Saturday, October 24, 2009

Snowshoe, WV

The weekend of October 2 I headed to Snowshoe, WV on my VFR for the MSTA Fall Colors Rally. I headed up I-77 to the Wytheville, VA area where I got on US219, which took me to Snowshoe. 219 was a nice scenic and curvy road that made for a very pleasant, flowing ride through the countryside.

An overlook along 219

Nice example of the character of 219

I stumbled upon the Indian Creek covered bridge near Union, WV. It was built in 1903 by a pair of brothers, aged 16 and 18!

US219 passes right in front of Pearl Buck's birthplace.

I rode through a cold, light rain for the last hour of the journey, but it wasn't too bad, thanks to my electric vest and heated grips. I got to the host hotel, The Inn at Snowshoe, around 6:00, and met a nice group of around 8 folks from Virginia, with whom I ended up hanging out for most of the weekend. We walked across the street to a really good restaurant and store, where we all ordered various pizzas; I had an excellent veggie pie. We got back to the hotel around 9:00, about the time my roommate Gary came rolling in from Roanoke. We all enjoyed an enjoyable evening of kicking tires and telling tales. By the end of the evening around 70 riders had made it into town.

Saturday we awoke to a beautiful sunny, albeit cold morning. A very hearty breakfast buffet was included in the price of the hotel, so we all enjoyed a nice, filling breakfast with several cups of coffee as we gave the temperature some time to climb a bit, as well as to give the deer some time to get away from the roads - there are TONS of deer in that area.

We got rolling around 9am and enjoyed a nice day of riding some spectacular rural roads, covering around 300 miles. We rode past a windmill farm, which was a pretty cool site.

We stopped for a break right across the street from them; they're HUGE!

We later stopped in Davis, WV for lunch at Shianni's. I had an excellent Italian sausage hoagie and two Saranac root beers. Saranac is a brewery in New York whose beer I love, and their root beer turned out to be just as good! Our group:

Cool rock formation and church built in 1855 seen during a stop later in the day.

Our hotel with a nice view behind it. Though it was the Fall Colors rally, we were a couple of weeks early for the peak fall colors, but leaves were starting to change, and it was still a very beautiful area.

Saturday night a bunch of us went over to the same restaurant, and this time I had a HUGE and very tasty hamburger. Had a good time visiting with everyone and looking around the store.

Sunday morning following another satisfying breakfast we all started heading homeward. Before leaving the area I explored a couple of local points of interest - first was the Cass Scenic Railroad. It is a logging line built in 1901 on which Shay locomotives from the early 1900's pull cars of tourists up the steep mountain line. The trips take from 2 to 4 hours, so I didn't have time for a ride, but I may have to allocate time in a future visit to the area. My timing was good, though, and I was able to see one of the Shays running as folks loaded up for a departure.

After studying the train and exploring the general store, I headed off to my main destination for the morning - the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. It is home to the world's largest fully-steerable radio telescope; it is nearly 500 feet in height, and its dish is a massive 330 feet in diameter! A football field would fit in it with room to spare!

I took the tour, which started with a classroom session in which we learned a lot about radio astronomy, the observatory (which houses around a dozen scopes in all), and the big telescope. One thing that I learned that I thought was really neat is that they make all of their receiver components (in the part above the dish) on site using brass. Why brass? Because the receiver is cooled to nearly absolute zero using liquid nitrogen to nearly stop the movement of atoms in the receiver components, as that generates interference. Interference is a huge problem with radio astronomy, since practically everything electronic generates radio waves, which is exactly what they're trying to gather. That's why the observatory is out in the middle of nowhere in a nice valley. But they still are always battling interference.

After the classroom session we loaded up on a van for a tour of the grounds and to get close and personal with the big scope. All vehicles used on site are diesel, since spark plugs in gasoline engines ... yep, generate interference.

Photo taken from the base. Digital cameras were not allowed that close, but I had taken along a one-time use film camera I had lying around.

The first ever radio telescope, built in 1931, using wood and parts from a Model T Ford.

One final shot before leaving

On my way home traveling down I-77 I saw a hot air balloon off to the side of the interstate, so I exited to investigate. It turned out to be a gathering of balloon enthusiasts launching from a parking lot; there were around 6 of them. It was really fun watching them inflate and take off. I'd love to ride in one some day!


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