The sun goes down earlier in winter, posing the eternal question of what to do after dark. Actually, there are places in West Virginia where an earlier sunset is a distinct advantage.
Stargazers have two great places to visit that are far away from intrusive artificial light. Green Bank Observatory in Pocahontas County is located in a nationally designated “quiet zone” where cell phone use is not allowed. You can tour the observatory and the Green Bank Telescope to find out what the scientists are looking for in the far reaches of the universe. Then, lie down and check out the night sky for yourself. The facility is open on a winter schedule beginning Nov. 1 and visitors are welcome Thursday–Monday, 10:00am–6:00pm. There’s a monthly star party, usually the second Saturday of the month, that begins at 5:00pm in winter.
The second great place to check out the stars is the Summit Observation Tower atop Spruce Knob. At 4,863 feet, Spruce Knob is the Mountain State’s highest mountain and the observation tower makes the sunset seem that much closer. The remote “dark sky” location is said to be the darkest place in the Mid-Atlantic for stargazing. On clear nights, you don’t need a telescope to see details of the Milky Way, so it’s no wonder Spruce Knob is the location of the Almost Heaven Star Party, popular with top astronomy experts and hobbyists alike. The 2016 event is in September. Spruce Knob is part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, with more than 75 miles of trails and two campgrounds.
Check out the ghostly presence
There’s still time to catch a ghost tour in the state’s Eastern Panhandle. Justin Stevens provides tours in his native Martinsburg, which has 23 historic districts and plenty of historic homes. Stevens’ tours include one through old town Martinsburg, a South End Tour during which you visit a haunted jail, and a tour through spots with the most paranormal activity. Tours visit the city’s historic cemeteries and the historic Apollo Civic Theater, where there are different legends to explain the resident ghost. Reservations for the tours are recommended. (304-261-7470)
Harpers Ferry is home to what is said to be America’s oldest ghost tour. Rick Garland leads the “O’ Be JoyFull” tours which last about 90 minutes. He leads a tour of the “Lower Town” of Harpers Ferry, telling stories about sites and buildings where unexplained or paranormal activity has been reported or is still being reported. You’ll also learn some of the history of Harpers Ferry, with its often violent past.
While the tour is “spooky,” it is not particularly scary according to Garland and is fine for most children.
Venues along West Virginia’s Mountain Music Trail offer yet another after-dark option. Follow Route 219 from the towns of the northern counties down to the hills of Southern West Virginia. Along the way you’ll find venues such as the American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte, Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, the Pocahontas County Opera House, the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, and a host of restaurants and festivals. All are dedicated to preserving unique Appalachian music.
If all that’s not enough, there is still the option of curling up before a fire in one of West Virginia’s many mountain cabins — choose from spare to luxurious or from family-oriented to romantic couples’ retreats. You’ll find many options on the pages of Recreation News.