Sunday morning, Oct 12. The weather was unfolding as predicted: clear, sunny, calm. Perfect driving weather. As the sun rose over the shopping mall lot where our Super 8 Motel was located, we planned out our route. We were well-positioned to explore one of the long 'red-coded' north-south routes that I had researched: WV-20. WV-20 is a route that runs all the way from nearly the Ohio border in the north to [nearly] the Virginia border in the south. It is a long route, partially owing to all of it's twists and turns: 262 miles (428 km). We were aiming to do a large chunk of the middle of this highway, from Buckhannon in the north to Interstate 64 in the south of the state -- more than enough to get a good idea of what this highway was all about!
After giving the cars a good de-bugging at the local spray wash (there are car spray washes in literally every little nowhere town around here), we drove back east, joining with highway 20 as it ran through Buckhannon, West Virginia. South we went!
The pavement was good, and there were indeed some good sweeping twisties, mostly through shady groves of trees. The highway crosses the terrain of the Appalachian Plateau. This plateau is incised with countless little stream valleys, all arranged in repetitive tree-like pattern. Because this plateau is raised a fair ways up from sea-level, all of these little streams have cut into the plateau, creating an endless maze of little wooded valleys and ridges. Highway 20 runs endlessly through this sort of terrain, and after a while, a pattern emerged. The highway would run through some valley for a while, usually going through a tiny little rural town. Then it would head along said valley for a while, then cut up and along a slope, usually following it quite closely -- this was where the good twisties were. We'd then reach a divide between this little drainage and the next, and then there'd be good twisties down the other side. Then a different valley bottom and less twisties, another little town, and then all over again.
One thing you have to hand to West Virginia -- once out of a little town, you're pretty much guaranteed a nice solid speed limit of 55, regardless of how twisty the road gets. This made for excellent backroad cruising.
The specially-annotated Map
The culture of rural West Virginia was incredibly interesting. Accents were strong, towns seemed a bit run-down, and evidence of coal mining was frequent. This was surely the heart of Appalachia. A stop at a gas station was sure to net you a genuine cultural experience!
After covering a considerable amount of WV-20, we decided it was time to make our way over to another highly-rated road: WV-16, and it's counterpart in Virginia, VA-16. I had heard that the southern parts of route 16 were especially good, warranting a star-star extra special rating on my maps. It was mid-afternoon by now, and we wanted to sample this road while the day was not too old.
We therefore didn't finish the southern part of WV-20, but instead hopped on the interstate and headed west to intersect WV-16. This is another rural throughway like WV-20, in that it pretty much runs the entire north-south length of West Virginia.
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At first, WV-16 seemed a lot like WV-20 -- which is by no means a bad thing. We were still winding through the Appalachian Plateau, and the terrain and the road were similar in nature. We again passed through many interesting communities, including the curiously named 'city of war', and passed by many curious things: rusted-out old gas stations, minimalistic little churches, half-abandoned coal mines. All of these things were nestled in steep little valleys and separated from each other by forested ridges -- and all connected together by the delightfully winding highway.
Downhill hairpin on WV-16
With evening rapidly approaching, we finished the last of WV-16 and crossed into Virginia on VA-16. And soon the terrain, the scenery, the roads, and the towns -- all changed! We had crossed into a different physiographic province -- the Valley and Ridge province, and the land changed from short ups and downs and closed-in valleys to long, high parallel ridges, and broad, open valleys. The towns, too, were different. Tazewell, for example, seemed much more well-to-do and upscale than anything we had seen during the last four hours in West Virginia.
Beautiful ridge approach on VA-16
Beautiful ridge approach on VA-16
We crossed the first of these major long open valleys, the Thompson Valley, in beautiful late-day light. The road wound beautifully through rolling countryside in the bottom of the valley, then started to climb up to cross the one of the many high, parallel ridges that characterize this region. At a lookout on this climb, we stopped at a lookout for a memorable view of the valley. The lighting conditions, state of the fall foliage, and clearness of the air -- all were just right to give us the most wonderful view of this region.
Idyllic Thompson Valley
Soon after this beautiful lookout, we reached the 'two star' section: as soon as we crested the ridge, VA-16 started a wonderfully tight forested descent into the next long valley. Then, incredibly, it immediately started climbing up to cross the next high ridge, and this time, it got REALLY twisty -- I mean super tight. It was a chore to attempt to maintain the speed limit, and in many cases, you simply couldn't. The turns were very tight, back and forth, back and forth. A pattern emerged, no doubt some result of some underlying structure or erosional pattern, and you could almost predict what type of twisty would come next. Tight stuff, really tight stuff, over, and over and over again. Heavenly.
The road crested the ridge, then dived down the other side, slightly differnent in layout but still very twisty. Then, a bit of a respite as the road crossed the valley floor, and then back to another ridge, and more incredibly twisty driving. And little traffic. And a continuous 55 mph speed limit throughout. And excellent pavement. Ten stars for sure! Time was tight, and I didn't have any opportunities to take any pictures of this amazing section of road. Just trust me -- it's good!
We managed to finish this bit of dreamy driving before dusk fully fell. And by that time, we were fairly spent, in any case. We had met the broad valley containing Interstate-81, and our plan was to drive [sedately] northeast for a while, then find a motel to crash in. After a stop for a quick pizza hut dinner, we did just that, stopping at another Super 8 motel, this time in Roanoke, Virginia. This had been quite a day, and, I believe precisely the sort of thing Luke and I had been looking for!
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Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Day 3 - Click link below to expand
Route Data - Day 3 - Westin to Roanoke
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet