Encompassing over 17,000 acres, Dolly Sods is located within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia’s Grant, Randolph and Tucker Counties. The area is divided into the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and, in the northeast corner, the Dolly Sods Scenic Area. One of the most frequently photographed areas in the northern section is next to the Bear Rocks Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy. Forest Service Road 75 runs through the heart of this area along the Allegheny Front and the Eastern Continental Divide. Access to this area can be made using Forest Service Road 19 from either Tucker County (western side) at Linville or from Grant County (eastern side) just south of Petersburg. These roads are unpaved and rough in many spots. They’re not plowed in the winter, and Forest Service Road 75 is closed during the winter months.
The weather here can change quickly, especially at the upper elevations. Wind is ever-present, with its effects being seen through the many flag and sculpted deciduous trees. Snow isn’t uncommon here in October or April. As you climb to the top from the valley below, temperatures will drop, even in the summer months.
Photo Experience At Dolly Sods
While the most-visited and photographed area is at Bear Rocks, there’s much more to Dolly Sods than just these rocky barrens. This section of the National Forest has a variety of other habitats, including streams, bogs and forest. Plant life can be found here that’s more common in Maine and Canada.
A range of wildlife can be observed, including black bear, coyote, bobcat, white-tailed deer, beaver and many others. This is a great location for the fall bird migrations along the Allegheny Front flyway. In fact, during the month of September, the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory is in operation. It’s the longest continually operating bird banding station in the United States.
Some of the darkest skies in the east can be found here, making it a great place for night photography, especially looking south.
Because of the ever-present winds, a good solid tripod is a must. Be prepared for the weather. Even in the summer months, it’s sometimes nice to have light gloves and a hat, especially in the mornings. Also, you need to be aware of the different hunting seasons as the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is a popular hunting location. So, wear orange when hiking away from the road areas.
There are always wonderful images to be had in this area at any time of the year, but my favorites are late spring and fall. In June, you can see the mountain laurel bloom among the rocks, and in the fall, the blueberry plants can turn flame red. This normally happens toward the end of September.
Mornings are my favorite time here for catching a sunrise over the valley that very often is filled with fog. Fog doesn’t tend to linger along the top of the mountain here due to the constant winds. But when you do find a calm morning, the bog and beaver pond areas can be very magical.
Contact: USDA Forest Service, www.fs.usda.gov/main/mnf/home.
See more of Frank Ceravalo’s work at vistawv.com.