Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Almost Heavenly Vacation-- Cass Scenic Railroad

The Western Maryland Shay No. 6-- our steam-driven locomotive

We kept a big surprise from our children. My husband and I had decided our big splurge for our vacation was to be a ride on a real train. We would visit Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The children knew we were going somewhere special, but they didn't guess until we were about 10 miles from our destination.

Now, I have to admit that our surprise may have backfired a bit because our one son who doesn't adapt well to change had more than a little anxiety about riding the classic train since he hadn't had time to adjust to the idea, BUT let me tell you, before the end of the ride, he was loving it!

We arrived at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park early enough for bathroom breaks, a snack, and a look around the gift shop. We did not have time to fully experience the museum and other educational opportunities available. That was okay because we were about to embark on our 4 1/2 hour adventure to Bald Knob-- the third highest point in West Virginia.

We boarded our open car and found our spot on bench seats that faced the river side of the train (a recommendation we were glad my husband found online ahead of time). We listened as the crackling loudspeaker gave us information before we started, but because of our proximity to the engine, we only heard about every 10th word. I'm not sure if the other cars further from the engine could hear any better, but we enjoyed being able to see the engine up close and personal.

What a beauty!

We journeyed the path of the old logging trains, chugging up the mountain with switchbacks, past a reconstructed logging camp and a stop to take on more water at a spring. Our train stopped to rendezvous with another train-- an old diesel-- bound for Elkins (I think). One couple left our train to board the other while our bagged lunches made their way from the other train to us. We ate our ample lunch of sandwiches and lots of sides while continuing to climb the mountain.

We had a long stop at the top to use the "facilities" (pit toilets my daughters were NOT fond of) and to enjoy the view from the overlook.

A farm in the distance and cloud shadows.
And, wow. What a view!

Looks like a view from an airplaine

That white thing in the middle of the picture above is one of the huge radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank. While we did not stop there for a visit, it is a cool educational place worthy of a day by itself.

We had so much fun on our train day, and since our return, we've found our almost 2-year-old is now obsessed with trains. He imitates our train's whistle and bell quite accurately and daily begs for the following choo-choo video my husband shot with his phone. (I hope I can get it to work on this blog. . . you know I'm techno-challenged).


 The one warning I must give about Cass Scenic Railroad is that you really need to buy your tickets online ahead of time. We had planned to go an earlier day. My husband kept checking online for availability because we didn't want to pay the extra fee for buying online tickets, BUT the train filled up fast. The night before our planned excursion, there were tons of tickets available. Early the next morning, it was all sold out and it wasn't even a weekend. So we bit the bullet and paid the extra fee just so we could make sure to have tickets when we arrived. It would be a bummer to drive all that way and not be able to ride the train.

And while we didn't see a bear at Dolly Sods, three of our family were quick enough to spot one cross in front of us on our way down the mountain. 

This concludes our mini-tour of the great Mountain State, my West Virginia. I hope, if you have never visited, that you someday have the opportunity, but don't limit yourself to the places we enjoyed on our vacation. There's so much more to see and experience. We were only in one section of the state, and we had to pass over several nice spots due to lack of time.

And if you just like the John Denver song, here's my review of one of my favorite children's books.

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