeon and stingrays.

For more hands-on experiences, the Creative Discovery Museum exhibits welcome interaction for all. Some other visual experiences include the IMAX 3-D theater at the aquarium and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, where you can ride on a vintage train.

As much as the geological and outdoor adventures abound, so do the arts, dining and shopping.

The Hunter Museum of American Art offers an amazing view from its location on a bluff near the Tennessee River, but the exhibits from colonial times to present day are the attraction.

Chattanooga is dotted with many galleries such as the River Gallery or iGNiS Glass Studio, where you can blow your own glass ornament.

The dining options span the gamut from craft brew pubs to culturally authentic Greek and Italian eateries and more. Some restaurants boast a locally grown ingredient menu. No matter your tastes or budget, you will not go hungry in Chattanooga.

Take a step back in time at the MoonPie General Store, where you can buy MoonPie merchandise along with nostalgic candy and souvenirs. It's a kitschy must-stop.

The galleries on Williams Street and The Redefinery on McCallie are also unique places to find something special to take home.

Of course in between all your Chattanooga adventures you'll need a place to relax and recoup for the next day.

The Chattanoogan is a AAA four-diamond hotel.

If you want a unique hotel experience, sleep in a historic railroad sleeper car at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. Traditional rooms are also available.

You didn't think you were going to get that song out of your head did you?

For personalized assistance in planning your Chattanooga

adventure, stop by the AAA Charleston office or call one of the AAA travel professionals - Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland, Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing at 304-925-1136.

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Greenbrier Valley makes an ideal outdoor destination http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419728 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419728 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Kristi Godby Special to the Gazette-Mail By By Kristi Godby Special to the Gazette-Mail The Greenbrier Valley is quickly becoming an outdoor destination, especially for the budding athlete. Its namesake river is ideal for first time kayakers or a canoe ride with kids in tow (literally.) The area's most popular running and hiking trail, the Greenbrier River Trail, traverses through its backyard.

The Greenbrier State Forest has added multiple new biking trails to its miles of hiking paths, and its disc golf course delights people. Activities such as fishing, boating, hiking and swimming continue at Lake Sherwood, the largest lake in the Monongahela National Forest.

Here are some of the outdoor events taking place this year in the Greenbrier Valley:

May 7, Greenbrier State Forest

This is the second year for the trail run, but the first time it will take place in the spring.

The race takes advantage of the new paths in the Greenbrier State Forest. With about half of the race occurring on a single track, and with its rolling terrain, this 5-miler is a great first exposure for novice trail runners.

July 16, Lewisburg

This is a fully supported bike trek through the beautiful farmland and rolling mountains of the Greenbrier Valley. There are three distance options: a 29 miler, a 63-mile metric century and a challenging 105-mile century.

The event capitalizes on all the history of the area including packet pick-up at the historic General Lewis Inn and riding past Cook's Old Mill in Greenville.

Sept. 11, Lake Sherwood, Neola

The beauty of Lake Sherwood is the ideal place to have this sprint event. The distance and terrain are very doable for first-timers, and the duathlon option is perfect for the non-swimmer.

Onsite camping makes this a fun option for a family getaway, and spectators will enjoy the beach and grassy lawns as they await their favorite athlete's return.

Oct. 8, Lewisburg

This inaugural event takes place with the area's biggest festival, Taste Of Our Towns (TOOT), a benefit for local performance venue Carnegie Hall. Details for this 10K road run are still being determined, but it is a nice addition for participants who like to "make a trip" of a road race.

During TOOT, downtown Lewisburg is a food-lovers paradise with food vendors of all variety along the sidewalks and live music at the street's end.

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WV Travel Team: Running with a scenic WV view http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419729 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419729 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400 Compiled by the GoToWV Team By Compiled by the GoToWV Team

Running's not just for pavement anymore.

Hit the trails and experience the beauty of West Virginia woods and farmland on these popular trail races:

May, Kanawha State Forest

If your best running buddy has four legs, the Dirty Dog 15K Trail Run might be the race for you. Not only can dogs run in this popular race, it's encouraged (assuming they are well behaved and vaccinated, of course).

Dogs who run with their owners get their own water stations and post-race treats, and the first pooch to cross the finish line gets a special Top Dog award.

The course is a challenging mix of single-track mountainous trail and unimproved dirt road, with some mud, rocks and water - guaranteed to get your "dogs" dirty.

In the area: Stop for a snack at Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream in Charleston. The shop has outdoor seating, and owner Ellen leaves a bowl of water outside for thirsty pups.

July, Cacapon Resort State Park

The Cacapon 12 Hour Challenge is unique: it's a timed race, rather than a distance race.

Think you can hit 50 miles in 12 hours? Runners who complete 10 loops receive a commemorative pint glass as members of the Cacapon 50 Mile Club.

The moderate-to-technical course treks a 5-mile single-track loop across a few streams and lightly traveled park roads. You're welcome to run as many loops as you want, up to the 12-hour time limit.

A fully stocked picnic shelter is the start and finish, where runners can fuel up before their next loop.

In the area: Treat yourself to a massage in Berkeley Springs - America's "spa town" - and a hearty gourmet meal as you enjoy the mountain scenery at Panorama at the Peak.

July, Camp Arrowhead

The Kanawha Trace Trail Runs includes 10K, 25K and 50K point-to-point races on the Kanawha Trace, a 32-mile-long network of old bison and Native American trails across 3 counties.

The trail is a mix of rugged single track, dirt road, pavement and pasture, climbing and descending ridges and crossing several creeks. You'll be shuttled to your start line, and all three races end at Camp Arrowhead in Ona.

The Moonlight Madness and Darkness Falls night races also follow The Kanawha Trace. Both have 3.5 and 7.5 mile courses, and the Darkness Falls race even features a "haunted" section. (Bring a headlamp or flashlight.)

In the area: Chow down on a juicy burger at Fat Patty's in Barboursville and take a tour of Blenko Glass Company in Milton, where artisans craft hand-blown glass collectibles.

September, Gritt's Farm

Take this festive fall trail race through Gritt's Farm in Buffalo. The 5-mile course winds through corn fields, greenhouses and forest land.

Bring the whole family to enjoy Fun Farm activities like hayrides, a wagon train, apple sling shots, the slide mountain and a giant corn maze. And while you're at it, you can pick your own pumpkin.

In the area: Refuel at Fireside Grille or sip a hot coffee while you browse for books at Books and Brews, both in Hurricane.

October, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area

This 3-day stage race deep in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest has three distances: 50K, 50-mile and half-marathon. You can choose to run one, two or even all three races if you feel you're up to the challenge. You can camp overnight at the 400-acre Mountain Institute.

Trilogy runners will be rewarded with spectacular views of waterfalls, brilliant fall foliage and breathtaking overlooks - all within a stone's throw of the 4,863-foot-high Spruce Knob, West Virginia's highest point.

In the area: Climb the observation tower at Spruce Knob for a spectacular view of the mountains. Stop at Bob's Hotdogs in Belington, where you can choose from 250 specialty dogs.

November, Green Bank

Start your Thanksgiving Day with a vigorous run among the giant telescopes at National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The Turkey Trot has two distances: The 10K trail run is a mix of flats and hills over fields and wooded single track, while the 5K course is primarily on pavement with some short sections on groomed trails. Runners will get an up-close look at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world's largest moving land object.

In the area: Stay or grab a bite at Snowshoe Mountain, which has four seasons of outdoor fun, from skiing to golf to mountain biking.

For more information, call 800-CALL WVA or visit GoToWV.com. Share your Real West Virginia stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with

#GoToWV and #RealWV.

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Top 7 getaway destinations in Tucker County http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419733 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ05/160419733 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400 DAVIS - In case you haven't checked it out lately, Tucker County has some great places to escape: high-mountain paradise, uplifting breezes and spectacular natural features that leave visitors elevated and inspired.

Here are seven True Tucker getaways:

Few experiences are as memorable and inspiring as witnessing the Blackwater River crashing nearly six stories into the stunning Blackwater Canyon.

Blackwater Falls State park is a perennial favorite among nature lovers who can take in the views of the falls from an easy-access overlook or a trail hike to the falls' base. This is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia.

Four seasons of sweeping vistas of the peaks that surround it make this resort the ultimate view with a room.

The park is home to a 160-room lodge, 23 cabins and 34 campsites; a full-service ski area and championship golf course; sporting clays; and miles of hiking and biking for all skill levels.

This high-mountain, windswept plateau overlooking the Alleghenies is known for its Canadian-like flora and weather patterns. Summer brings mountain laurel and cranberries. Bear Rocks is a popular destination for photographers and birdwatchers.

Once veins feeding the heart of American industry, Tucker County's dormant rails have been converted into managed trails. The Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail, between Parsons and Elkins, is perfect for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail starts in Thomas and proceeds through the majestic Blackwater Canyon, ending in the community of Hendricks. Visit the depot in Parsons for more information for both trails.

Stretching across five eastern counties, near the Highway 219 corridor, the Mountain Music Trail is the ultimate road trip adventure for music enthusiasts. The entire region has contributed to the formation and longevity of the Appalachian music, dance and folkways of the Allegheny Mountain region. The Purple Fiddle in Thomas is a great place for live music. This is a family-friendly café and music venue with weekly live music performances.

One of the oldest and largest microbreweries in the state, Mountain State Brewing Company, is perched on top of a mountain in Thomas.

The brewery is known for its uniquely named artisan ales such as Dolly Suds Cranberry Wheat, Miner's Daughter Stout, Almost Heaven Amber Ale and many others. See the inner-workings of the brewery's seven-barrel brew house and tap room for free. Just schedule a tour.

For foodies, Sirianni's Café is a must stop. This casual, eclectic restaurant in Davis is known for its to-die-for pizza and pasta. USA TODAY recently rated in the best in West Virginia.

When it comes to water sports, the Cheat River offers family excitement with whitewater opportunities. Rafting occurs in what is called the Cheat Narrows of the Cheat River, the Cheat Canyon, 20 miles downstream, is home to 30 rapids Class III and greater.

The narrows is an adventurous Class III section of whitewater with swimming holes and a fun rock jump into the water. Interesting fact: The Cheat River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the eastern United States and flows north.

To learn more about the Tucker County CVB,

visit www.canaanvalley.org.

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Public-private partnership funds Stonewall Resort cottage development http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160411/GZ07/160419894 GZ07 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160411/GZ07/160419894 Mon, 11 Apr 2016 20:47:34 -0400 Rick Steelhammer By Rick Steelhammer WESTON — Budget cuts and funding uncertainty have placed many West Virginia state parks in survival, rather than expansion, mode. But Lewis County's Stonewall Resort State Park has opened the first of what could be 20 new luxury cottages in a new, wooded lakeshore development, thanks to a new public-private funding venture at a park developed in part with private sector capital.

Don't think small and quaint when envisioning Stonewall's new development: The “cottages” are 2,200-square-foot, two-story, four-bedroom luxury homes equipped with Wi-Fi, gas fireplaces, washers and dryers, central air, roomy kitchens and huge porches. Each bedroom has its own bathroom and flat screen television.

The occupancy rate has been high at Stonewall Resort's existing 10-unit cottage development, begun in 2002, featuring two- and four-bedroom units overlooking the lake and the resort's lodge on the opposite shore.

“The four-bedroom units are usually the first to go, so we knew we had a market for more of them,” said Richard Ebright, director of operations for Benchmark Resorts and Hotels, the lodging and recreation concessionaire at Stonewall Resort.

The new cottages will be the property of the state of West Virginia, built on land owned by the federal government, by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission-accredited investors who will be entitled to a portion of the cottages' revenue stream. Covenants are in place requiring owners to maintain the cottages to agreed-upon standards and cover other maintenance, design and liability issues.

Roads and utilities are in place to accommodate 14 new cottages, five of which are expected to be built this year, according to Ebright.

“We're hoping there's enough interest to build a total of 20,” he said.

Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park came into being in 1990, following the 1988 completion of Stonewall Jackson Dam and the 2,650-foot lake formed from the impounded waters of the West Fork River.

“When I started working here, there was the lake, the marina, the campground and a multipurpose building,” said State Parks Superintendent Sam England, who served as superintendent at Stonewall for 17 years earlier in his career, and was on hand for the new cottage development's opening ceremony last Friday.

