trains

A National Quiet Zone and a National Radio Telescope.

I maybe the last remaining member of my family to not have a smartphone. But when traveling to Green Bank, W.V.  and the National Radio Telescope Science Center, I am not alone. This 13,000 acres of land inside the Monongahela National  forest is designated as A National Quiet Zone. Residents in the area are not allowed to use cell phones, WIFI is strictly prohibited,and families are not even allowed to use microwave ovens. I am thinking, I should move to Green Bank and go back in time to a place where things were different and people actually talked to each other. A time when life was slower and communication took hours not seconds.

gbt-national-radio-telescope

Green Bank,West Virginia and the world’s largest steerable radio telescope.

Many people who live in the Green Bank area either love the reason for the Quiet Zone or they hate it. Green Bank, West Virginia is home to the largest  steerable radio telescope in the world. The technology is so sensitive that they could pick up a cell phone signal on Mars and when researchers received that information back on earth, they would think that your phone was the loudest radio signal in outer space.It is hard to wrap my brain around that but, that means cell phones are the “Devil” to these researchers and their work. So I feel like I may have found my “People”. These families, researchers, farmers and public employees all live in a world that is more reminiscent to the 1940’s and 1950’s then 2016. Maintenance workers at the research center are not even allowed to have gas powered engines on the astronomy property. The researchers all drive diesel vehicles so they do not have spark plugs firing near the telescope. The spark sends out  a signal to the telescopes sensitive receivers.

green-bank-science-center-nrao

Green Bank Science Center National Radio Astronomy Observatory

So this holiday weekend my family decided to explore the Green Bank Science Center and finally see the huge radio telescope for ourselves. I have just enough of a nerd in me to find the study of astronomy very fascinating and  always jump to the chance to learn more. This research center is only about two hours from our house and is hidden in a rural mountain community so the trip was not only to see the telescope but spend the rest of the weekend in a small community called Cass.Cass State Park is home to  a scenic Railroad with several passenger trains that run year around. We spent the following day riding the trains up into the beautiful forests of Pocahontas  County for a restful day of sight seeing.How could we beat two great locations to visit about 15 minutes apart.

When you arrive at the Green Bank Science Center you are able to spend several hours exploring the building and grounds before actually taking a bus ride out to see the telescope up close. They have a nice interactive exhibit hall with activities for people of every age to explore. Tom, Christopher and I played with all kinds of fun devices that explained different things that they study at the science center. We took inferred photos of each other, played with mirrors and light reflections, put together huge puzzle pieces and got to see a scale model of the telescope that was beautiful.We walked around the grounds looking at some of the historic telescopes  and checked out a scale solar system display.

inferred-jolynn-photographer

JoLynn Powers at the Green Bank,West Virginia Science Center Exhibit Hall

tom-and-christopher-powers-as-creatures-from-outer-space

Green Bank,West Virginia Tom and Christopher are my favorite Aliens!

 

After our lunch and time in the exhibit hall we were allowed to photograph the telescope outside on a wooden landing area just out back of the main building. This would be the last location that digital photos would be allowed.Even the smallest click from a digital camera can disturb the radio waves near the telescope, so we packed away our cameras as we boarded a small tour bus to see the megalith up close. In a matter of minutes we were within a couple hundred yards of the huge structure. Watching the huge dish move into position for recording the data that a scientist needed that day was hypnotic. It is hard to explain how quite the telescope is when it moves. We stood only 50 yards from the large base of the telescope yet you could not hear a sound of any movement. How lonely it feels to be in the dishes huge shadow and how little I feel when I think about the fact that this telescope is looking not just at our solar system but ones hundreds of millions of miles away.

gbt-from-the-observation-deck-at-greenbank

photo from last safe point before entering the restricted camera area

After we returned to the bus and traveled back to the main building it was time to spend a few dollars on a nerdy telescope t-shirt and cool toys for Christopher at the gift shop. I also got the schedule of coming events. The science center hosts many child friendly events throughout the year and we hope to try to come back for some of them so ….. Christopher ( not his mom ) can learn more about space, the planets and the world we live in.  This very inexpensive trip  has to be the coolest thing I have done all summer.

roof-of-the-green-bank-science-center

Roof and view from visitors center of the Green Bank Science Center.

Just as a side note, I love metal structures of all kinds, bridges, towers, old piles of rusted junk, cranes, old ships, radar dishes and now radio telescopes.This man made aluminum dish is the most fascinating object I think I have ever seen. Its sheer size,the dish is larger than a football field across and around 2 acres is surface space, the height is taller than the statue of liberty and makes me want to take hundreds of photos. I love its maze of bright white structural supports with so much open spaces to look through. I could have spent most of my day just watching it slowly move on its 6 legs with 12 feet tall steel wheels that support the 8,500 tons or 170,000,000 pounds. I will one day return to spend more time with a film camera so that I can take photos really close up and enjoy sitting it the shadow of a giant.

