The Dolly Sods is a designated wilderness and scenic area within the Monongahela National Forest. It is a high plateau on the Allegheny Ridge—approaching 4000 feet, give or take—and the altitude effect means the character of the place is more reminiscent of the far north than the mid-Atlantic, as is the ecological community. Just to the south is a rich southern cove forest, but up top there are spruce-fir forests, rocky outcroppings covered in moss and fern, remote sphagnum bogs, grassy alpine meadows, and berry-laden heaths. Snowshoe hares can be found here, though regrettably we didn't see any, and the fact that Matt (who, perhaps in part because of me, pays special attention to raptors) claims never to have seen a hawk up here just deepened my initial suspicions that this is goshawk country.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this area was heavily logged, and the dessication caused by the removal of all the large trees precipitated a series of destructive wildfires between the 1910s and 1930s which left the Dolly Sods all but devoid of life. Military exercises during the Second World War left the area littered with artillery shells and other ordnance, and even today the USFS encourages visitors to stay on marked trails due to the UXB threat. Gradually, though, the mountain did recover, and though the sods came under threat again—by residential development, highway building, strip mining, and even a massive dam project—The Nature Conservancy and local conservationists purchased land and mineral rights beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with additional tracts coming under full federal protection as recently as 2009.
The photos that follow have been re-sequenced slightly for aesthetic purposes, but generally follow a south-to-north progression. Photos by Mark & Jessica Farrell-Churchill, but Matt Skillman deserves much credit for guiding us here. We shall return, inshallah.
[Fritillary, probably a meadow fritillary.]
[Rufous-sided towhee singing from a fir. I do recognize the split from spotted towhee, but just can't get behind the drab name "eastern towhee".]
[Moss, fern, and rosebay rhododendron.]
[Mountain laurel in bloom.]
[Quite a few of the rocks up here have gouges in the top—glacial in origin, I first thought, but possibly wind-carved—and hold water more or less permanently.]
[The leaning rock looked precarious, but was stable enough to climb on.]
[Between a rock and a hard place. Yes, those are aluminum cans down in the crevice. Some people are just lazy, inconsiderate bastards.]
[Viburnum, going orange in spots.]
[Cherry is one of the dominant hardwood trees here; I liked the way this appeared to be growing straight out of the rock.]
[Mountain meadow, known locally as a "sod". The "Dolly" in the name Dolly Sods was originally Dahle, the family name of a homesteader from Germany. Johann Dahle was one of the British General Cornwallis's "Hessian" soldiers; captured by the American army at Yorktown, he eventually settled here, supposedly on the personal advice of General Washington.]
[This could be Alaska or Canada. The open area in the foreground is a heath barren, but locally these are called "huckleberry plains".]
[Smooth green snake.]
[Another Alaskan/Canadian vista.]
[Reindeer lichen growing amidst the heath.]
[Many of the fir trees on the plateau have been "flagged" or sculpted by the nearly constant west wind.]
[Tiger swallowtail on mountain laurel.]
[Look closely, and you'll see a soaring turkey vulture.]
[Jessa and friend.]
[Mark and Matt.]