To add recreational facilities to the new park and satisfy a $35 million debt to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for building the dam and acquiring the property for its backwaters, the State of West Virginia in 1998 entered into an agreement with McCabe-Henley LP of Charleston to organize the private investment of $42 million, which was added to $23 million contributed by the state. The $65 million public-private state park resort development pool, the first of its kind in the nation, produced the funding needed to develop Stonewall's Arnold Palmer signature golf course, its 191-room Lakeside Lodge, its 10 original cottages and other amenities — all managed under contract by a private concessionaire, Benchmark Resorts and Hotels.

Friday's opening ceremony “allows us to celebrate the success and dedication of or public-private partnership,” said Michael Hager, Stonewall Resort's general manager. Since Stonewall Resort State Park began operating in 2002, it has become Lewis County's fourth-largest employer and produces 170,000 visitor days, pumping more than $50 million into the local economy.

“It's a very unique venue,” said Col. Bernard R. Lindstrom, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Pittsburgh District. “Our partnership with the state in this park is solid.”

Rudy Henley, who led McCabe-Henley's effort to build the public-private partnership leading to the development of Stonewall Resort, is now asset manager and developer for the resort. He credits a 1999 report by the National Recreation Lakes Study Commission with building the framework for the partnership at Stonewall.

Among other things, the report called for government initiatives to “build upon community interests to be successful.” Decisions regarding development at the 500 federal lakes that contain at least 1,000 acres of surface water should consider local goals, “so they contribute to the ecological, social and economic well-being of the area.” Private partners should be supported by “allowing them to amortize their long-term investment, providing them with the opportunity to make a profit, and embracing private sector innovations in providing facilities and services to visitors,” according to the report.

“This is part of an expansion that allows us to accommodate more guests and make our product more competitive,” Henley said at Friday's ceremony. “This is just the start of what we will be able to accomplish, as everyone gets comfortable with our partnership. I think there are opportunities around the country for similar partnerships.”

“Even in tough economic times, projects like this show that if you're willing to cooperate, you can get things done,” said state Division of Natural Resources Director Bob Fala, another speaker at Friday's event.

McCabe Henley LP arranged the financing for the new cottage development's newly completed model unit, as well as its site preparation work and utilities.

The new four-bedroom cottage, which sleeps up to 12, rents for $499 nightly.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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Seven under-the-radar family travel destinations http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160405/GZ05/160409645 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160405/GZ05/160409645 Tue, 5 Apr 2016 07:02:00 -0400 By Jeff Schrum Special to The Washington Post By By Jeff Schrum Special to The Washington Post The most common reaction we get when people learn about our family's year-long trek around the country living in a travel trailer is, "So what was your favorite place?" It's not that it's an unreasonable question, it's just impossible to answer.

Despite 40,000 miles under our timing belts and miniature plastic license plates from most of the 49 states you can drive to (next time, Nebraska), so many of this country's attractions await our discovery. "Best place" is hopeless anyway, like picking a favorite child or singling out the best slice of pie in the Florida Keys. You love them all.

By the numbers, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone draw the most visitors. But how about the unheard-of or under-appreciated gems further down the list? They deserve some love too.

I love the underdogs, those obscure or out-of-the-way places that surprised us with their culture, history, learning opportunities, recreation and beauty. These are the places we could easily have missed but now can't stop raving about, those we dream of returning to before our kids leave the nest. In no particular order:

Standing on its pure white sand, gazing into aquamarine infinity, Sleeping Bear Dunes wows "lake people" and "ocean people" alike.

As lifelong sea-goers, Sleeping Bear checked all the boxes for us. It didn't hurt that our late-summer stop served up the perfect weather: warm enough to swim and sip a chilled cherry pop, but cool enough to sleep with the windows open.

I understand why so many families return here year after year - it's a blast. Stumbling down the 400-feet high dunes rocked (climbing them not so much), and we got totally carried away (pun intended) tubing down the Platte River.

Family fun, beautiful beaches, Junior Ranger programs, world-class sunsets and quaint nearby resort towns made Sleeping Bear one of our favorite stays. Michigan: Who knew?

Our family's favorite ecosystem? Easy: the desert. Its infamous dry heat, the aroma of Brittlebush and Ocotillo in bloom, the jaw-dropping night skies - this is the happy place I retreat to in my mind while getting a cavity filled or having blood drawn.

Anza-Borrego sports a rugged look, much like the bighorn sheep who call it home. Only an hour from the sprawl of Palm Springs, the setting feels unexpectedly remote.

We circled the wagons with a group of traveling friends over New Year's, setting up camp in one of the huge expanses of empty desert available to campers and RVers.

More than a year later we continue to reminisce about the sunsets and stars, coyotes yipping through the night, hikes through slot canyons and tropical oases, 500 miles of unpaved roads, wide-open space for kids to roam and the unforgettable view of the Badlands from Font's Point.

Many of our favorite places blindsided us. We knew little about them and almost skipped them, only to be blown away when we arrived.

Welcome to Death Valley, where your adventure begins before even entering the park. Only a few roads lead into the valley, all descending sharply from the ear-popping passes over the surrounding mountain ranges to the lowest elevations on the continent.

The park wooed us at first sight, making the four days we allotted feel woefully inadequate. During our too-short stay we crammed in a slot canyon hike, white-knuckled our way through a 27-mile off-road back country drive, scaled enormous sand dunes and explored several old-west ghost towns, all while avoiding seeing one of the park's native "sidewinder" rattlers.

Rounding out its awesomeness, Death Valley holds International Dark Sky Park credentials. Oh yes, we will be back.

Unless you're one of McCarthy, Alaska's 40-some-odd permanent residents, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park - the largest in the country - is the most isolated and inaccessible destination on this list. However, if you can manage to get the family here either by bush plane or car (the only "road" into the park is so sketchy, many rental car agencies expressly forbid it), you're in for a treat.

The frontier lives on here, in the bush and up and down the unpaved streets of McCarthy. The town's handful of businesses rely on generators for power and a nearby spring for fetching pails of water. Eco-friendly composting toilets, in hand-crafted reclaimed wood enclosures (read: outhouses), round out the town's modest list of amenities.

Thrill-seeking visitors can enjoy back-country excursions, whitewater rafting and mountaineering. The park has a lot to offer less adventurous, bear-fearing frontiersmen such as ourselves, too, such as touring the abandoned Kennecott mining town and glacier trekking.

Just outside Page, Arizona, near the Utah border, the Colorado River flows through one of the most iconic images of the desert southwest: Horseshoe Bend.

Perched on the red sandstone cliff like the king of the hill, feet flirting with the edge of a 1,000-foot vertical drop, I found myself securing my first-born with one hand and reaching for my selfie stick with the other.

A few miles away, Antelope Canyon is another gem begging to be checked off your bucket list. Navajo guides lead small groups down impossibly steep staircases where you're enveloped by the most gorgeous (and photographed) water-sculpted slot canyons anywhere.

And since you've journeyed this far, you might as well travel a little further to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, home of another bucket-list slot canyon hike known as "the Wave."

This park immerses visitors in Ancestral Pueblo life in some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings on the continent. While many of the park's 600 dwellings housed one or two families, the larger ones provided shelter for as many as 150 people.

A ranger-guided tour of Balcony House has you scaling a cliff on a 30-foot wooden ladder and crawling through a 12-foot-long torso-width tunnel.

In Spruce Tree House we climbed down into a kiva, one of the sacred subterranean living spaces, as we imagined the lives lived here nearly a millennium ago. The phenomenal ranger-led tours and hands-on environment made this our favorite road-schooling stop.

The Everglades have always held top billing on my other travel bucket list - the places I'd be scared to death to ever step foot in.

Are you kidding? Pythons big enough to ingest a deer?

I suppose morbid curiosity and the opportunity to show the boys crocodiles and alligators commingling in nature finally swayed me to suck it up.

The park didn't just surpass expectations, it blew them out of the wetlands. A one-of-a-kind ecosystem that plays home to exotic birds, cougars, bears and even carnivorous plants ... it was all but guaranteed the boys would love this place.

With its nine distinct habitats, the Everglades refuses to be typecast. At times I couldn't tell if I was in a delta, a prairie, a forest or on the African savanna. In the warm afternoon sun, alligators sleep peacefully alongside the park road, mouths wide open, no doubt generating a gazillion likes in many a visitor's Instagram feed (#instagators).

A braver dad might have biked his kids around the 15-mile park loop, but after a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a mama gator and her pups just outside the visitor center, we settled on the enjoyable and stress-free tram tour instead.

This list, like our messy route across the continent, isn't all-inclusive. Had we visited places such as Great Sand Dunes, the Olympic Peninsula, Big Bend or the Dry Tortugas, this post may have turned out very differently (or probably just longer). But then, it's good to leave wanting more.

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WV Travel Team: Jekyll Island a millionaire's getaway made affordable http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160403/GZ05/160409966 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160403/GZ05/160409966 Sun, 3 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team It was easy to imagine we were rich and chic as we flew our small plane onto the Jekyll Island airstrip and hopped into an incredibly cute Red Bug electric car to tool around the island.

Flying home from a Florida trip, my husband, Jack, and I stopped for a night to enjoy the same warm winter breezes and isolated locale that inspired a group of Victorian millionaires to build the Jekyll Island Club on the smallest of Georgia's coastal barrier islands in the mid-1880s.

"The richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world" according to Munsey's Magazine in 1904, is today an affordable fantasy with a range of special packages. The Queen Anne-style architecture is still splendid and listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Originally a haven for Creek Indians and passing pirates, including the notorious Blackbeard, then later settled by French planters and English soldiers, the entire 8-mile-long island became the privately-owned playground for a group of 19th century industrialists. When the U.S. government requested its use in 1942 to protect against nearby German submarines, the millionaire owners left their books, furniture and cottages and never returned again.

Georgia bought the island for less than $1 million in 1947, allowed the Club and more than 100 surrounding structures to deteriorate and then sold them in shambles to a group of local investors.

The founding gang of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Morgans, who arrived on their yachts for the first season in January 1888, designed the original club for comfort rather than for showing off their wealth. This relaxed yet elegant atmosphere remains a tribute to the meticulous renovation that began in 1972 and took 15 years and $20 million to accomplish. It became the largest restoration project in the Southeast.

Thirty-three of the original structures remain, many now used as shops as well as additional lodging. The 240-acre historic district around the hotel is criss-crossed with walking and biking paths and trimmed with abundant live oak trees festooned in Spanish moss.

Not surprisingly given its clientele, history was made at the Club. The Federal Reserve Bank was spawned in a secret conclave and the first intercontinental phone call was made in 1915 to President Woodrow Wilson. The King of Naples sent J.P. Morgan a herd of wild boar as hunting stock. The Museum gift shop is the stalls of a former stable. Visitors can still see Joseph Pulitzer's initials printed atop posts.

"Eat your heart out, William Vanderbilt," I muttered as I slipped into the swirling whirlpool tub in our sumptuous suite. "You were born too soon."

Vanderbilt may have enjoyed the same harbor view, high ceilings and two fireplaces that I did more than a century later, but he didn't have a tub. In fact, no one had a tub in the original club. It wasn't until the 1904 addition that indoor plumbing was added; that's what servants were for.

Our balcony offered prime viewing for the landscaped Olympic-sized swimming pool, Jekyll River, a strolling bagpiper and a dazzling sunset.

The richly-appointed Grand Dining Room was once filled with formally dressed club members and guests peering around fluted Corinthian columns and posing in front of Rumford fireplaces waiting to see and be seen.

Ours was a simpler experience but enhanced by award-winning food and attentive service from young men. We started with an excellent appetizer of buttermilk-fried quail served on a cheddar and green onion waffle and a spicy hot sauce emulsion. Then came creamy butternut squash bisque with pecans - this is Georgia after all.

More Georgia-sourced food was served in the white shrimp and stone-milled yellow grits dish that had a creamy sauce with diced sausage, all cooked perfectly. Finally, there was duck served with delicious corn pudding and a black fig demi-glace.

Winter is no longer Jekyll's prime season as it had been for the original millionaire founders who came to hunt wild boar, deer and water fowl. Today it's a year-round destination, although the wild landscape and 9 miles of beaches remain a major attraction along with 63 challenging holes of golf in four courses.

