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Pilot Mitch Pennington is with Just Plane Adventures.
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Flying Over the Potomac Highlands
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A Visit to Blackwater Falls
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A Vist to the Beverly, WVA Heritage Center
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The Falls of Hills Creek
Mitch Pennington soars like a song above Medley, sailing in his four-seat airplane atop the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia – a land that’s grassy, green and gorgeous.
This pilot glides like an eagle over the sea of Mount Storm Lake, as the 1,200-acre reservoir’s waves appear whipped by wind turbines dotting ridges as far as eyes can see. “On a calm day,” Pennington says, “we can fly pretty low, and you can really get an idea of the size of the windmills.”
Flying on Pennington’s Just Plane Adventures goes beyond Google Earth. Why, in the sky, I’m like a spy, peering down on rocks and ranches and roads – including a fresh four-lane highway, U.S. 48, in Grant County.
That new road has, lately, put the Potomac Highlands on the fast-track from the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Just ask Roger Lancaster: “With that new road in, we can be here in two-and-a-half hours,” says the 71-year-old avid photographer from Leesburg, Va., as he takes aim at Tucker County’s Blackwater Falls.
In these mountains, from the quaint crossroads of Mineral and Hampshire counties to the endless acres of the Monongahela National Forest, what’s called the Potomac Highlands by many – or Mountain Highlands to some – offers ample opportunities to wet lures on trout streams, explore country roads or witness waterfalls that are, oh, so wild and wonderful.
“I go up to Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley and maybe over to Elkins or Thomas. It’s great photography,” Lancaster says. “And it’s very pretty.”
FROM THE AIR, POINTY PEAKS mirror what John Denver sang of: a West Virginia that’s almost heaven. Such imagery, really, is a big reason why Pennington, 60, named his airstrip Heaven’s Landing.
“As heaven is our final destination,” the pilot says, “we wanted to make a little piece of that here.”
Still in flight, the pilot scans rocky ridges rising along the Potomac, which pours through Hardy and Hampshire counties in an isolated gorge called The Trough.This place is generally reached by rail or by boat, Pennington notes with a smile. “There’s just so much that you can’t see from your car, because there are no roads.”
Just Plane Adventures commonly covers a 25-mile radius and often dips as far south as Spruce Knob. With an elevation of 4,863 feet, Spruce Knob ranks as West Virginia’s rooftop – a high point topped with a stone tower standing amid a forest of natural Christmas trees.
Next in view: Seneca Rocks. This natural landmark, like Spruce Knob, sits inside the Monongahela National Forest. Just off U.S. 33, a visitor center offers explanations and exhibits. Outside, a hiking trail leads 1.5 miles on an uphill climb to, ultimately, overlook picture-perfect Pendleton County from a wooden platform.
Climbing Seneca Rocks can be deadly. Actually, just looking at them can be deceiving.
“From the ground, it looks like this huge boulder,” says Pennington, the pilot. “But, from the air, it’s just a thin, potato chip-looking rock. It’s amazing that it can stand there, being that thin.”
DOLLY SODS WILDERNESS sits near the center of the Potomac Highlands: a cool, moist escape, where the trees have more in common with Canada than surrounding states. “When you want to get great pictures, that’s where you go,” says G’na Stephens, the manager of the Gandy Dancer Theatre in Elkins.
“You come here and you’re going to be pulled in with the beauty - and everything that West Virginia has.”
Like hiking trails lined with ferns and evergreens.
“Dolly Sods is more like the northwest territory of Canada,” says Pennington. “It’s the variation between what you see in the valley and what you see in the mountains. You can explore Dolly Sods, and it’s like going to a different country. It feels like a wilderness.”
What’s more, that sweet sentiment – shared by both Denver and Pennington, of viewing West Virginia as almost heaven – appears, oh, so appropriate.
Simply consider the name “Breath of Heaven Bed and Breakfast.” It fits perfect: This place in Petersburg, on the sunrise side of Dolly Sods, not only offers plush pillows for slumber, but you awake to crepes, topped with strawberries. And you’re sent back on the road with freshly-baked cookies by the gracious owner, Geri Moser.