Perhaps 35 miles east of Elkins stands an unusual rock formation bearing our title’s name. It’s thought to be 440 million years old and survives today due to its composition, mostly quartzite, a super-hard form of sandstone that in a former life was the beach of an ancient ocean. Tectonic shift pushed the young quartz up as continental drift forced rock into rock, leaving The Rocks at a 90 degree angle from their old beach home. Today’s rock climbers come from far and wide to scale Seneca, and the Army used the area as a training ground for mountain troops in World War II. Climbing equipment is much improved since the 1940’s when the soldiers’ lifelines were fiber ropes, they wore combat boots, and everybody hammered pitons into the rock face. Now they use removable clamps that expand in rock cracks and crevasses, the ropes are nylon or better, and American ingenuity has designed $200 shoes whose sole purpose is rock climbing. The technique hasn’t changed so much: be strong, be light, and use the ropes and rock anchors wisely so you don’t fall.
We have run out of things to do in Elkins so we took a day trip with our tour guide, Richard. Richard is a Pittsburgher, but he’s put down Elkins roots for thirty or forty years. He remembers the great flood of ’85, works trails as a volunteer, has been a presenter of interpretive programs for the Forest Service, and a while back had a real job working in public health. He’s on Social Security now, and pretty much walks everywhere, except today, when he rode with us to The Rocks.
Along the way Kat asked Richard about the mysterious blue roadside flowers. He knew them well: chicory. That’s the same plant whose roasted roots go into the CDM branded coffee poured at Café du Monde in New Orleans. Chicory became popular in New Orleans early in the Civil War when the Union blockade cut off supplies of real coffee; they blended chicory in with their remaining inventory of coffee beans. Before long the locals came to prefer coffee with chicory. It is an acquired taste.
We had a fine sack lunch of tuna sammidges and Doritos on the banks of a fork of the Potomac River whose waters are still two to three weeks from D.C. Richard on occasion prospects for precious and semi-precious gems, as well as gold. Today he was rooting around the beach for interesting stuff, but found only some nice quartz imbedded in another stone. Earlier he had climbed a little way up the trail to gather a soil sample for an old friend who for too many years has been searching for the next Murfreesboro, Arkansas diamond mine. That friend is 80 but still looking for his lucky strike.
Aren’t we all?