The island is a natural semi-tropical paradise with famous salt marshes, sand dunes and palmetto clusters. The perimeter road takes you everywhere, and bicycles are a favorite means of transportation with more than 20 miles of flat, paved bicycle paths.

We, however, went electric. Red Bug Motors, based at the airport, leases tiny electric vehicles named after the first cars on the island in 1905. They were also electric. Today, it's an island with 18 charging stations and no traffic light.

Fortunately, Jekyll Island is protected from extensive development by the state, and no building can be higher than two stories. The club's turret is the highest point on the island.

For more information, contact Jekyllisland.com.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta have released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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WV Travel Team: Rocky Mountaineer train serves your senses and spirit http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160327/GZ05/160329688 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160327/GZ05/160329688 Sun, 27 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team By By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team Looking for a new kind of adventure? Get on board with Rocky Mountaineer, a privately owned luxury tourist train company that offers unbelievable vistas and impeccable service through Western Canada. The only thing challenging about this adventure is choosing your route.

An excursion along some of the most beautiful countryside in a glass domed train car will leave indelible memories to share for years. Five routes on the Rocky Mountaineer give you options for a completely breathtaking show by the original master artist, Mother Nature.

Visual delight

Along each route you will be transported to a world few may see, with untouched wildflower meadows, wild animals in their own habitat and breathtaking Rocky Mountain peaks. Mother Nature can't take all the credit here. Some of the most amazing views are man made engineering marvels - such as the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that connects the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb, two majestic mountaintops north of Vancouver.

The lift is the highest of its kind. Two gondolas have transparent acrylic glass floors so you will be able to see it all. If you're a shutterbug of any kind, your camera will get a workout. The wildlife sightings alone will have you clicking away: bears, elk, moose, eagles, mountain goats and big horn sheep to name a few.

Your taste buds will thank you

Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin says the guest experience is based on the Four S's: scenery, service, socialization and his favorite, sweet and savory. Technically that's five S's, but who's counting?

Chef Guerin and his team spend a lot of time creating the menus each season. In fact, the cuisine is so much a part of the experience he wrote a cookbook, "Eat Play Love - Regionally Inspired Cuisine by Rocky Mountaineer." The cookbook serves as a fine keepsake of your trip.

Adventure and exploration await

In British Columbia, the city of Kamloops will show you the cowboy way with its Wild West history. If you have the opportunity to visit during the Cowboy Festival don't miss it.

As you walk through tree-lined downtown streets with historic buildings and brick sidewalks, you'll find the best of both worlds of shops and restaurants. Relaxation comes naturally while enjoying one of the many tours that may include a Segway, wine trail or gardens. If you're looking for outdoor adventures there are plenty of opportunities to golf, bike, hike, ski, fish and more.

In Vancouver, be prepared to want to do it all. Take the Wine Country Tour and sample local varieties from Chardonnay to Riesling. Many local wines are served in restaurants throughout British Columbia.

Wildlife watching takes to the water from March to October when orcas are the main attraction. If you'd like to get a birds-eye view, ride the Hell's Gate Airtram, which descends over the Fraser River with churning rapids below. Observation decks and a suspension bridge on the opposite side of the visitor entrance give visitors another vantage point.

If you arrive to trees filled with pale pink blossoms, the cherry trees are in bloom. You're still in Canada but may feel as though you've traveled around the globe as the Japanese culture is woven into the local lifestyle. Find a new sense of tranquility in the Nitobe Memorial Garden with waterfalls, sculptures and an opportunity to see a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Just two hours north of Vancouver is Whistler. Whistler Village is the central neighborhood located at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. The photo-op highlight is the Black Tusk, the extinct volcanic cone can be viewed from Whistler peak. Whistler is home of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, heli-skiing and winter zip lining. If you're looking for some restoration, there are over 30 spas and wellness centers to choose from.

Quesnel, a small city between the bigger cities of Prince George and Williams Lake, offers world class fly fishing. If the fishing bug bites, the Quesnel Visitor Center offers a "borrow-a-rod" program. The fishing at Ten Mile Lake and Dragon Lake come highly recommended.

If you choose to walk the 5K Riverfront Trail you will pass by the longest wood truss walking bridge in the world, the Fraser River Footbridge. Be sure to stop by Cariboo Keepsakes, a co-op run by local authors and artisans, for a locally made souvenir.

Step back into the ice age in Jasper National Park with the 90 minute Columbia Icefield adventure onto the Athabasca Glacier. You will see the ridges of debris along the glacier edge showing how the glacier has melted in the last 100 years. After your glacial expedition you can warm up in the Miette Hot Springs.

Banff National Park, oldest of the national parks, offers just about any way you want to experience its beauty: by horseback, on foot, driving, helicopter or snow shoeing. You can go as high as the gondola or as low as caving adventures. The accommodations at the Jasper Park Lodge, Banff Springs Hotel and Chateaux Lake Louise are perfect places to rest after the experiences of the day.

The location of the 1988 Winter Olympics, Calgary offers a sporting adventure at WinSport. This is the previous Olympic venue that is now a center for athletes to train and recreational athletes to enjoy.

The public art displays throughout the city are unique, photo-worthy moments to share. Calgary Tower becomes a 360-degree view master, showcasing the city from 207 yards above the city.

Fort Calgary shares the story of the North West Mounted Police. The trading post at Heritage Park Historical Village is an entire town staffed with pioneer villagers.

This trip has something for everyone and every timetable. The art aficionado, foodie and adrenaline seeker will all find much to appreciate on this trip. Traveling in May or late September tends to be less expensive than June through August. You may also want to add an Alaskan Cruise to a leg of your journey.

Which journey will you choose?

Coastal Passage Route

Along the ocean's edge connecting Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary. You may begin or end your journey in Seattle.

First passage to the west route

Only passenger rail service on the historic Canadian Pacific track. Begin or end your trip in Vancouver or in beautiful Lake Louise, Banff or Calgary.

Through the clouds

Amazing natural beauty from Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and the Pyramid Falls. The journey begins or ends in Vancouver or in Jasper, Alberta.

Rainforest to Gold Rush

Diverse and Extreme landscapes including the BC's coastal rainforest and desert-like climate of Fraser Canyon. Begin or end your journey in Whistler or Jasper, Alberta.

Whistler Sea to Ski Climb

Sea-to-Sky corridor between Vancouver and Whistler, Pacific Ocean to old-growth forests and snow-capped mountains.

For personalized assistance in planning your Rocky Mountaineer excursion, stop by the AAA Charleston office or call one of the AAA travel professionals -

Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland,

Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing at 304-925-1136.

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Picture Perfect: Miami's Wynwood art district ready for its close-up http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ05/160329997 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ05/160329997 Sun, 20 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Martin W.G. King Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail By By Martin W.G. King Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail

MIAMI - Charleston's art aficionados - the folks who patronize local galleries, enjoy the downtown ArtWalk and take in all the exhibitions at the Clay Center - have helped put this city on the map as the cultural capital of the Appalachians.

If you're one of these art fans, or you just like to indulge your creative urges, and you're also fantasizing about a piña colada as you laze in the sun - and who isn't, at this time of year - you might want to put Miami's edgy, tropical Wynwood Art District on your real (or imagined) winter itinerary.

On a recent visit to Wynwood, I handed my keys to a valet and pushed through the throng on the narrow sidewalk by a glitzy restaurant. On my left was a high-end boutique selling sustainable clothes, crafts and artifacts; to my right, the entrance to a courtyard surrounded by murals, including a 50-foot red and orange painting featuring some strange bedfellows: The Dali Lama, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former vice President Dick Cheney and David Bowie.

But this wasn't South Beach, which has ebbed and flowed and is ebbing again as a center for nightlife, creative drive and high-end retail. It was the Wynwood Art District to the west of downtown Miami, an edgy new destination on the international art scene where hundreds of resplendent murals on the sides of buildings sit cheek-by-jowl with incongruously tony art galleries and boutiques - newcomers to the neighborhood.

Out with the old?

Along with the new businesses, however, have come rent spikes, and some of the pioneering artists who originally colonized Wynwood, which was once known for making cheap footwear and fashions, are reportedly being forced out.

One company, which already owns 24 acres in the neighborhood, has unveiled plans for tens of millions of dollars in development, including high-rise office and condo towers totaling 9 million square feet.

But others say Wynwood is only now getting ready for prime time. They point to the crowds surging through the crumbling streets and the collectors scooping up art in the galleries, to the diversity in the art and even the cuisine. Wynwood, they say, is finally ready for its close-up.

A recent online search showed that American Airlines, Delta and United fly one-stop flights to Miami from Yeager Airport, with winter fares starting in the high $300s; much less expensive nonstop fares are available from Reagan National and Dulles airports in Washington, D.C. - often about $220 to $250 round trip.

Slightly cheaper fares are available to Fort Lauderdale, 20 miles north of Miami. There's also Amtrak service, via bus to Charlottesville, Virginia, approximately 30 hours to Miami, including the bus, about $350 round trip; and Greyhound, also 30 hours, about $260 round trip. According to distancesonline.com, it's 992 miles, or 17 hours by car, including three hours of breaks.

Already well-ensconced on the local art scene, Wynwood debuted on the world stage as the site of 2002 Art Basel events. (Art Basel is an international art festival held in Miami every year.)

Now, it seems to be attracting as many curious tourists as art aficionados, as many school kids as hipsters. There's a potpourri of ages, languages and cultures. People with selfie sticks are as common as professional photographers with elaborate gadgetry. All use the murals as a backdrop.

Street art

Wynwood is an urban schizophrenic neighborhood. Part of it is still residential - and dirt-poor. Gangs still dangle shoes from utility wires to mark their territory (one artist told me that the shoes were really just artistic statements). But one mural after another draws the crowds - and the cameras.

Many of the murals feature fanciful, surrealistic characters and scenes, but others are strikingly realistic. Some feature bold geometrics. Some offer political and social commentary (the mural of Cheney et al; Bill Cosby in prison garb).

Some depict Florida's flora and fauna. Others incorporate skulls, reflecting South Florida's association with occult cultures of the Caribbean. Some are risqué (and some are X-rated).

Most of the murals are rendered with painstaking detail, but others feature washes of color. Some are temporary, quickly painted over with new designs: A paint supply store in the neighborhood seems to be doing a brisk business.

On a recent visit, I asked Stephen Tate, a writer with a communications firm temporarily doing-double duty as a coffee vendor (part of a marketing campaign), about the changes in the area.

"The gentrification has been like a force of nature," he said. "It's happened so quickly, Wynwood is losing its identity. There's been a huge influx of cash, and that can stifle creativity. It's making Wynwood more expensive. One of my friends lost his lease."

"Ideas are all around you," said Harold Golen, proprietor of the tiny Harold Golen Gallery, which focuses on pop surrealism, philosophically.

The changes were neither good nor bad, he said, but noted that the area isn't focused on art as much as before.

Golen shares his space with Valentina Kawaii Universe, an industrial designer with bright pink hair who has drawn and illustrated maps of nature preserves for the City of Miami and designs fabrics for handmade pillows and other artifacts. She was a bit more outspoken.

"Not all the artists can afford to stay here," she said. "People are being pushed out."

Asked about the double-decker buses that disgorge tourists at the district's epicenter, Wynwood Walls, just a few blocks down the street at N 2nd Avenue and NW 26th Street, she said she isn't worried about them, but, at the same time, laments what they're missing.

"They keep them in one area," she said. "They don't venture very far. ... You have to branch out, adventure into new areas, see different shows at different galleries to really appreciate all the exciting things that are going on here."

Setting aside the debate about Wynwood's future, there is plenty to see and do in the area - in addition to strolling up and down the streets and soaking up the art.

Wynwood Walls

Wynwood Walls is the geographic heart of the district, with one courtyard opening after another, all featuring building-sized art. The most adventurous murals, however, seem to be in the streets and alleys several blocks away, where they attract smaller crowds and more serious photographers.

But if you're there for the food, shopping, nightlife and funky atmosphere, the area near Wynwood Walls is the place to be.

Most galleries are open to the public, though many don't post schedules. The Peter Tunney Experience gallery is an outpost of the New York establishment of the same name, but its artwork doesn't come cheap; prices range into the mega-thousands of dollars.

Other nearby galleries, including the San Paul Gallery, which offers South American art by "emerging" artists, are almost as expensive. (Prices at the Harold Golen Gallery are much more down-to-earth.)