For more information about the Green Bank Radio Telescope please check out their Website at NRAO and plan to visit one of West Virginia’s most undiscovered treasures.

 

 

 

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Categories: Green Bank NRAO, historic locations, Monongahela National Forest, Pocahontas County, rural life, Science Center, State Park activities, trains, Travel, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Lost Creek, West Virginia Depot Restoration is Complete 2015

Owned by the local branch of the “Lions Club” the Lost Creek rail road depot got a grant and a face lift in 2015. The Depot has always had a place in my heart, maybe because both my boy love trains or maybe because of the fact that I love old buildings, but when I began to see the work being done here I was so happy.

Lost Creek, WV, Depot Christmas 2015 restoration is complete

Lost Creek, WV, Depot from 1892,restoration is complete 2015

Lost Creek Depot Historical sign

Lost Creek Depot Historical sign

Sometimes a place that you see everyday just becomes a blur and you forget about how wonderful it is and forget the fact it is an important place in it the community. This little depot in a tiny West Virginia town called Lost Creek, is one of those kind of places. In the twenty some years that I have been traveling to Lost Creek I have seen this building only repainted once. Below is the before photo I found on the internet. This is how passing motorist have seen the depot for at least 10 years and you can see why it needed restored. The weather and water damage took its toll on the little building. At one time the Lions Club used the building to sell crafts and Christmas tree as fund-raisers but over the last few years the depot had fallen into such bad disrepair that the doors closed year round.

Lost Creek Depot before restoration had begone this fall 2015

Lost Creek Depot before restoration had begone this fall 2015

Now after Govern Earl Ray Tomblin added the structure to his list of grant recipients and awarded $40,000 through the Transportation Alternatives,Recreational Trails Program we can see what a beautiful place a depot can be.

I was able to watch the progress of the construction over the last part of this year and each time I made a trip to Lost Creek I notices more of the work being completed. It is a joyful thing to see another building on the states register of Historic places getting the restoration it badly needed. It has made a huge improvement to the small towns downtown and has added another interesting stop on the Harrison County rails to trails program. I hope in the near future to see the depot open again for fund-raisers and community festivals like it was 20 years ago,when I bought a cup of hot apple cider from the Lions Club during a Christmas street fair.

Lost Creek, West Virginia restored depot window with Christmas decor

Lost Creek, West Virginia restored depot window with Christmas decor

street view of the Lost Creek Depot and snowman 2015

street view of the Lost Creek Depot and snowman 2015

It is hard to believe that this depot was once a busy place and that millions of dollars passed through its door and docks during the late 1800’s. That at one time Lost Creek was on the main train line of the B&O railroad and a busy trolley stop for the larger cities north of here. Because today the town’s population is around 500 and there are only a few grand homes and business left from the time period makes it even more important to save some of the  local history of one of Americas most beautiful small towns.

 

Categories: Country life, Depot, Harrison County, historic locations, Lost Creek West Virginia, nostalgic, Photos, trains | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Night Train to the Stars.

 

green bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory

One of the best things about West Virginia is the amount of wilderness, meaning fewer people and less civilization. Making West Virginia a perfect place to do star-gazing, and Radio Astronomy. Hard to believe that hidden in the woods of West Virginia at Green Bank is The National Radio Astronomy Observatory. These are the type of telescopes that inspired the movie ” Contact” with Jodie Foster. Where the Astronomers are listening to the world of outer space. At Green Bank they also encourage visitors to enjoy their reflective telescopes to see all wonders of our galaxy. So when my son said he wanted to plan his 6th birthday around trains, camp fires and the stars how could I say no.

Cheat Mountain Salamander train ride to the stars

Cheat Mountain Salamander train ride to the stars

One of the offerings that Astronomers from Green Bank give to visitors is the option to do a Star Gazing event once every year on their property that is only accessible by train. No high way, no logging road, no hiking trails on the 13,000 square miles of US Government land. Access is just a historic railroad track built about 2 century’s ago to transport coal from the high lands of Pocahontas County to the lower flat land of the Ohio Valley. The idea for a short ride on a local  tourist train was a perfect way to transport visitors to the remote location to take photos, learn more about Astronomy and ride into the past on a restored diesel train and cars.  Add in the fact that they allow you to have a camp fire and roast marsh mellows you have a great time planed for everyone who takes the night train to the stars.

