Brandywine, Flagpole Knob, Skidmore Fork Scenic Area, Seneca Rocks

Ford at Little Fork - Click to EnlargeSeneca Rocks - Click to Enlarge
Spot Near Skidmore Fork Scenic Area - Click to Enlarge


4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD! - Click here for details!

4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD!




At the end of August, the boys and I went out to Brandywine and stayed overnight with some wheeling up to Flagpole Knob.  Maria had gone to visit friends in Maryland.  Surprising me, she told me that she felt bad that she missed the camping trip and wished that she’d gone.  She went as far as asking if we could go in October sometime!  So we planned to go out the first weekend and spend a couple days.  This trip was a little different as we pushed into some territory that we have not visited before!


GPS Track Log 10/01/05 - Click to Enlarge



I got Friday afternoon off so we could pack and hit the road with the plan of arriving at Brandywine before dark.  I got the OK and was home by Noon.  I had gone through all the gear the night before and had everything laid out to be lashed to the rack.

This trip was different from the last one because we decided to bring the full complement of cooking gear, eating utensils; to bring changes of clothes, showering stuff, and all the trimmings.  The Jeep was easily twice as loaded as the last trip when we went bare-bones:  Sleeping bags and the tent equipment.  (We always bring the safety gear and first aid stuff, but other than that and the recovery tools, we traveled quite light.)

The kids go out of school around 2:30PM.  By that time I had most of the stuff loaded on the rack.

Loaded - Click to Enlarge

Maria went and picked the kids up then we packed the clothes and food.  By the time we got done with all that and were ready to roll, it was 4:30PM.  At this rate we could not make Brandywine before dark unless we sped all the way and didn’t stop for gas, food or anything.  That was not going to happen, so I got my mind set right for setting up in the dark.


We stopped in Philippi (site of the first ground battle of the Civil War) to have dinner at the Medallion Restaurant on the Main Street.  It was “Freyday” and we were treated to a one-man Country Karaoke experience that will not soon be forgotten.  The man could sing!  And it was so loud it was hard to concentrate on the menu.  We all went off our diets…

After dinner, we piled back into the Jeep after a quick look at the cowboy store across the street.  Hmmm, I wonder why we did that...?  We drove the rest of the way to Brandywine, passing Seneca Rocks in the dark.  We stopped briefly at the General Store to pick up some things we’d need when we got to camp: fire wood, some charcoal lighter fluid, a few food items, and so on.  This took the pressure off to get to Brandywine before the little store there closed.

The rest of the drive to Brandywine went well and we arrived at the gate at 9:30PM.  I filled out the registration card and put my money in the slot, then we drove up to Site 24.  There, we set up camp to the lights of the Jeep, and called it a night.

It was fairly cold sleeping, and Maria spent the night learning how to stay warm.  She put some socks on against my advice but seemed to benefit from it (her feet were cold touching the edges of the sleeping bag).  She also gave in to my advice to zip into the bag so that her head wasn’t showing.  When she did it, she got warm.  Meanwhile Ted was practically laying on top of his bag and perfectly happy.  I still urged him to get inside so he wouldn’t freeze overnight.  I just zipped in and fell dead to the world until my early morning wake-up call when I check the kids and take a quick walk outside…  Unlike one of our first trips when I found Tomi lying on the bare ground in 40-degree weather, everyone was in their bag and nice and warm.



We got up a little later than usual, got a fire going, had some breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and boiled eggs. 

Ted and Tom In CampTed and Tom In CampMaria, Ted and Tom In Camp
Maria, Ted and Tom In Camp - Click to Enlarge

CampMaria, Ted and Tom In CampMaria, Ted and Tom In Camp

Maria, Ted and Tom In CampMaria, Ted and Tom In CampMaria, Ted and Tom In Camp

We took a minute to put the tarp on the tent.

Maria, Ted and Tom In Camp

The tarp was still damp from the last trip so this would give it time to dry during the day, protect the tent in case of rain (not likely) and prepare us for another cool night.  In the summer I suspend it from cords between trees and keep it off the tent so that we stay cool; in the spring and fall I put it right on the tent because it helps keep the heat inside the tent.  I figured it would help later if it was cold out.