On weekends, at least in the winter, when the weather is better, the galleries leave their doors open. (During Miami's oppressive summer, when crowds are scarcer, you may have to ring a bell or make an appointment.)

Many are open the second Saturday night of each month for the Wynwood Art Walk, with some offering complimentary libations and hors d'oeuvres to visitors who traipse from one gallery to another in a carnival-like atmosphere.

The area's new emphasis on retail is nowhere more evident than at Walt Grace Vintage, which specializes in antique cars and guitars. There's also a Ducati motorcycle showroom.

Another landmark on the retail scene is the Miami outpost of the supremely chic Detroit store Shinola, named, yes, after the shoe polish.

Through the doors of Shinola's black edifice is a world of hand-made bicycles (upward of $2,900); top-quality leather products; and decor, all the product of manual labor at the store's Detroit workshops.

Frangipani, near the entrance to Wynwood Walls, features sustainable and "intelligently designed" home goods, decor and clothes. Basico sells hip, one-of-a-kind men's fashions.

Also upper-tier, the Illimit furniture store offers high-end designer pieces at prices that, probably, few of the artists who first settled Wynwood will be able to afford - in their lifetimes.

Wynwood is a great place for people watching. When I last visited, I encountered an artist in a yarmulke and paint-stained stars and stripes tie-dye frock painting at an easel.

A woman sat outside a coffee house and wrote poems for people as she typed on an old manual typewriter. A pair of attractive young women in headscarves giggled as they took pictures of each other in front of an art installation.

Culinary art

While Wynwood's art is a feast to behold, the restaurants in the area serve up an equally creative bounty.

At Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, whose indoor murals were painted by Shepard Fairey, designer of the iconic 2008 "Hope" poster for Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, my wife and I lunched on a tapas spread of the Wynwood Salad (yellow and red beefsteak tomatoes, manchego cheese, piquillo peppers and an arugula puree) and plates of freshly made hummus and piquant guacamole. (We repeated the order on another visit with the addition of chicken empanadas - pleasingly smoky and spicy.)

For dinner, we decided to try Wynwood Diner and Cocktails across the street, which we had passed up for lunch because of the crowds waiting for tables.

From the outside, the "diner" looked like it might have been a chain restaurant. Inside, it was anything but.

Our host led us through a front room with huge booths to another room, the gargantuan bar. It featured patterned cement floors, black concrete walls and, among other seating arrangements, long communal tables with 1950s-style wooden chairs. Strategically placed industrial lighting threw off a warm glow.

Outside, torches beckoned on an expansive patio, while lights in birdcages in the trees threw just enough light to read a menu. A DJ spun 1970s soul classics. We dined on a quinoa and feta salad, an avocado salad and mac and cheese, all satisfying. It was the perfect, memorable ending to our day.

Wynwood lives.

Long may it prosper.

Martin W.G. King is a freelance travel writer based in Florida.

Things to keep you busy in Wynwood

Go for a walk: Wynwood Art Walk Tours has numerous options. They include a Sunday tour followed by brunch, $59; a weekly street art and gallery tour, $29; a tour with a drink at a Wynwood establishment, $25; and a guided tour of Wynwood Walls, $20. Lengths of tours and times vary; 305-814-9290, http://wynwoodartwalk.com/

Go for a bike ride: Bike and Roll offers a guided bike tour of Wynwood (it provides the bike). The ride is about eight miles, including the route from its downtown Miami location, and the tour lasts three to four hours; adults, $49, students, $39; 305-604-0001, http://bikemiami.com/tour/wynwood-graffiti-tour/

Work up an appetite: Miami Culinary Tours offers guided tours of Wynwood that include stops at five or six top restaurants where samples and local craft beer are provided; adults $69, children to age 13, $59; 786-942-8856, www.miamiculinarytours.com

Send Your kid to camp: Art Center Miami, an international organization that offers a variety of art classes in the Miami area (and elsewhere), is offering a spring break day camp in Wynwood for children ages 6 through 12 from March 21 through 26. The price is $270, including art supplies. Information: 786-406-9915, www.artclassesmiami.com

Take up boxing: Matt Baiamonte's Boxing Club has trained numerous professional athletes, and Baiamonte trained under boxing great Angelo Dundee. Baiamonte himself trained 2012 WBC featherweight champion Melissa "Huracán Shark" Hernandez. The club is at 222 NW 27th St., near Wynwood Walls; 786-420-5252, www.baiamonteboxing.com

Restaurants

Eat Your Heart Out Wynwood Kitchen and Bar: Eclectic cuisine with an emphasis on Latin American food, with seating indoors and on a large outdoor patio overlooking Wynwood Walls; happy hour 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; DJs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; 2550 NW 2nd Ave., 305-722-8959, www.wynwoodkitchenandbar.com

Wynwood Diner and Cocktails: Modern comfort food; DJ at night; 2601 NW 2nd Avenue, 305-747-7888.

Beaker and Gray: There's media buzz about this new restaurant on the eastern fringe of the neighborhood; 2637 N Miami Ave. , 305-699-2637, www.BeakerAndGray.com

Joey's: Italian classics, including moderately priced pasta and pizza and informal, old-time charm; 2506 NW 2nd Ave., 305-438-0488, www.joeyswynwood.com

Fireman Derek's Bake Shop & Café: Inexpensive menu of light café items and delectable-looking pastries and desserts at Wynwood's eastern edge; closes at 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2818 N Miami Ave., 786-449-2517, www.firemanderek.spies.com

Zak the Baker and Cafe: Baked goods made fresh each day and inexpensive light meals; closed Saturday; 405 NW 26th St., 786-347-7100, http://zakthebaker.com/cafe/

Caffeine fix

Panther Coffee always has a wait in line for coffee, pastries and snacks. It grinds its own coffee and brews it four different ways. It also sells beer. Communal seating is outside, at a large workbench that surrounds a mimosa tree. Free WiFi; 2390 NW Second Ave., 305-677-3952, http://www.panthercoffee.com/

Bars: To your health!

Concrete Beach Brewery: This brewery serves beer only, much of it brewed on the premises, which features a large patio and limited inside seating; free public tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m.; 325 NW 24th St., 305-796-2727, http://concretebeachbrewery.com/

Wood Tavern: This bar across the street from Wynwood Walls serves cocktails as well as beer at communal tables; 2531 NW 2nd Ave., 305-748-2828, www.woodtavernmiami.com

Shopping

This is where to find the seven shops mentioned in this story:

Basico: 2347 NW 2nd Ave., 786-360-3688, http://www.shopbasico.com/

Ducati: 2825 NW 2nd Ave., 786-374-2994, http://www.ducatimiami.com/

Frangipani: 2516 NW 2nd Ave., 305-573-1480, https://frangipanimiami.com/store/location/

Vintage Boutique, 2401 N Miami Ave., 305-573-2976, www.givegoodworks.org

Illimit: 2699 NW 2nd Ave., 786-558-7176, http://www.illim.it/

Shinola: 2389 NW 2nd Ave., 786-374-2994, http://www.shinola.com//

Walt Grace Vintage: 229 NW 26th St., 786-683-8180, http://www.waltgracevintage.com/

Galleries

Art galleries and working studios are everywhere in Wynwood. The three mentioned in this story are:

Harold Golen Gallery, 2294 NW 2nd Ave., 305-989-3359, website under maintenance

San Paul Gallery, 2527 NW 2nd Ave., 305-381-5785, https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Paul-Gallery-Wynwood/383323435186350

Peter Tunney Experience, 220 NW 26th St., main entrance in Wynwood Walls, 646-245-7904, http://www.petertunney.com

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WV Travel Team: Eight high-end boutiques to shop for country elegance http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ05/160329998 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ05/160329998 Sun, 20 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 Compiled by the GoToWV Team By Compiled by the GoToWV Team Give your style a dash of Southern sophistication with West Virginia's finest fashions.

Here are eight high-end boutiques that can outfit you in contemporary country elegance:

1. Indie Sparrow Boutique, Beaver

For a luxe look like you won't find anywhere else around town, try the unique collection at Indie Sparrow Boutique. Timeless trendsetters will love this modern homage to vintage vogue. The reimagined styles have an ultra-feminine vibe with a balance of bohemian inspiration and suave sensibility.

2. High Country Boutique, Lewisburg

High Country Boutique focuses on ever-classic pieces with simple shapes that you can easily personalize and redefine. Their stunning global artworks and accessories punctuate the elegantly sleek fashions with bold, beautiful flair.

3. Casablanca Boutique, Bluefield

Add a daring dash of flash to your wardrobe at Casablanca. Stop in for a cupcake and relax on the antique benches as you feast your eyes on bold prints of name-brand and artisan accent pieces. Anything from this chic shop is sure to get people talking.

4. Park & Madison Boutique, Morgantown

ELLE named this high-end retail stop one of America's top 50 boutiques, with top-of-the-line apparel for women and a finely curated collection for men. In addition to their main shop, they have a second location downtown that caters its upscale attire to the college crowds.

5. RoseTree, Ceredo and Barboursville

It's known for its posh formalwear and special occasion collections, but The RoseTree can also add fashionable panache to your everyday look. It has been on the cutting edge of style for more than 40 years, with luxury brands like Joseph Ribkoff.

6. SerenDipity Boutique, Weirton

The owner at SerenDipity honed her fashionista eye while working for Dior, Louis Vuitton and other legendary names in luxury looks. Now she draws on her insider savvy to hand-select her own assortment stunning styles.

7. Bridge Road Shops, Charleston

The Bridge Road Shops are a collective of fashion and finer things in the capital city.

Put together a sensible modern style with effortless finesse at Charlie or Geraniums boutiques. Kelley's has the top men's trends. Accessorize your ensemble at Petit Jewelry Designs or the long-established Yarid's Shoes. The Dressmaker's Closet can take care of all the dashing details to make it all fit just so.

Turn your shopping trip into a treat. Make it a day of pampering with fine dining, salon stops and more just around the corner in Bridge Road.

8. The Retail Collection at the Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs

As one of the nation's premier resorts, The Greenbrier has everything you could dream of, from the nation's first golf course to an upscale casino to a renowned all-natural spring spa. All you need for an indulgent getaway is right there - and that includes plenty of shopping.

Pick up chic apparel at Greenbrier Avenue Women's, or a distinctive designer look from Wickets. The Greenbrier's Ralph Lauren shop features designs unique to the resort. Pick up the exclusive Greenbrier charms and other finishing touches at The Jeweler and Crepe Myrtle Bags & Beads.

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Plenty of big-city excitement awaits Mountaineer fans in NYC http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319617 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319617 Wed, 16 Mar 2016 17:03:36 -0400 Laura Haight By Laura Haight To kick off the start of March Madness for West Virginia University basketball fans, No. 3 seed West Virginia will take on No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin on Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

For Mountaineer fans traveling to the game, tickets can be purchased online through StubHub or the Barclays Center. Ticket prices start at $80.

The WVU Alumni Association and Mountaineer Athletic Club will be hosting a Mountaineer Meet and Greet at 4 p.m. Friday at The Montrose, just a block away from the Barclays Center, at 47 5th Ave. There is also a social planned at 200 Fifth Ave., which also starts at 4 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

The New York-New Jersey Chapter WVU Alumni Association is hosting a watch party at Jack Doyle's Restaurant and Bar, which claims to be the New York City home of the Mountaineers.

Mountaineer fans who attend the game can celebrate (or mourn a loss) at Jack Doyle's after the game with fellow fans.

For fans driving to the game, the Barclays Center ticketing office recommends purchasing parking in advance through ParkWhiz. Parking permits range from $5 to $50, depending on the proximity to the arena.

On Thursday, fans in Morgantown can take a Megabus departing at 1:20 p.m. to Pittsburgh to catch a 3:15 p.m. bus to New York City. The total cost to get to New York City from Morgantown is $44 and return trips vary in price, depending on dates and times.

From the MegaBus stop in New York City, walk to Penn Station and take the New Lots Ave. bound 3 Train to Atlantic Ave-Barclays Station. Or, Take the Flatbush Ave-Brooklyn College bound 2 train to the same station. The last subway option is to take the Mott Ave-Far Rockaway Bound A train to the West 4th Street Station, then transfer to the Brighton Beach Bound B train and get off at the Barclays Center Station.