As this was Christopher’s birthday adventure we made an afternoon and evening out of the trip. We started our train themed fun in Elkins, West Virginia at The Depot Restaurant that uses train themed photos and paintings as the decor. All while being able to walk the grounds of a fully functional and restored 1800’s Depot. This is also the main office for the Cheat Mountain Salamander, the New Tygart Flyer, Mountain Explorer trains. For more information about the trains and their trips Contact www.Mtn-Rail.com. The grounds around the Depot showcase a traditional turn table and tussle style bridge that leads to loading dock of the Depot.

Christopher 6th birthday dinner at the depot restaurant  balcony

Christopher 6th birthday dinner at the depot restaurant balcony

view of train bridge from The Depot Restaurant.

view of train bridge from The Depot Restaurant.

 

train bridge over the Tygart River, Elkins West Virginia

train bridge over the Tygart River, Elkins West Virginia

After a nice walk to the bridge and the river we shopped some at  Delmonte Market across the street from the depot.We found a large selection of hand-made and country themed gifts and toys. This was one of the hand-made items in the beautiful store. Recycled bottles with Decoupage flowers and lights what a nice way to use dried flowers.

flower bottle lamps at Delmonte Marker

flower bottle lamps at Delmonte Market

After the shopping we headed south on Rout 250 to Huntonsville then through two very small towns to the Monongahela National Forest to the  Cheat River Bridge where we found our loading area and started the evening ride up to Linen WV.

restrooms and depot at cheat mountain

restrooms and depot at Cheat Mountain

Christopher looking out the window of our train car

Christopher looking out the window of our train car

We then rode the train for about 45 minutes to a small dirt landing. We disembarked the train and walked up into a field that surrounded us on 3 sides with nothing but trees. A fire was lit, roasting sticks for marsh mellows gathered and the sun began to set as the Astronomers set up their equipment. While we waited for the sun to set I got this last photo of our train before it disappeared into total darkness.

night train parked at Linen landing WV. Darkest location in the state of WV

night train parked at Linen landing WV. Darkest location in the state of WV

by 8:30 pm we were in total darkness and this is what the train looked like.

 

the night train at linen WV in total darkness

the night train at Linen WV in total darkness

What happened next was astonishing, I have always loved the night sky, moon and the many planets, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The limited light from a moonless sky was enough to move around comfortably with out walking into anyone and the telescopes had small red lights to help us locate them in the field. I was just amazed that in total darkness the stars  were soooo bright!

I do not have the words to really describe what it was that we were able to see. From tree-lined horizon to horizon there was nothing to block our view, no lights were visible in our valley meadow. The only light was from the stars themselves because we had arrived here on the New Moon making it easy to see the most distant stars with out aide. As Tom and I found a spot for our folding chairs with our backs to the restored train landing we both looked up to the Northern sky to see the slowly dotted sky  fill with a cloudy dust of the Milky Way. Each individual star suspended in space, slowly became two than ten than twelve hundred. The numbers and colors slowly expanded into the ribbon of the Milky Way from one horizon to another. This  river of clustered stars outshone almost every star in the sky. With Millions if not billions of tiny lights glimmering it is impossible to not feel alone and part of a larger whole all at once.  The big planets shown with the red-orange of Mars and the cold blue of Vega. The constellations blinked in perfect form, each one leading the eye from one white pin point to another until you discovered that you were looking at the opposite horizon watching Scorpio slowly descend below a wall of trees. We sat in total darkness for 2 hours barely speaking and those that did speak whispered as if to use an adult tone would somehow effect the reverence for the  stars. We took turns looking into the telescopes and watching the Astronomers point out constellations with a laser pointer. Yet, every time we returned to our seats to enjoy the smell of a smoldering camp fire and the billions of bright white stars in the sky, we felt nothing but Peace. It was the most enjoyable two hours I have had in years.

milky Way Crop

Milky Way Crop

This time in the woods reminded me of the years that Tom and I would set up a camp site in the back yard to our older son Cody.We let him camp in our pasture behind the house on a hill. It was fun for me to lie on my back and look at the stars with him when he was 8 or 9. We shared a moment of happiness at its most simple. This trip expanded this feeling of happiness to something deeper and larger. It was very moving and fueled my interest in astronomy again.

As families and scientists prepared to re-board the train the temperature had dropped to 45 degrees. The air was cold and we could all see our breath but no one complained. We filed to our seats for the short 45 minutes back down the mountain and no one raised their voices. We spent the time laughing with strangers and reminiscing as if we are all long-lost friends… We were all happy, including the sleepy birthday boy.

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Birthday, Cheat Mountain Salamander, Christopher, Green Bank NRAO, Monongahela National Forest, trains, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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