The kids took a bike ride while we got things ready for the day.

Tomi and Teddy - Click to Enlarge


Maria put together some snacks for the trail and we got all squared away and on the road by 11:00 AM.  Not very early but given that we were not meeting anyone and had no deadlines, it didn’t really matter.

We stopped at McDorman’s for gas and lunch supplies.  We found it difficult to find suitable snack food that would allow us to stay on our diets so there was some trouble around that.  I am sure that the woman behind the counter remembered me and the kids from the incident with the dog on another trip, and her scowl pretty much told me what I needed to know about her opinion of us.  To be fair, our way of presenting in her experience couldn’t possibly leave her thinking very highly of us so…


Finally we got out of the store and headed down the road to the trail.  We got onto Union Springs Road and crossed the boundary onto FR 225 near Union Springs Dam.  We drove all the way up to the top of the first ridge, passing up the side trail we had visited on our last trip, in the interest of time.

The lunch spot we chose was nice and comfortable with a full view of the ridgeline we’d be traveling. 

Lunch Spot on the Trail - Click to Enlarge
Lunch Spot on the TrailLunch Spot on the Trail

The weather was beautiful and made for a pleasant break.  A vehicle passed through but we were enough off the trail that we never saw it go past.  After lunch we continued up to Chestnut Ridge and onto Stone Camp road.

A few hundred yards in we encountered a man cutting down a dead tree with his young boy waiting for him in a pick-up truck.  I don’t know what the rules are and frankly didn’t want to spoil our outing debating with him.  So we continued down the trail.

I came to the one section that in recent years has developed a bypass.  The main path has a moderately steep hill that we approached going downhill.  There were loose pieces of slate and plenty of dirt.  I put the Jeep in 1st (4LO of course) and let it idle down the hill.  One of the front wheels took a piece of slate and slide a bit, causing the Jeep to drop off the edge of a rock and hit on a skid plate.  It was a good solid hit that made the CD player skip and Maria got quite nervous.  I got to the bottom of the hill and got out to check things even though I figured there wasn’t much to be concerned about.  I didn’t find even a scratch, and nothing leaking, burning, bent or broken, so we continued along up the ridge to Meadow Knob.

The road between Meadow Knob and Flagpole has deteriorated to a point that it is quite interesting.  It was still not very difficult but definitely not passable in a car, at least not without some damage.  And traveling in the direction we were headed, I have my doubts about a 2WD vehicle getting up a couple of the hills even in good weather.  It still surprises me how we got up these hills on the “stocker run” that I lead a while back, but that was when it was sheer ice, just after dark and we'd already had quite enough...

When we reached the summit of Flagpole Knob, I was surprised to find a couple guys who had set up camp right in the middle of the summit.  Their tent lines blocked the road; they had a cord of wood split and stacked; they had a huge bar-b-q rig, and it looked like they were getting ready to break ground.  They were playing music and were kicked back like they owned the place.


I guess I might have developed a proprietary feeling about this place.  And of course I have no right to – it’s a public place and open to anyone.  It just surprised and disappointed me that someone would come along and set up camp in a shared space that is frequented by many people, and think it OK.  Maybe I missed the whole point.  To be fair I did not take the trouble to find out what they were up to – I was with my family and didn’t want to get into something that would spoil their experience.

I made a U-Turn and parked off the trail. 

Flagpole Knob, Tomi, Teddy and MariaFlagpole Knob, Tomi, Teddy and Maria
Flagpole Knob, Tomi, Teddy and Maria - Click to Enlarge

The kids took their bikes down and did some trail riding while Maria and I took a break. 

Moto-X Run - Click to Enlarge

Ted was getting a little brave on the berms that block one of the entrances to the summit so I made movies of him going down slow and then a little fast. 