Fans who are driving from West Virginia but do not want to drive directly into the city can drive to New Jersey to park their car and take a train the rest of the way.

Before the game, there are limitless things to do in Brooklyn near the Barclays Center.

If cigars are your thing, stop by Diamante's Brooklyn Cigar Lounge on 108 S Oxford St. Try a house-rolled cigar and meet the owner, who's also the voice of the Brooklyn Nets Basketball team.

For those who enjoy sightseeing, start your Brooklyn visit off by stopping by Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway. The Grand Army Arch provides a captivating background for photos. The Plaza is also a stone's throw away from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Botanical Gardens and Prospect Park, the largest park in Brooklyn.

The Botanical Garden is home to more than 12,000 species of plants, and 25 different categories of gardens. If you're a Mountaineer fan over the age of 65, you get in for free on Fridays. Otherwise, admission is $12 for adults and $6 for students.

Prospect Park has a zoo, a lake and other family-friendly attractions. The park is large, so note landmarks or risk getting lost and missing the game.

Reach Laura Haight at laura.haight@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @laurahaight_ on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Searching for the 'real' Key West http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160313/GZ05/160319909 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160313/GZ05/160319909 Sun, 13 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team West Virginia launched a new ad campaign in 2015, branding itself as "real."

There is no doubt that West Virginia is remarkably free of artifice - unlike Key West, which seems at times to be a pre-packaged version of its original quirky spirit.

The history remains marvelously authentic, a boom-or-bust cycle of pirates morphing into "wreckers" assembling huge fortunes on salvaged ships that made Key West the richest per-capita city in the United States in 1831. Cigar factories, Depression-era bankruptcy, then a deliberate revival through tourism all add to the rich fiber of island history.

Today, cruise ships, feathers and body paint, pricey outdoor cafes all serving the same food, increasingly commercial Mallory Square sunset performers and a contrived effort at outlawry dominate the scene.

Even the venerable Margaritaville is an acknowledged tourist trap with watered-down margaritas.

"Do locals come in here?" I asked one of the staff while I looked around the near empty space. She laughed, "No. This is for tourists."

So I went in search of the Conch Republic soul I remembered from visits in the early 1980s, and I am happy to say I found it. Here are some tips about the real - and affordable - Key West.

Let's start with the chickens. Feral chickens. Everywhere. Thousands of them wander the streets by day and roost in trees at night.

Most sources agree the chickens came with the Cubans in the 19th century, both for food and for cockfighting.

Today, they are protected by local law and a $500 fine for messing with them. While they are a popular photo opportunity, many visitors are startled by crowing at all hours.

The best way to launch any visit to Key West is to take a tour and get oriented in time and space.

The Conch Train has cars that look like a theme park ride, and the Old Town Trolley has a 90-minute tour with pick up points at two hotels on the east end of the island: Best Western and the Fairfield Inn & Suites. Both tours are first-rate on delivering the history.

Duval Street is where everything happens, day and especially at night. Its 14 blocks are lined with major attractions, odd shops, galleries, bars and restaurants - including those featuring hookers and drag queens. Foot traffic is heavy at all hours.

We chose a charming hotel just a block or two off Duval so we could be in the middle of the action.

Cypress House includes several buildings and a pool where Happy Hour is celebrated daily. Our room was simple, tasteful and boasted a private second floor porch. There are countless other lodging choices in historic houses or elegant resorts like the Waldorf Astoria's historic Casa Marina on the beach.

More than 300 bars and restaurants fill the 2-by-4-mile island. Warned that often the advertised local fish was not, we preferred Cuban for the taste and the price. We were directed to Pepe's and ended up eating at two.

El Meson Pepe, located in the Cayo Hueso y Habana Historeum, a 19th century brick warehouse off Mallory Square, serves savory Cuban food in an outside and garden cafe with a Cuban-style band.

Shrimp tapas were big enough for a meal, and the combo meat dish of ground beef, shredded beef and pork was a good sampling for two.

Inside the warehouse, walls were lined with the wood carvings of street scenes by native folk artist Mario Sanchez.

The other Pepe's behind the commercial waterfront serves up three meals daily. We enjoyed breakfast featuring thick homemade eggnog bread and real home fries.

The dinner menu was notable for four different styles of oyster appetizers and a dish hard to imagine: steak smothered in pork chops.

A trio of feral chickens wandered in and out as we ate. Harry Truman was a regular while he was in residence at the Little Summer White House a few blocks away, ditching the Secret Service to have coffee and talk to locals.

Sandy's Café is a Cuban local hole-in-the-wall with delicious carry-out for under $10, perfect for the ferry ride back to Fort Myers. I had excellent ribs with plantains, yellow rice and Cuban bread while Jack chose a giant juicy steak fajita on Cuban bread.

Conch fritters topped my list of must-have food. I passed up several pricey café's and enjoyed the DJ's Clam Shack version served up with Key Lime honey mustard sauce and choice people-watching from their sidewalk counter.

Speaking of the island's namesake, avoid chocolate covered Key Lime pie on a stick, touted as the hot new item. The chocolate destroyed the tangy bite that is the essence of Key Lime.

Key West is a honey pot for lovers of museums, house tours and historic attractions. The best way to see them all while staying on budget is the Key West Vacation Pass.

Clipping coupons from free maps and brochures is another money saver. We did them all, from the island's first attraction, the 1934 Aquarium, to the Shipwreck Museum, to the 1847 lighthouse climbing 88 steps to the top, to the Hemingway Museum where even non-fans of the Nobel Prize winner - like me - could enjoy the nearly 60 resident cats, many with six toes descended from Hemingway's original six-toed feline.

Don't miss the Butterfly Conservatory, guaranteed to draw a smile as you walk through sealed doors and are suddenly amid hundreds of fluttering butterflies. Wear bright colors, sit or stand still for a moment, and there will be butterflies on you. Pay attention to the direction given upon entry to check and be sure you have no butterflies on you when you leave.

Most intriguing was the Harry S. Truman Little White House. Truman loved the place and spent 175 days there working hard and playing poker with the likes of Sam Rayburn and Clark Clifford.

Much of the furniture was Truman's, and the drapes and carpeting replicated the general tasteless style of the 1950s. Six U.S. presidents visited the former Navy base as a getaway, and it remains available to any visiting president today.

A new addition to the tour list is the Keys' only legal rum distillery, housed in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant and offering two afternoon tours daily.

Two experiences define the real Key West. Although sunsets happen daily everywhere in the world, only Key West has made them a prime attraction.

Landlubbers can watch from Mallory Square and try not to be distracted from the main attraction by 90 minutes of jugglers, fire eaters, musicians and vendors.

We chose a Classic Harbor Line Sunset Cruise aboard the 105 replica of the America's Cup winning schooner. The cruise goes out about a mile. It's an easy sail with beer, wine and snacks provided.

Captain Ron Opila, a 16-year veteran of sunset cruises, let passengers steer the ship. One fact we learned on the cruise was that the catamaran party boats were at the bottom of the prestige ladder, while schooners, with their sleek lines and sails, were the aristocrats.

An incredible array of more active water sports adventures was also available, from snorkeling and kayak tours to parasailing and jet skis.

We knew that the real Key West was still alive and thriving when we landed at the Green Parrot Bar filled with locals on the monthly Ukulele Night.

At least 35 folks were there with their ukes taking turns on stage and playing along from the bar floor.

An open air bar so famous that it has an exhibit in the Key West Art and History Museum, the Green Parrot is also a 20th century icon. The benches outside the bar fill with folks when there is live music.

Here's a paradox that can only be found in Key West. It marks one end of U.S. 1, which runs to the top of Maine - is it the end or the beginning? One thing we know for sure because it's a brand slapped on everything - Key West is southernmost.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta have released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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Ireland, WV, residents spring into action for Irish Spring Festival http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160313/GZ05/160319914 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160313/GZ05/160319914 Sun, 13 Mar 2016 03:00:00 -0400 Bill Lynch By Bill Lynch IRELAND - A week before the first day of the Irish Spring Festival in Lewis County, people in this sleepy little town about a half an hour from Flatwoods were busy.

A pair of young women painted horseshoes on the side of their house. A group of men pulled rotten wooden tiles from the old gazebo near the Ireland Community Building.

Inside the building, Leland Pickens checked fuses and kept an eye on the workers at the gazebo.

"We hope to get it all done today," he said. "The oak tiles were real pretty, but the weather got to them. They're all bad."

He smiled and added, "We're going to replace the roof with tin. It's going to be green tin."

Of course it is.

Green is Ireland's favorite color. Every year, somewhere between the first day of spring and St. Patrick's Day, the residents get out their shamrocks, hang their banners and throw a celebration of all things Irish.

A little goes a long way. Ireland is tiny. The whole town is just a scattering of a few houses, a trucking company, a funeral home and a church or two.

"A lot of these houses are empty," retired teacher Nancy Craig complained. "Some of them are real pretty, but they're just vacation homes now. People come down and stay in them for a few days and then go back to wherever."

The people who live in Ireland make the most of it.

The case of the missing leprechauns

Despite a dwindling population, every year, Jean Bruffey puts out 100 or so grinning, wooden leprechauns in her yard to help celebrate.

"I used to have over 200," the 89 year-old said. "But people kept stealing them for souvenirs."

She laughed. She still has plenty.

Melissa Cogar and her sister Christina Groves paint the side of their house every year.

"We try to stick with the theme," she said.

Horseshoes and luck are this year's theme.

Painting and decorating is their way of being involved with the town and also a way to quietly encourage young people to keep up the tradition of the festival.

Nobody wants to see it die out. They all look forward to it.

Jean Bruffey said, "I used to love the dances, the square dances."

Now she likes to watch. At 89, and using a walker to get around, dancing is difficult.

Festival origins

The Irish Spring Festival started humbly.

In the early 1980s, a few people got together and decided that they wanted to capitalize and celebrate the slim association between Ireland, West Virginia, and Ireland, the country. So they put together a festival to show off the spirit of their town.

Each year between St. Patrick's Day and the first day of spring, they open the community building, have a craft fair, play some music, dance and have a parade, which happens regardless of weather.

"Back in 1993, we had that big snow storm," Bruffey said. "The whole state was practically shut down and people couldn't get around, but we had our parade."

The proof is on the walls of their building. They elected a king and queen of the festival that year, just like they always do.

Queen for a day

Craig served as queen in 2011.

The 78-year-old said she ran a couple of times before that. For her, at least, it was never about the crown or the title, but celebrating the place where she's lived her whole life.

"It's a fundraiser thing for the community," Craig said. "It started out that you voted with slips of paper, which was silly, and then with pennies."

Whoever brings in the most gold, takes the title.

These days the election committee still takes change. Jars are still set out on a table near the door, but nobody objects to a check.

After running for queen for a couple of years, Craig's brother wrote a check for her six years ago, and nudged her over the top.

"It was a good thing," she groused. "It meant that I didn't have to run again."

Craig only ran, she said, just so there'd at least be a race.

"It used to be you had to be 70 to enter," she said. "Well, people would enter, and then when they wouldn't win, they'd get mad. They wouldn't enter again."

To keep the race competitive, Ireland has since lowered the standard for entering the pageant. Now they accept candidates as young as 60.

"I think it's still hard to get people to participate," she said. "And you don't even have to be from Ireland to win."

The job does come with some perks. Aside from a picture on the wall and a handsome crown, the king and queen enjoy reserved parking at the community center.

"And you get to go first at the pot luck dinners," Craig said. "Of course, they let you go first, but then you kind of wonder if maybe you shouldn't get too much to eat. You'd hate for them to run out."

That's what she worried about when she was queen, but of course, they never did run out. There is always plenty of food.

Irish origins

The town's connection to the country of the same name is tenuous at best. It was named for Andrew Wilson, reportedly, an Irishman who settled in the area sometime in the early 1800s.

People called him Old Ireland because of his homeland and because of his advanced age. According to local legend, he died when he was 114, which sounds like a bit of blarney, but no one here is complaining.

Like the island it was named for, this Ireland has its own blarney stone, too - a jagged rock perched at the top of a hill overlooking the town. It's just visible now from the community building while the trees are still bare.

"In a couple of weeks you won't be able to see it," Craig said.

During the spring equinox people from the town climb the hill and set eggs on the rock. At just the right time, the eggs are supposed to stand on end.

