Bear Rocks

On an autumn journey to Dolly Sods, I was joined by two fellow photographers, Jason Furda and Daniel Thompson, each of us eager to capture the essence of this untouched wilderness. Located in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, the Dolly Sods is a vast landscape that stretches across the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia. Its unique position atop the highest elevation plateau east of the Mississippi River offers panoramic views that seem painted by nature’s finest brushstrokes.

The history of this land is deeply etched into its terrain. Traces of the early 20th century, from the sounds of logging trains to the scars left by roaring fires, serve as poignant reminders of its transformative past. Moreover, the lingering tales of the Dalhe family’s sheep grazing and the World War II drills add layers of depth to this region’s narrative. It’s not just a place of natural beauty; it’s a living museum where history is embedded in the very soil. In recognizing its significance, Congress safeguarded over 17,700 acres, protecting it from potential industrial threats. This wilderness is complemented by the neighboring serene landscapes of the Bear Rocks nature preserve to the north and the pristine environments of Mt. Porte Canyon and Roaring Plains to the south.

Navigating through Dolly Sods feels like walking through a storybook. The lower paths guide travelers beneath towering canopies of northern hardwoods like yellow birch and hemlock. Ascending higher, the scene shifts to showcase wind-carved red spruces, sprawling heath barrens, and rugged terrains. Autumn decorates the area with a vibrant array of colors – from blooming azaleas and rhododendrons to the deep green shades of wild blueberries. Within the bogs, treasures like cranberries, delicate sundews, and lush sphagnum moss gleam with life.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

Experiencing the crisp air and the elevations that surpass 4,000 feet, there’s an overwhelming sense of being connected to a world far beyond West Virginia, reminiscent of the distant regions of northern Canada. Dolly Sods stands as a living testament to the relentless passage of time and the enduring spirit of nature. As photographers, we sought to encapsulate this essence, capturing moments of a wilderness that continually invites explorers to discover its myriad tales.

Treading the trails of Dolly Sods is akin to stepping into an evolving narrative. The lowland paths immerse travelers in lush groves of northern hardwoods, where yellow birch and hemlock trees stretch toward the heavens, creating an evergreen canopy above. Yet, as one ascends, the scenery morphs, revealing wind-beaten red spruces, vast heath barrens, and stark rocky expanses. The rich tapestry of colors, from the riotous blooms of azaleas and rhododendrons to the tranquil greens of blueberries, create a visual symphony. And within the bogs, nature’s jewels – cranberries, ethereal sundews, and plush sphagnum moss – glisten.

Disclosure: All aerial flights were within Class G airspace and not within the Dolly Sods Wilderness boundary, which is a No Fly Zone. All take-offs and landings were from within permitted areas.

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