Movie: mov08848.mpg Ted Rides Down Easy

Movie: mov08851.mpg Ted Almost Loses It

The second video shows him catching some air, loosing his footing, and using the tops of his feet for brakes as he speeds toward the camera (that would be me…).  Fun fun fun!

Tomi was still trying to get used to the bigger bike so he wasn’t comfortable going over the berms.  That’s probably just as well since he has gotten fairly brave.  I didn’t need a crash…  He rode around the flat areas and did a fair amount of pushing his bike.  At one point he demonstrated to me riding down the hill and steering his front tire up against the side off the rut he was in.  I think I see a Moto-X experience in his future…  Time to check my health insurance coverage!

We loaded the bikes back on the Jeep, demonstrated my suspension flex to the kings of the hill, then headed out towards Briery Branch Road.  I wanted to explore the area further west of the summit.  I tucked into the Bother Knob Access Road and drove all the way down to the end where a wide spot offers parking for a hike up to the top of the ridge.

Hiking Spot Near Skidmore Fork Scenic Area - Click to Enlarge

Spot Near Skidmore Fork Scenic Area

We started up but then I noticed that Maria wasn’t really wearing proper footwear.  Also it was fairly late in the day by then.  I didn’t know exactly how far up the trail went and was concerned that we might have a tough hike.  So within a minute of starting up, we turned back around and went back down.  This quickly revealed what a good decision I had made since it was pretty tough going down the steep hill.

So we got back in the Jeep and doubled back out to pavement at the Junction of Briery Branch, FR 88 and CR 25.  I knew we could go down the paved road to the Hone Quarry area and then back to Route 33.  But I wanted to see where CR 25 lead so I just took it.

We meandered down the mountains and eventually came to CR 24, which lead through some beautiful country, across a couple nearly dry stream fords to pavement near the Navy Installation.

Ford at Little Fork with Socrates Mountain in View - Click to Enlarge
Ford at Little ForkFord at Little ForkLooking toward Socrates MountainLooking toward Socrates MountainLooking toward Socrates Mountain




Saturday Epilogue

We finished up stopping at the store in Brandywine to grab some more supplies and then back to the campsite.  Since the air compressor at the store was broken I drove the 12 miles to Franklin to get air and wash the Jeep.

Late Afternoon Sun

When I got back, dinner was ready and the kids were ready for bed.  We ate and then went to the washroom to clean up.  On the way back Teddy fell on the path and dinged his knee pretty well.  He ended up with a black-and-blue from it.  But since he already had a really bad scrape from a previous injury, he was hating life.  The old injury got reopened and started bleeding.  I am sure it was painful on top of the bruise.

We got him calmed down and then put some Neosporin on the wound, followed by a very large knee bandage built for such injuries.  Once again the first aid kit pays off.

The kids cracked into some light sticks and started playing with them to see who could throw them the greatest distance.  Ted won by throwing his 75 feet up into a tree, where it caught hold and remained.  It will no doubt be a landmark for us on future trips if it doesn’t fall with the leaves.  One way or another, we always make our mark!

It was much warmer, so between the lessons learned the night before and the relative warmth of the tent, Maria had a warm night and slept through.  I was out like the night before.  I am finally getting used to sleeping in the mummy bag which at first I found confining and have somehow gotten used to.



We got up late again and took our time.  Then we went out and got some breakfast at one of the local restaurants.  It was a big diet-breaking meal of greasy everything.  We went back to camp and got our stuff all stowed for traveling. 

Morning Camp

Morning Camp


It took about two hours including dishwashing, bike riding, and fussy cleaning so that everything is ready for next time.  If we were to just pack and run we’d be done in maybe ˝ an hour.  But then we’d have more to do when we got home so with nothing to do but drive home this was OK.

The spiders were busy overnight and had completed a symmetrical web between the hanging post and the gas lantern.

Spider Web on LanternSpider Web

We also took some time to check Ted’s scrape again.  It looked pretty ugly but it wasn’t infected or dirty.  Still, I convinced him to clean it a little more deeply.  That activity left him a little gray but he rebounded quickly and within 15 minutes was racing around on his bike, so I think it was more the watching than the actual discomfort he may have experienced.