Timing is key. People consult almanacs to get the exact time and have been known to scale the hill in the middle of the night to accomplish this inexplicable feat.

Craig didn't know if that was such a good idea.

Reach Bill Lynch at

lynch@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-5195, follow

@LostHwys on Twitter

or visit Bill's blog:

blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth

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Fayette resort expands with conference center http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160308/GZ01/160309516 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160308/GZ01/160309516 Tue, 8 Mar 2016 17:54:15 -0400 Andrew Brown By Andrew Brown LANSING - Adventures on the Gorge, a well-known outdoor resort in Fayette County, is looking to capture more business by catering to groups looking for a place to host business meetings and corporate retreats.

The company, which offers lodging, dining, rafting, biking, rappelling, rock climbing and zip-lining, held a luncheon Tuesday to announce the groundbreaking of the newest addition to its resort on the edge of the New River Gorge, just off of W.Va. 19

Local officials, state leaders and regional economic development staff were in attendance as the company's leaders announced their plans to build a new 2,000-square-foot conference center and outdoor meeting space, which will be one of its biggest investments to date.

Dave Arnold, one of the company's founders, said the conference center is meant to attract large and small business gatherings to the resort year round, expanding on their already successful tourism business.

As he stood on a wooden deck overlooking the gorge in flip flops and a Hawaiian-print shirt, Arnold said he hopes the new addition will increase outside exposure to their adventure destination and the region as a whole.

"This is all about business and bringing in more business," Arnold said.

The new conference center is a big move for the company, but Arnold thinks their outdoor activities and prime location will make Adventures very competitive in the world of corporate getaways.

Arnold said many of the other businesses seeking to attract conferences don't have a lot of additional amenities and the ones that do are usually based around a golf course, not white water rafting and world-class rock climbing.

"It's a work hard, play hard environment," Arnold said.

The construction of the conference center, which will include large event rooms, in-house catering services and a veranda overlooking the New River Gorge Bridge, is only the latest expansion for the company.

Arnold and the other founders of Adventures on the Gorge got their start in the 1970s as the Class VI River Runners, a rafting company that operated on the New River and Gauley River. As Arnold said, they were just a "bunch of hippies" at that point.

But when the rafting market diminished around 2000, Arnold and other rafting guides from Rivermen and Mountain River Tours teamed up to create Adventures on the Gorge.

"It was a perfect time to bring the competitors together to offer more adventures in-house," Jeff Proctor, another one of the company's founders.

Since then, the rafting guides turned resort managers have built an expansive business that served 150,000 guests in 2015.

The company now has about 109 cabins to serve its customers, enough, Proctor said, to begin diversifying and eying an expansion into the corporate event market.

Adventure's managers say they don't need to steal business tourism events from other venues in the state. They just need to "get a few crumbs of an already successful corporate market in the state," Proctor said.

The new event center, Proctor said, will also better serve the company's existing wedding services and allow the company to expand its business during the winter months, which is somewhat of an offseason for the outdoor company.

Proctor also believes hosting more corporate getaways at the resort will feed back into the company's business. He hopes business officials visiting the gorge for the first time on business will bring their families back to the region for an outdoor summer vacation, where they can take advantage of rafting, climbing and mountain biking.

The new structure will be built next to the resort's existing gift shop, restaurant and pub and will be built in a style that Arnold referred to as "parkitecture," which resembles buildings owned by the U.S. National Park Service.

The construction project is going to be managed by Charleston-based Agsten Construction, the company that recently built a new wedding chapel and tennis facility at The Greenbrier resort.

Dave Hartvigsen, the company's CEO who took over in 2013, said the company's intention is to expand without overwhelming or impacting the rim of the New River Gorge.

Many of the trees on site will not be affected, he said. The outdoor lighting at the conference center will be positioned so it doesn't shine out over the gorge and the building will largely be made out of natural materials, like wood and stone.

"We think there's a nice connection between what we're doing and what the Park Service has done," Hartvigsen said.

Hartvigsen said Adventure's resort is positioned on the edge of one of the best locations in the eastern United States, and he believes development work being done by his company and others can make the New River Gorge a premier destination moving forward.

With all of West Virginia's current economic problems, he thinks the tourism development being undertaken in Fayette County is an opportunity for the Mountain State.

"We are investing in what we think is a bright future," he said.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: The Hawaiian islands – America's paradise http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160306/GZ05/160309699 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160306/GZ05/160309699 Sun, 6 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Lauren McBride WV Travel Team By By Lauren McBride WV Travel Team As you feast on kalua pig, an ocean breeze tickles the orchid that garnishes your cocktail. On the stage before you, beautiful women adorned in leafed skirts and mesmerizing leis dance to the melody of a plucking ukulele. As you soak in the last bit of sun, listening to the waves crashing ashore, you bite into a juicy, fresh pineapple and enjoy the rest of the luau.

Sound like paradise? That's because it is. Most people, even those who have never been to Hawaii, consider the state to be America's paradise. Yet, even on these heavenly dots of earth in the Pacific Ocean, paradise is interpreted in contrasting ways.

Each of its many islands offer different amenities, recreation and cultural activities. The most popular islands of Hawaii are the Big Island of Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Many visitors choose to island hop between the most popular islands, while others prefer to find the island that provides the best amenities and activities for their needs and stay for a relaxing vacation. Each option has many benefits, but before you find the right itinerary for your trip to paradise, let's dive into a sample of what some of the islands have to offer for an extraordinary vacation.

The Big Island of Hawaii

The "Big Island" of Hawaii has it all. And don't plan to see it all in one trip.

The island measures 4,028 square miles, which is larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. So how should you pre-plan your trip to the biggest island? Some prefer not to plan at all and let the Hawaiian lifestyle slow their normal pace. Who knows what will lead you to a gorgeous beach, a surprising sea turtle sighting or endless amounts of Kona coffee.

Many have a hard time deciding where to stay. A majority of visitors choose to stay on the islands' western coast, also known as the Kona coast. This is an area where you can almost always count on warm, sunny weather, and where the beaches of the island are the best. You will be immersed in restaurants and shops galore.

Some prefer to stay on the island's eastern side, known as Hilo, the island's capital city and one of the rainiest spots of the country because it sits on the windward side of the island. Here you will find lush and green rain forests, tumbling waterfalls and breathtaking valleys. Even if you don't stay here, a day trip to this tropical area of the island is a must.

This island is also known for its volcanoes and volcanic activity. You don't want to miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the Kilauea Volcano has been erupting intermittently since 1983. Mauna Kea (dormant) and Mauna Loa (the most massive mountain on the planet) should be on everyone's Hawaii bucket list.

Surfing, diving, hiking, rainforests, volcanoes, Kona coffee, historic sites and much more await you in Hawaii. Just remember, this island is large in size, but your worries from back home are not.

Oahu

Oahu is the state's most populated island and is nicknamed "The Gathering Place." Oahu possesses two distinct personalities. One is bustling with nightclubs, sky rise hotels and shops, while the other is engulfed in green lushness, culture and natural gems, including Hanauma Bay. The island is a fusion of city and country, American and Polynesian, modern and historic. If you encounter only one personality from this island, you haven't experienced the full offering of the island.

Honolulu, the state capital, is typically the first area tourists' encounter. Seeming to blend with Honolulu is Waikiki, where famous beaches are crowded and bustling, even on an overcast day. With Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base located here, a strong military presence tends to keep the nightlife jumping in Chinatown and Waikiki.

Adjacent to Waikiki, Diamond Head State Park is a must-see attraction for first-time and returning visitors alike. From the hotel beaches of Waikiki, guests can look upon Diamond Head Crater to the left. The view atop this volcano is fantastic almost any time of year, but the 0.8 mile hike up to the top is especially worth it during winter months when whales can be spotted from the top. The hour-and-a-half to two-hour round-trip hike includes more than 170 steps, a few tunnels and an underground spiral staircase.

Sea creatures are essentially celebrities at Hanauma Bay, which offers one of the most scenic underwater tropical experiences anywhere for veteran snorkelers or those who just want to stand in the water and feed colorful fish swarming around their feet. The volcanic cone, now beaten by the ocean into a horseshoe shape, is a state park.

A must-see attraction on the North Shore is the Polynesian Cultural Center. Native islanders from throughout the Pacific illustrate village life and perform their traditional dances and rituals in the colorful attire of their native land. Guests can learn about island life in Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji and the Marquesas, just to name a few. Performances are unique - watch a bare-footed youth climb a tree, get a coconut and show you how to husk it - and better than any show you'll see in the Hawaiian hotels.

Kauai

Formed some 6 million years ago, the island encompasses roughly 550 square miles and is the oldest and northernmost of the main Hawaiian Islands. The popular name for Kauai is "The Garden Isle," because of its lush vegetation and agricultural bounty. Also known as "Hawaii's Island of Discovery," you can easily escape from your busy life back home. Renew your connection with nature, as this place is a real treasure - a place to rejuvenate your mind and body among many of Kauai's tropical rivers and uncrowded, crescent-shaped beaches. Everywhere you look, Kauai showcases its breathtaking scenery. This island is an enticing environment, forcing you to live at a relaxed pace and rediscover what is truly important. Kauai is compact, friendly and easy to get around. You can be as busy or as lazy as you want to be on the island's world-renowned beaches.

Visitors to Kauai will find that the island has no shortage of hikes, from brief, scenic strolls to more strenuous paths that will quite literally leave you breathless. Kauai is a snorkeler's paradise. However, during the fall months, most of the beaches on the north side are off-limits to snorkeling, as the waters become too rough. When this happens, many vacationers head down to the south-side beaches, where the waters usually remain calm.

No trip to Kauai would be complete without a tour of the famous Napali coastline. Napali has some of the most jaw-dropping and most-filmed scenery in the world. With spontaneous waterfalls cascading down majestic cliffs and spinner dolphins skipping alongside boats, a tour of this area should not be missed.

Aside from Napali, a lazy tour of the Wailua River is also a good way to spend a few hours. If a luau is on your list, Smith's Tropical Paradise has the most authentic experience on the island. For green thumbed travelers (or those wishing they had them), the Na'Aina Kai and National Botanical Gardens offer unique botanical paradise experiences unlike anywhere else.

If you are looking for a place where the hustle and bustle are far behind, and natural beauty awaits your every turn, this is the island for you.

Ready to book?

Regardless of the size of your travel party, whether you are looking to go on a honeymoon or reunite family in paradise, it's important to partner with a travel adviser who will make the most of your time on the islands and tailor your trip to you and your group needs.

AAA Travel Advisors will work with you on your travel arrangements to and from the islands. If you are ready to start planning a trip to the islands, contact one of AAA's Travel Advisors at (304) 925-1136.

