May 21, 2007

Over the mountains to Grafton

I had a field trip Saturday through Sunday and the starting point was Grafton, WV. When I made this Civil War tour in 1999, I drove there using I-70 and I-68 for most of the way. But we've moved since then and that route would take us far out of our way, so I searched for the best route across West Virginia.

Four online mapping services say to drive to Winchester and then take US 50 west to Grafton - simple, but I had just been over Route 50 from Winchester to Romney and found it twisty and slow. Google Maps took a novel route - straight over Great North Mountain on Crooked Run Road, then winding around on small roads to WV 55, right on US 220 to US 50 (catching it west of Romney), then left on 50 to Grafton. As cool as it is to imagine unsuspecting travelers snaking their way up narrow and steep Crooked Run Road, I didn't know how long it would take. We once took that road to the top of the mountain to see the view from the radio towers, and I remember slowing down at the hairpin turns and listening to see if anyone was barreling down toward me, because if they didn't stay at their edge of the road they might hit my car and push it over a cliff! And my co-pilot really dislikes traveling that kind of road, so I ruled it out this time.

However, I liked the idea of traveling WV 55 because I'd heard that a new super-highway portion was open west of Wardensville and I wanted to see it. So I went to Wardensville via civilized roads which were familiar to me: Alum Springs Road, Back Road, and VA 55 (which turns into WV 55). The new part of WV 55 did not disappoint: fresh and modern and fast, elevated over the valleys so that you skim over the mountain ridges with little effort. For now, it ends at Moorefield. There we followed Google's Route up 220 and left on 50. Soon after that I wished I had made a pit stop in Moorefield because there are few facilities between there and Grafton. Finally stopped at a gas station that had a chemical toilet and a tiny store but no decaf or lemon pies.

Even with only the briefest stop, the journey took almost four hours. Route 50 goes up and down an infinite number of ridges, weaving back and forth and forth and back. "Are we there yet?" I asked -- and I was driving!
If I had to drive to Grafton again, I think I'd make my way south to US 250 and take it all the way there. It's a very pleasant road.

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