We took a few pictures once the site was clean then we hit the road to go home.

The Family - Click to Enlarge
The Family


It was so close to lunch time that we drove the few miles to Franklin and had another diet-killing lunch at Mean Gene’s.  Burgers, Pizza, and diet drinks.  Who are we kidding?  But it tasted good and it was quick.  Other than the usual thrash whenever we go into stores where things like toys, games or junk food is for sale, it was a pretty good lunch.  Soon we were back on the road headed for home.

Since we had passed Seneca Rocks in the dark and I wanted Maria to see them, we chose to go back the way we had come.  Along the way I was very frustrated by a guy driving a Suburban with a large trailer home on the back.  First, he brazenly ran a stop sign doing about 30 mph so he could avoid stopping.  Then within 400 yards began a steep ascent up the hills on the way to Seneca Rocks from where 220 comes in to Route 33.  Not content with that, he ducked into the slow traffic land long enough to let us catch up before swerving back into the main travel lane without letting any of the accumulating traffic behind him go by.

Finally we reached the top of one of the rises and a passing lane opened up.  To my amazement, even as he crawled at about 20 mph, he swerved into the passing lane to prevent anyone from getting by.  I was tired of this and called his bluff and held my ground and passed him with a terse full-handed wave.  He wasn’t worth a single finger-style wave though that was my inclination.  The wave of traffic behind him that passed somewhat validated that it was not just my own selfish impatience that had made him so annoying.

With our “I am alone in the world…” traveler behind us, the rest of the ride to Seneca Rocks was pleasant, including our stop to look out over the valley.

View from near Judy GapView from near Judy GapView from near Judy Gap

View from near Judy Gap - Click to Enlarge

View from near Judy Gap

View from near Judy Gap

We gave directions to Elkins (“stay on 33”).  I stopped a couple times to take pictures as we neared the Rocks.

Road Beast - Click to Make it Go Away!

Seneca RocksSeneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks - Click to Enlarge

Seneca RocksSeneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks Visitor Center Parking

When we reached Seneca Rocks we first stopped at the official visitors center and checked out the big map, binoculars and other materials.  There were dozens, if not hundreds of people in various stages of climbing the face, with several people on top of the rocks only accessible to climbers.

Seneca RocksSeneca RocksSeneca RocksSeneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks - Click to Enlarge

Seneca RocksSeneca Rocks

After watching and making images, we got back in the Jeep and crossed the road to the stores.  We parked in between them near the climbing center and store

The Gendarme

We checked out the climbing equipment and I bought an “SR” sticker for the trunks.  Then we went next door to Harper's to look at what they have for sale. 


They had toys (which started the “I want it or else…” stuff); clothes that we didn’t need, and a bunch of tourist type things that were interesting but wouldn’t ever show up on display in our homes.  Time to leave.

The general store, Yokums next door was good for snacks, drinks and some miniature light sticks like the ones we use in the tent at night.  For $1.00 you got two light sticks the size of a fingernail trimming…  “I have to have that!  I have to have that!” came the cry.  I said No!  Mom convinced me to give it up and we left the store with a couple toys, some microscopic light sticks and munchies.

The drive from the Rocks to Grafton was pretty unremarkable except that I missed a couple waypoints for good four-wheeling that I have read about on the web.  The waypoints are in a different data set so I didn’t see them come up.  At any rate it was late enough that we would not have had time to do new exploring anyway.

We made one more stop at the Grafton Super Center Wal*Mart where we got some groceries, a couple toy Jeeps, and then we made the final leg home.


We got home just after dusk.  The kids more or less willingly helped unload the Jeep, in between riding their bikes around the driveway, down the big hill behind the house, and arguing with each other.  Aside from unloading the cooler and taking some stuff into the house, t was no more or less complicated than putting the trunks in their place in the garage.  The weather had been great.  Half of our trail ride covered new ground, and we had a good chance to scope out Seneca Rocks.  Not to mention the quality time we spent together as a family.  I’d go again next weekend if I could!

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