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Best travel deals from around the globe http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160306/GZ05/160309712 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160306/GZ05/160309712 Sun, 6 Mar 2016 00:01:00 -0400 By Carol Sottili and Andrea Sachs The Washington Post By By Carol Sottili and Andrea Sachs The Washington Post n The Peninsula New York, in Midtown Manhattan, has a family package that includes 50 percent off an adjoining room, plus other kid-friendly perks. The Camp Peninsula deal starts at $1,350 per night and includes two connecting rooms, a kids' picnic lunch at the pool, free dining for children age 10 and younger, an in-room tent, welcome and turndown amenities for kids, a scavenger hunt and unlimited movies on demand. Add about $200 tax. By comparison, the starting rate for a junior executive suite is $995, and the connecting superior room is from $695. Use promo code NYFAMILY. Info: 800-262-9467, peninsula.com/newyork.

n Geringer Global Travel is offering $250 off a 13-day Bhutan trip led by the country's former U.N. ambassador, Lhatu Wangchuk. With the discount, the Oct. 31 trip starts at $5,370 per person double and includes 12 nights' hotel accommodations; a flight from Bumthang to Paro; round-trip air from Bangkok to Paro; all meals, including dinner at the ambassador's home; transfers and ground transportation; entrance fees; Bhutan visa; and taxes. Book by April 15. Info: 877-255-7438, geringerglobaltravel.com.

n Stay for three nights at a select Astotel property in Paris from March 26 and receive the third night free. The Easter Extend-Your-Weekend deal applies to seven hotels in the ninth arrondissement. For example, the three-night package at the Hotel Astra Opera starts at $318, including taxes, a savings of $135. You must pay in full at the time of booking. Info: en.astotel.com/promo/special-easter-offer.

n Save 20 percent on three voyages with Disney Cruise Line. The deal applies to a three-night Bahamas cruise departing March 25 (valid on veranda cabins with restrictions); a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise on April 24 (applies to ocean-view cabins); and a 12-night Norwegian Fjords and Iceland cruise leaving June 17 (inside staterooms). For example, a couple aboard the Disney Magic cruise sailing from Dover, England, to Copenhagen pays from $4,962 for a guaranteed inside stateroom, including taxes. Info: 800-951-3532, disneycruise.disney.go.com.

n Victoria Cruises has a two-for-one offer on select 2016 cruises along China's Yangtze River. The deal applies to the Three Gorges Highlights cruise, which sails for four nights from Yichang to Chongqing or for three nights on the reverse itinerary. The price starts at $880 per couple, including port charges. To receive the discount, you must purchase the shore excursion package, which is also two-for-one and costs $90 per couple. The two-for-one promotion also applies to the luxury amenities program, which provides such VIP perks as upper-deck cabins and free WiFi; price is $200 per couple. Sale is valid on superior cabins only. Service charge of $25 per person, in lieu of tips, applies. Book by March 31. Info: 800-348-8084, victoriacruises.com/about/specials.

n Norwegian Air Shuttle is offering fares from $178 round trip for nonstop service from BWI Marshall to Guadeloupe or Martinique. Taxes are included. Seasonal flights operate through March and from November through January. Lowest fares are mostly sold out in March. Connecting flights on other airlines start at $1,042 to Guadeloupe and $741 to Martinique. Info: norwegian.com/us.

n Apple Vacations has discounted an all-inclusive vacation to Grand Bahia Principe Coba in Mexico's Riviera Maya. The deal starts at $899 per person double for Saturday departures in May and includes round-trip air from BWI Marshall, a junior suite with meals and drinks, airport transfers, and taxes. Priced separately, the trip costs about $250 more per couple. Book by March 17. Info: 800-517-2000, applevacations.com.

Submit travel deals to whatsthedeal@washpost.com. Prices were verified at press time Thursday, but deals sell out and availability is not guaranteed. Some restrictions may apply.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.

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Schedule for Charleston's inaugural Celtic Calling festival http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160304/GZ06/160309698 GZ06 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160304/GZ06/160309698 Fri, 4 Mar 2016 20:20:08 -0400 While winter and spring duke it out to see which one West Virginia will get next, this weekend Charleston will host its first Celtic Calling festival.

From March 4-6, all manner of Irish and/or Scottish music, food, dance and culture will be found around the city.

Organizers are hoping to make this an annual event. A lot of activities are free or modestly priced, and it's a good way to get a jump on St. Patrick's Day.

Friday

Poor Man's Gambit: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Free. Irish Music and Dance, Black Sheep Burrito, 702 Quarrier St. Call 304-343-2739.

Celtic Tree, Painting Workshop with artist Cheryl Thaxton: 6:30 p.m. Tickets $35. Uncork and Create, 1031 Quarrier St. Call 304-552-3331.

"The Commitments": 7:30 p.m. Tickets $5. A 1991 comedy about working class Dubliners who form a soul band. Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers St. Call 304-342-6522.

Appalachian Celtic Consort: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Free. Music. Taylor Books, 226 Capitol Street. Call 304-342-1461.

Poor Man's Gambit: 9:30 p.m. Free. Traditional Celtic Music Session. Adelphia Sports Bar, 218 Capitol St. Call 304-343-5551.

Bastard Bearded Irishmen: 10 p.m. Cover $10. Celtic Rock Concert. The Boulevard Tavern, 806 Kanawha Blvd. E. Call 304-205-7951.

Saturday

Kilt Run Walk: 8 a.m. (sign-ups begin at 6:30 a.m.) 5K run/walk. Warm up Party with Vinyl Village. Appalachian Power Park, Plaza East Car Park, 601 Morris St. Registration day of race or visit www.tristateracer.com.

Downtown Celtic Calling Boutique Walk: All day. Free. Participating businesses will offer specials or specialty Irish/Scottish products. Music on the street and in participating locations.

Celtic Music Workshop: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets $20 for each workshop. Traditional Music Instruments and Dance. Includes whistle, fiddle, bodhran, guitar, harp and dance. Sacred Heart Family Life Center, 1024-26, Quarrier St. and St. John's Episcopal Church, 1105 Quarrier St. Sign up at www.celticcalling.org.

Celtic Calling Crafts: 10 a.m. Free. Kanawha County Main Library, 123, Capitol St. Call 304-343-4646.

"Exploring the Emerald Isle" with George Daugherty: 11 a.m. Free. Ireland in Slides, Story and Song. Kanawha County Main Library, 123 Capitol St. Call 304-343-4646.

Traditional Celtic Music: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Free. Blossom Dairy, 904 Quarrier St. Call 304-345-9999.

Scots and Irish Traditional Music and Dance Showcase: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Free. Featuring Irish music and dance from Poor Man's Gambit, Father Son and Friends, Scottish bagpiper Andrew Branard, Scottish dancers. Macy's Court, Charleston Town Center mall. Call 304-345-9525.

Harp Concert and Beginner Harp Workshop: 3 p.m. Free. With Leah Trent. Kanawha County Main Library, 123 Capitol St. Call 304-343-4646.

Traditional Celtic Music Session: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Free. Sponsored by FOOTMAD. Black Sheep Burrito, 702 Quarrier St. Call 304-343-2739.

Guinness Hour: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Free. Music and dance with Poor Man's Gambit. Copper Pint Irish Pub, 808 Kanawha Blvd. East. Call 681-265-9013.

Celtic Cooking Class: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets $65. With Chef Gary Needham. Uncork and Create, 1031 Quarrier St. Call 304-552-3331.

Pepper Fandango: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Free. Music. Taylor Books, Capitol St. Call 304- 342-1461.

Daimh: 8 p.m. Tickets $20. Gaelic supergroup with special appearance by Appalachian Children's Chorus. Presented by FOOTMAD. Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers St. Call 304-343-2739 or visit www.FOOTMAD.org.

Poor Man's Gambit: 10 p.m. Free. Traditional Celtic Shindig. Timothy's Bar at the Quarrier Diner, 1022 Quarrier St. Call 304-343-5686.

Father Son and Friends, with The Charleston Rogues: 10 p.m. Cover $7. Music. The Blue Parrot, 14 Capitol St. Call 304-342-2583.

Sunday

"Kirkin of the Tartans": 11 a.m. Free. Kanawha United Presbyterian Church, 1009 Virginia St. E. Call 304-342-6558.

Bike Rodeo: 12 p.m. Free. For ages 4-12, can test bike skills on a course designed by Charleston Police Bike Patrol, in conjunction with WV Connecting Communities Family. Please wear bike helmets.  Appalachian Power Park, Plaza East Car Park, 601 Morris St.

​"Celtic Brunch:" 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Free. With music by Poor Man's Gambit, Upstairs at Sam's, 28 Capitol St. Call 304-346-6222.

Family Bike Tour of Charleston: 1 p.m. Free. Organized by WV Connecting Communities. Please wear bike helmets. Appalachian Power Park, Plaza East Car Park, 601 Morris St.

Intro and History of the Great Highland Scottish Bagpipe: 1:30 p.m. Free. Presented by Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums. Kanawha County Main Library, 123 Capitol St. Call 304-343-4646.

Mountain Thyme: 2:30 p.m. Free. Appalachian Celtic ensemble. Kanawha County Main Library, 123 Capitol St. Call 304-343-4646.

"A Murderous Wake:" 4:30 p.m. Tickets $10. A play by Murder and Merriment. Copper Pint Irish Pub, 808 Kanawha Blvd. E. Call 681-265-9013.

Closing Traditional Celtic Music Session: 6 p.m. Free. Copper Pint 'Irish' Pub, 808 Kanawha Blvd. E. Call 681-265-9013.

For more information visit www.celticcalling.org.

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What I learned in 6 months on the Appalachian Trail http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160229/GZ05/160229602 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160229/GZ05/160229602 Mon, 29 Feb 2016 10:26:00 -0400 By Allie Ghaman The Washington Post By By Allie Ghaman The Washington Post The sun beat down on the narrow wooden boardwalk. On either side, lush, impenetrable foliage hummed with insects and birdsong. It was sweltering - a cloying, sultry, sticky heat more appropriate for primordial jungles than for Western Massachusetts. And yet I was wearing almost every stitch of clothing I had: sports bra, tank top, fleece pullover, hooded raincoat, running tights, tall socks, trail runners.

As sweat and hysterical tears ran down my cheeks, I contemplated the life choices that had brought me to this moment, this pivotal moment, in which I had no option but to run through a swarm of yellow jackets.

A few months earlier, my fiance Clif and I had decided that what our life was really missing was a walk from Georgia to Maine. In undertaking a "thru-hike" of the 2,189.2-mile Appalachian Trail - that is, end-to-end, rather than in sections - we were called upon to risk life and limb over treacherous mountains, slippery rock scrambles and you-name-it-infested everythings.

By the time we'd reached Massachusetts, I had become a person who could trudge through snow, clamber up crumbling slopes and endure clouds of mosquitoes. I could go for days without a shower or a change of clothes. I could push on for miles when I felt dead on my feet. I could huddle for warmth with strangers and vermin on cold nights. I was a new person. A stronger person. In so many ways, a better person.

But this new, stronger, better person was now staring down a boardwalked section of trail graced with a beehive. With the foliage pressing in, there was no way around.

I was a lot of things. But I was not, I was pretty sure, a person who could run through bees.

Why? That's what everyone asks hikers. What I usually say is this: My cousin Jen (or "Seaweed," as she's known in the nickname-happy hiker community) thru-hiked in 2002. Her adventures and exertions on the trail helped make her the fantastic person she is.

But what I probably should say is this: Fear was crippling my life. My aversion to risk had tipped over the line from sensible caution into paralysis, and - though I am not any kind of natural athlete - hiking the Appalachian Trail was my self-inflicted therapy. I had been so scared of losing my job, my apartment and my sensible life track that the only thing I could think to do was to dump them all.

Fortunately for me, Clif (or "Honeybuns," as the trail community now calls him) felt much the same way. He had backpacking experience and a love of the wild and - unlike me - inexhaustible resources of calm and logic. (He claims his life as a programmer prepared him for long hours of toil for minor rewards.)

In a whirlwind of life changes, we got engaged in January 2015, gave notice at our jobs in February, sold what we could, gave the cat to friends, crammed my books and his computery things into storage and booked a flight to Atlanta. On March 9, we set out from the trail's southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia.

I'm not sure exactly where Honeybuns and I first met Scout and Burnout. But I know it was near Fontana Dam, in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, that we started hiking together. Mildly hung over after a rest stop involving mini-golf, Guitar Hero and beer, Honeybuns and I were trying to find our way through some trail renovations when a familiar gangly figure with fiery red hair came walking up along with a wiry, dark-haired man with improbably large glasses. Scout and Burnout were friends from the Minnesota Conservation Corps, an organization that does trail maintenance, invasive species removal and fire prevention. We chatted in the unrelieved gray of the morning, cold mist dampening our clothes.

Suddenly, a harsh scream cut through the quiet morning, and a bald eagle appeared above, parting the clouds like an avenging angel. We gaped in amazement as it swooped over us in slow orbits before settling on top of the dam and surveying our group with its amber patriotic eye.

"Well, we should definitely all hike together," I said. "America has blessed our friendship."

And so we did.

A few days later, the four of us were killing time as we killed miles by playing Would You Rather. A particularly interesting debate involved whether we'd rather eat only cake or only pie for the rest of our lives. The variety of fillings and options for sweet or savory were clear advantages, and we went unanimously in favor of pie - a decision we fiercely defended against the other hikers around us.

We started calling ourselves Team Pie.

A string of other hikers meandered in and out of our company as their schedules and speeds permitted: Cliffhanger, a North Carolina college student; Hobbits, who read the day away then night-hiked to catch up; Karibu, just back from the Peace Corps in Tanzania; Rocky, a former corporate lawyer; Backlash, a New York bartender; Smokebreak, a steely-eyed Georgian with a love for hand-rolled cigarettes; Voldemort, an unflappably good-natured young woman also from the conservation corps.

