We take our mapmaking quite seriously over here at Purple Lizard Maps. So seriously, that we often hike and bike most of the trails found on our maps. We drive 95% of the roads that are found on our maps, and are proud to "immerse" ourselves into the areas and local cultures where we map. For our summer 2018 project, the Elkins-Otter Creek Lizard Map, we truly went overboard and rented an off-the-grid cabin in the middle of Monongahela National Forest for a full week of recon fieldwork. During daylight hours we biked, hiked, and drove through the forest, while at night we shared and recounted our discoveries. Learn all about the adventures and discoveries we made while producing this map below!
The first step to our trip was finding a suitable remote office for the team. Middle Mountain Cabins, located within Monongahela National Forest and managed by the Forest Service, turned out to be a perfect location.
Sitting just south of Laurel Fork South Wilderness, the main cabin featured a propane stovetop, well water, and rustic toilet facilities. Two other smaller cabins came with this package too. Unlike the main cabin, these cabins were strictly bunk cabins.
We were able to drive directly up to the cabin area. A well worn path led us from our vehicle, past the fire pit and water pump, to the front door of the cabin. We quickly settled in at this quaint cottage, which includes a small pond and cold-water outdoor shower. This surely was a welcome respite from the summer heat!
The plan for our week was to scour as much of this section of Monongahela National Forest as possible. We woke at sunrise and made action plans over coffee and breakfast. Shortly thereafter, we set out in the Lizardmobile to find and note the location of every legal campsite along Little River Dispersed Camping Area.
We documented the first of what would come to be dozens of 'Seeded to Game Food' roads. These designations were new to us, so we documented them and discussed with the foresters how to symbolize - are they roads or trails? Most of them are shown as trails on our maps.
Luckily, we found many amazing new lizard spots! For those who don't know, a lizard spot is a special place designated with a small purple lizard icon on our maps. West Virginia is truly a beautiful state, and discovering wonderful new places is always the highlight of our day.
Throughout the week we found many legal car camping sites that exist along back roads in this forest. These are first-come, first-served campsites that have no number or location system. Many are situated along a beautiful stretch of stream or river. A few were so spectacular that we found it hard to leave and continue our work.
We biked most of the 25-mile West Fork Mountain Bike Rail Trail and took notes on parking areas, access sites, and primitive campsites. While this trail is a bit rougher than most rail trails, it is truly a gem!
Some trails, such as Allegheny Trail, are constantly being updated and rerouted in order to provide a better experience for enthusiasts. Always keeping an eye open for these trail updates, we found single track segments of Allegheny Trail that we didn't know existed!
Monongahela National Forest is a large forest with multiple districts and management areas. The trail system and forest road system is vast and offers immeasurable recreation opportunities. We found amazing sections of forest while searching for lizard spots for Elkins-Otter Creek Lizard Map.
Many special places on our maps can be reached by car. For instance, the magical stands of spruce trees pictured above, can be enjoyed from the car at Gaudineer Knob. The half mile hiking loop pictured from the parking area serves at a great way to stretch the legs and enjoy a lunch break.
West Virginia is filled with truly magnificent landscapes and plenty of history. Many parts of this land have been used as resource extraction, but the natural world is retaking its place in these forests.
Human history is easy to find on this map, too. During our fieldwork journeys around Elkins, we often unexpectedly came upon civil war land marks. It is humbling to come across these locations and learn of the history of the area.
We were packed for anything, including gear for an overnight trip, bikes to be used for recon missions on trails and behind gated roads, and a chainsaw for blocked roadways. The back of the lizard truck also tends to act as a litter-dumpster during forays into the woods - we pack out a lot trash others leave behind! Hot trash in the bed of the truck only added to the aromatic concoction of mud and sweat.
And at the end of each day, after dinner and dessert, we gathered around a campfire in the front lawn of the cabin area. We listened to the owls hoot as the sun set behind the trees. We even slept out in our tent a few nights, just to be outside in these wonderful woods!
We hiked into Federal Wilderness Areas, since that is the only way to access trail intersections on these lands. The Wilderness Areas on our Elkins-Otter Creek Lizard Map are seriously primitive and wild. Learn more about these areas here:
We would update paper copies of our map every evening by the light of our lanterns. Since we were disconnected from the digital world here at Middle Mountain Cabins, our computers weren't much good other than to upload photos from our cameras. It was a welcomed break from an overly-connected world.
The Lizardmobile and our Elkins-Otter Creek Lizard Map actually cross into Virginia, the truck by way of a forest service road which connected Monongahela National Forest with George Washington National Forest in Virginia. We found many trail updates and created an updated map of this corner of the G.W.!
There is so much goodness to experience in West Virginia, we couldn't possibly bottle it up into one blog. Check out our other blogs of this wonderfully wild part of the country here:
I held my breath with each up and down, stopping every so often to let out some tears. The creek was rushing and beautiful this morning. The sun was bright, the sky was clear, and the temperature was perfect. Approaching the finish, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. Before the last climb, I took one more glance at the water and smelled the pine that surrounded me. I will always belong out here. The forest took care of me this week, I will forever be thankful.