Dolly Sods: The Mid-Atlantic’s Tundra

Yesterday almost felt like summer around here. If my wife didn’t expect me to go to work every day, I might have called in and took a “golf” day. Only it wouldn’t be golf. But the experience made me think of possibilities and one geographically curious region.

While most of West Virginia’s Monongehela National Forest is tree covered, there is a region known as the Dolly Sods that are a left over from the ice age. It’s a region elevated away from most the region’s typical heat and humidity and has a landscape with more in common with northern Canada than Washington, DC, which is just 170 miles east.

The terrain is technically not exotic in the scope of earth, but its terrain combined with its unique qualities for the region make it interesting. It includes northern hardwoods and laurel thickets at the lower areas of the Dolly Sods Wilderness, while smaller red spruce and heath barrens are higher up, and stereotypical rocky-barren areas are throughout the preserve.

I visited several times around 2003 and 2004 and sometimes camped around the 80-foot cliffs that are typical in some portions. I can’t recall whether that was officially condoned or not, but it gave me a great position to watch the birds and contemplate a rock climb.

If you visit, keep in mind winter lasts a little longer there than the surrounding region and roads may remain closed, so access will be left to hoofing it. In addition, I should point out, that Dolly Sods is the more popular region, but the other tundra-like wilderness of the Monongahela is Flatrock and Roaring Plains just to the south of Dolly Sods Wilderness. In fact, the National Forest Service has said that its designation of Dolly Sods as Wilderness may actually detracted from it by attracting more visitors. That cannot be said about Flatrock and Roaring Plains, which is designated as Backcountry.

Both are great destinations for hikers — and some climbers — in the Mid-Atlantic region. Bring the Ten Essentials and some gaiters, and enjoy the great north closer to home.

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