But it was the four of us who spent almost every day together for the six months and six days we hiked the trail. As time went by, we went from people who happened to be hiking together to a group that was inseparable, as close as any friends I've ever had.

It was like falling in love. It was falling in love.

Team Pie reached the highest point on the trail, Clingman's Dome, on a March day of china-blue skies with temperatures in the low teens and a rib-stabbing wind that was clarifying and illuminating. The snow crunched beneath our feet. As Honeybuns and I had only trail running shoes, Scout and Burnout ran ahead, kicking snowdrifts out of the way with their waterproof boots and pretending they were Aragorn and Boromir clearing a path for the hobbits. (The trail is an excellent place to pretend you're in a fantasy novel.)

We gasped at the long views, the desolate, barren beauty of the snow- and ice-covered pines. Alone at the observation tower, we could see for miles, snowy peaks in every direction, icy and uniform and unending. I felt so small. Even if I completed the trail, I thought at that moment, I would never see the smallest fraction of what I could see.

But it was a good start. The emotional and meteorological hangover after such majesty was skull-splitting. Over the next days, as we descended and spring progressed, snow half-melted and the slick slush became nearly impassable. We shuffled along, snow and ice accumulating at the hems of our pants and in heavy knobs at the ends of my trekking poles.

As the trail wandered around both faces of the Smokies' ridgeline, we were alternately blasted with freezing rain and left panting and quiet on the lee side. Ice caked the left sides of our coats and hats, the right sides remaining dry.

At night, our shoes froze. In the morning, it took two people to help me force my feet into my trail runners. I couldn't tie them until my body heat had warmed them, and it took hours. Later, when things got bad, I'd say, "Well, at least my shoes aren't frozen!"

I named myself. We were at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, a kayaking hot spot familiarly referred to as "NOC." We were milling about with other hikers, charging phones, browsing gear. When someone predicted nice weather or trail conditions, I superstitiously knocked on wood. People teased me about it.

So I tried out the name "Knock" in my head. Knock sounded like a Neil Gaiman character, a skinny and streetwise young woman in a long coat. Knock would be light-footed, self-assured, self-sufficient, hard. I wanted to take this chance to self-define. To use my name as a goal.

Clif didn't get his name for a few more weeks. I liked "Albatross" for him, because of his impressive wingspan, but we all decided otherwise after watching him voraciously tear into Little Debbie Honey Buns during the snowy days on the Smokies. (Honey Buns, interestingly, are almost as tasty frozen as they are at room temperature.)

One May afternoon in Virginia, Team Pie climbed a rock formation called Dragon's Tooth. The climb up was thrilling. But by the time we were almost down, we had been low on water for several miles, and the humid, oppressive heat had us feeling dehydrated and cranky. Sweat soaked my clothes and turned into a gritty, gray paste in the creases of my skin.

All I wanted, as I have wanted few things in my life, was an ice pop.

Visions of fruity ice pops clogged my mind. It seemed the most incredible thing that somewhere in the world there were freezers, in which one could store cold, wet things and eat them any time one wanted.

We hadn't really planned on a stop, but according to our guidebooks, Four Pines Hostel wasn't far off the trail. It was starting to rain, and we broke into a bit of a jog as we approached.

The hostel was basically a huge carport - in other words, I was going to be sleeping on a dusty couch in a stranger's garage. But I wasn't getting rained on. I could have a warm shower with shampoo. There would be a shuttle to a gas station where I could acquire pizza and beer. My happiness was edging toward delirium. And then: They gave us complimentary freezer pops. I curled up on the concrete floor and started sobbing like a shipwreck survivor reaching land.

Activity around me stopped. "Is she ... okay?" another hiker asked Honeybuns in a whisper.

I collapsed red-faced and sniveling onto a couch, and another hiker gave me a Miller High Life. I blew my nose and dried my eyes. Two scrappy farm dogs meandered over and settled down with me in a warm, stinky pile. I ate a cheap lemon freezer pop. Then an orange one. Then I ordered a pizza. Then I ate some homemade pickles, drank a ginger ale in the shower and applied Gold Bond to all of my chafing bits.

I do not expect to find greater happiness in this mortal plane.

The scariest moment on the trail was not, as many people often guess, bear-related. Rather, it was the weather. Team Pie, with the temporary addition of a real-life friend named Gary, was headed over Kinsman Mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The August weather was stunning - just a bit chilly, bright with sunshine. The weather report had said that there was a chance of rain later.

Honeybuns, Scout, Gary and I got to the top of Kinsman with relative ease. Burnout and Voldemort were behind us, as both were slowed by knee injuries. (Also, being a new couple who had met on the trail, this was effectively how they dated.)

The guys and I lazed in the sun, warming ourselves. It was my brother's birthday, and we FaceTimed. Another group of hikers came booking through the top of the mountain.

"Seems like a storm's coming," one pronounced. Indeed, where there had been only blue sky and fluffy bunny-rabbit clouds a minute ago, a dark shadow was beginning to gather.

We packed up quickly and started to move off. We had barely gone a few feet before the wind picked up in earnest. Then the rain started. It was a drizzle at first, but unrelenting. We paused to put our phones and maps into dry bags and then quickened our pace to a near-jog.

As the rain intensified, the four of us decided that Scout and Gary, faster than me by far, should go on ahead, and we'd reconvene once we were off the exposed ridgeline. The two hurried off.

Within minutes, chaos descended. The skies opened up and drenched us with buckets upon buckets of water. I couldn't have been more soaked if I had jumped with my pack into a swimming pool. With the wind whipping the rain, the air was alive with freak bursts of water.

We started to run. Water collected in our shoes and made our feet heavy, as if weights were attached to our ankles.

Down, down we went. Though it was mid-afternoon, it turned as dark as night, and I could hardly see. Lightning snarled and crackled around us. The time between the lightning and thunder shortened until it was scarcely measurable. At least, I comforted myself, we were getting off the ridge.

Until we weren't.

Honeybuns and I groaned in unison when we saw that the trail would climb another 40 or 50 vertical feet and cross an exposed area before it would take us back below the tree line.

We ran up and over the exposed area, barely breathing until we were safely through. Marble-sized hail lashed our bodies.

We weren't even sure we were on the trail anymore. Torrents of water poured along what we hoped was the path but could've well been a dry riverbed or just a break in the trees. At several steep, long, smooth rock faces, we sat and scooted our way down.

Actually thinking I might die, I called out to Honeybuns: "If we survive this thing, we should get married tomorrow."

He threw his head back, face full of wind and rain and hail, and laughed. Then he saw my face. "Are you serious?"

"Christ, I might be." He stopped and kissed me. And we kept going.

Eventually, we met up with our group and made our way down the rest of the mountain.

At the foot, disoriented and exhausted, we convinced some wonderfully kind girls on a day hike that, despite our smell, it would be a ton of fun if they could drive us to town.

Then I tried to see how many McDonald's double cheeseburgers a person could wolf down after a near-death experience. (Answer: 5 1/2, with a large fries and two Dr. Peppers.)

We didn't get married the next day. But we did split a dozen donuts and a six-pack.

Almost as good.

I had never known anything like the instant community of the trail. There was such trust among strangers. You did a sort of quick-check when you encountered another hiker: Long beard or leg hair? Check. Beat-up gear? Check. Gross clothes and wafting waves of body odor? Check. Instant trust. Whoever had walked hundreds of miles to the same spot as I did had to be the same brand of crazy as me.

I had never known the perfect, vital taste of water filtered straight from a mountain spring. (To think that I once thought water has no taste!) I am ruined for tap water for life.

I hadn't known how great my body could be. As my slight chubbiness wore down, my body stopped being a slightly unfortunate flesh cage for my personality and became me.

My strong legs carried me up mountains. I grew to love my armpit hair, my leg hair, my own unshowered smell. I felt connected to myself in a way that I hadn't even realized I was missing.

After a few weeks, I felt comfortable enough in my own skin to take off the capri-length running tights I wore under my running shorts. In another few weeks, I gave up underwear - a huge win against chafing and a time saver in that I could pee standing up. I lounged around in my sports bra. By the summer solstice, I was on board with the tradition of Hike Naked Day. (This turned out to be a mistake. It was also Father's Day. There were families around.)

On that hive-infested boardwalk in Massachusetts, I finally gathered my courage and sprinted, screeching all the way. I felt a sharp sting on my left calf but kept running.

"Getitoutgetitoutgetitout!" I shouted at Scout, before collapsing on the ground.

"It's already out," he said, inspecting my leg. Honeybuns came up behind me, unstung and unfazed. He put an arm around me.

"It hurts," I said, crying, laughing and snuffling.

"You're okay. I promise," Scout said.

Burnout and Voldemort came up. "Yeah, I got stung, too," Voldemort said, with nary a tear.

I felt a little ridiculous. But these were my friends. And I had become A Person Who Couldn't Run Through Bees, But Did Anyway.

I started peeling off my extra clothing, shaking and laughing.

Scout found an avocado had split in his pack, and we all sat on the side of the trail while I ate half of his avocado with a spork and mopped up my eyes.

We finished our snack, stood and kept walking.

We had plenty of miles to go.

If you go

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

799 Washington St., Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

304-535-6331

appalachiantrail.org

There is no required registration for thru-hikers, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy encourages a voluntary registration system to prevent overcrowding.

Register online at the ATC website. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the only section of the trail that requires an advance permit. This must be obtained and printed no more than a month in advance of entering the park. There are several businesses along the trail where you can file and print the form in preparation for the Smokies. There is also a $20 fee for thru-hikers.

For more information, visit smokiespermits.nps.gov.

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Something to bark about: WV Div. of Tourism launches new pet campaign http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160228/GZ05/160229616 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160228/GZ05/160229616 Sun, 28 Feb 2016 00:01:00 -0400 Anna Patrick By Anna Patrick The West Virginia Division of Tourism has launched a new campaign that it hopes to get people, or more like pups, barking about.

On Friday the Division of Tourism officially kicked off its "West FURginia Fridays" campaign, which asks people to share photos of their pets exploring parts of West Virginia.

People can enter for a chance to win a custom West FURginia collar by emailing the photo to GoToWV@wv.gov. For a chance to win people need to include their pet's name, the photo location and their pet's favorite West Virginia activity. There's also a chance that submitted photos will be featured on the Division of Tourism's social media sites, which follow the same hashtag thread, #GoToWV.

The weekly collar winners will be announced on the Division of Tourism's social media sites every Friday at noon.

Will Miller, Outdoor Recreation Specialist for the Division of Tourism, said the idea originally came from calls received at the state's tourism call center. They started noticing that more and more people who were calling to get information about visiting parts of West Virginia were asking about pet-friendly places.

Jessica Scowcroft, the executive director of Tucker County's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said - like the statewide call center - their office has also received more pet-friendly directed calls in recent years.

"It's enough phone calls to be noticed," Scowcroft said.

And it makes sense.

"Being an outdoor destination, people like to bring their pets along if they are going hiking and biking."

Because of the number of pet-friendly questions the Tucker County CVB started receiving, Scowcroft and her staff built a list of the pet-friendly places to stay and the pet-friendly hiking trails in Tucker County. Now, if someone calls wanting to know a great place to go hiking with their dog, they'll be able to tell them.

Miller said the state's call center hasn't gotten to that level, yet. But they are currently working to build a comprehensive list of pet-friendly places in West Virginia.

He also said that they eventually hope to include a helpful list/guide on the Division of Tourism's website, gotowv.com, with pet-friendly lodging, activities and recreational locations.

To announce the West FURginia Days campaign, Miller and his colleagues hosted a press conference in the Division's headquarters in South Charleston Monday. The press conference embraced the furry-friendly theme by asking Division of Tourism staff members to bring their dog to work. Family dogs ranging from Lulu, the English bulldog, to Bagel, a beagle mix, joined in the press conference festivities.

To celebrate the new campaign, staff members and representatives for the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association made homemade dog treats. Representing the Humane Association, Meghan Smith brought a new shelter puppy with her. His name is Hank. She's not sure yet what mix of a breed he is.

Smith said she's glad to hear that more people are interested in taking their dogs on vacation with them.

"A dog should be an addition to your family."

Reach Anna Patrick at

anna.patrick@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4881.

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