Lost River… Found

This weekend I took a short trip to Lost River State Park in Mathias, WV.  I drive by this park often while on the way to other hiking/harvesting destinations, and wanted to check it out. It is a lovely park with 20+ cabins, all relatively secluded within the park. A very nice place. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the Lost River itself does not run through the park at all. The park is simply named for the nearby river and town. The Lost River gets its name by disappearing into the ground near Baker, WV for a time and reappearing near Wardensville, WV. If I had had the time, I would have visited “The Sinks” where the river goes underground…

Arrival day was overcast and humid, and I arrived too late to do any serious hiking. But the park was full of a vast array of colorful, magical looking mushrooms. I contented myself with exploring these fungi, and took many photographs, which you can see HERE if you have any interest. These mushrooms were literally everywhere, and in every size, shape and color. I do not gather or eat most wild mushrooms, due to the dangers of misidentification. One exception to my mushroom rule is the Morel mushroom, which are easy to ID and have no poisionous look alikes, once you know what to look for. But please! Never handle or eat wild mushrooms without a very experienced guide, and a prayer for good luck…

The land at Lost River State Park felt very welcoming to me, and very at peace. I do not find this to be true in all parks I hike- the energy of the land can vary from simple disinterest to very unwelcoming. While enjoying the mushroom photographing stroll, I happened upon a black snake. Another good will sign from the land from my perspective. I found myself looking very forward to my planned hike for the following day.

 

Hiking day was sunny and clear, with lower humidity. I had chosen a hike from one of my favorite online hiking guides: hikingupward.com. Here is a link to the hike I chose. There was no internet signal at the park, so I hand wrote my planned hike onto paper, which was gratefully still displayed on my Ipad. I also gave a shortened version to my weekend companion, who was enjoying the park sans hike. It is always a good idea to let others know your intended route. It is easier than you may think to get lost in the woods- even with map, compass and blazed trails. I have been lost for hours in the woods in the past with a very experienced hiking companion. We ran out of water on a very hot summer day and were out for hours. It was a good lesson for me.

Aengus McKee and I drove to the trailhead and got our gear on. Aengus is my best hiking buddy- always upbeat, never complains, and excited about every hike. Today was no different and we started off. This trail went virtually straight up for the first 3/4 of a mile. We huffed and puffed upward, meeting some plant friends along the way- including some pretty nodding onions in bloom. (Click on any image to see a larger photo)

We came to a shelter with the first of many fabulous views.  The service road then intersected with a trail with seemingly never ending switchbacks. Up we went… and up… and up. Sadly, I had to retire my 10 year old hiking boots after last month’s harvesting adventure at Dolly Sods. I had on a new pair of hikers that I hadn’t had time to break in well, and I was beginning to feel the burning sting on the back of my heel that indicates blisters.

The trail was heading to Cranny Crow overlook, and I decided to stop there and try to treat my emerging blisters. Aengus and I had caught up with a group also hiking to the overlook. The extended family hikers included grandparents right on down to young kids, who were laughing and shouting happily. We arrived at the overlook right behind them, and as usual, Aengus McKee became an instant hit with the kids. I took a few family photos for them, with their cameras, and sat to admire the view and check my blisters.

The views from the overlook were breathtaking. The view of my heels- not so much. I dug out my first aid kit and applied some of my herbal skin salve- Flower Power– and a few band aids. I was very disappointed to see that I did not have any moleskin in my kit- the best way to keep walking through the pain of blisters. Aengus McKee had a treat and a drink and off we went. The kids all yelled out in their sing-song voices “Bye bye Aengus McKee! Bye bye!”. He took it like the celebrity he is- a friendly wag and a quick look over his shoulder. Onward.

We hiked through some of the prettiest, most scenic trails I have ever visited. The entire trail was full of striking views as we passed by Cheek Rocks. I was so enchanted by the scenery, and that woody scent that you can only get on a hot day in the mountains, that I momentarily forgot about my feet. I also forgot to look for the intersecting trail. I came to a place where the trail was unclear, and after trying a few directions, thought I had likely missed the turn onto my next trail. Interestingly, Aengus McKee stood and watched me as I tried several possible directions to find the continuing trail. He always chooses to be the point man- out in front- but was simply sitting and watching. Did he know the trail had ended? I took out the very poorly done state park trail map and saw that indeed, if I had missed my turn, the trail I was on would end.

We backtracked and found the red blaze that indicated the intersecting trail. It was also noted by a small rock cairn and a lone Mullein plant- standing silent like a sentry. I love Mullein; it is a great lung tonic plant, and use it for cough syrups as well as the primary ingredient in my herbal smoking blends. The hike through this part was wooded and quiet, and ended in an open field with another nice shelter. This shelter, though, had been visited by some 4-legged guests that had completely toppled over the trash cans and scattered paper and bottles around. Aengus sniffed the area and was decidedly jumpy and nervous. This said “bear” to me, as Aengus sees racoons and such as potential chasables, but always gets jittery when we hike in areas with bear tracks and scat. Despite my companion’s nerves, I had to sit and inspect my feet again. The blisters were large- covering the entire back of my heel- and the skin was torn and starting to bleed. With deep disappointment, I realized I needed to head back. I tried to neaten up the shelter a bit by uprighting the cans and putting the trash in them, but Aengus was nervous and whining to leave. I decided to trust his instincts and not to tempt fate that the trash marauder may be close by.

We found the service road and started the 2 mile descent back to the trail head. Had I been able to continue, a watch tower and several open fields with old homesteads would have shared their secrets with me. I was also hoping to harvest medicinals in these open areas; Wild Carrot, Goldenrod, Yarrow and the like. As I pondered my deep disappointment, I also found space for gratitude. I am grateful for the gift of my body- despite all it’s imperfections- it can still carry me to and through wild places. For miles. Something not every body can do. The weekend was, in fact, a reminder to me to focus on what I CAN do.  What a gift- to be able to focus on the good in my life instead of focusing on the lack. Thank You for my life!

3 comments

  • Margo

    Beautiful post! thank you.

  • Mary Craighead

    My family has been going to Lost River State Park since the 1940’s (after the war, I guess). My first visit was when I was about a year old ? 1952? I don’t know how many family reunions we have had there because it used to be once a year and now it’s once every two years. But it has become so popular (we take up the whole park now) I almost didn’t get a cabin ( but a lot of relatives moved down from Pittsburgh so I have plenty of relatives living nearby, Mathias, lost river, lost city, etc.). There is a magical feel to the place and it’s indescribable. My mother’s ashes are up there at the top of the drive, as are my aunt and uncle’s. Some people don’t look forward to their family reunions but it’s every two years, people come from around the country (we ain’t all hillbillies…don’t think many are, but we might have a few). It’s always exciting to stop in Baker and pick up groceries before we head out to the park and we have a barbeque the first day (Monday) where everyone squeals and screams hello, then a cocktail party on Wednesday. Talk about a good family reunion. Thanks for writing such a nice review of my favorite place in the world (and mom’s resting place). Glad more people don’t know about it.
    Mary Craighead
    Butler MO for the last year, 61 years in New Orleans.
    mcraig2121@aol.com

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