Southern West Virginia: July 24-27, 2016


My grandfather built this house in Mullens. He was a carpenter by trade.  He and grandma lived there from 1955 to the early 70s.  My Uncle Butch also lived here while in high school.


William S.Burroughs once said, “When you stop growing you start dying.”  The coal camps (unincorporated communities) and small towns in southern West Virginia are dying a slow death.  Prince, Thurmond, Nuttalburg, Stotesbury, Kaymoor, Sewell, and Quinnimont are already ghost towns.  Maben, Mullens, Wyco, Pierpont, Lynco, Slab Fork, HooHoo, Glen Rogers, Jenny Gap, Otsego, and many others are barely alive.  It must be strange to once live here, as my mom did, and now see the poverty and sadness that permeates the area.

When I go back to Sacramento where I was born or think about San Diego in the 1970s, it’s not recognizable now because of the growth.  Just the opposite is occurring in southern West Virginia.  My mom grew up in Maben and went to high school in Mullens.  Maben was once a bustling lumber town.  It had wooden sidewalks, whitewashed fences, tennis courts, schools, and even a movie house.  The W.M. Ritter Lumber company ran a nice company town.  When it was sawed out, the lumber company left, and the coal mining began.  The town became dirty, nothing was kept up, schools closed, basically it went to pot.  The kids from Maben had to be bussed to Mullens to go to high school.  All the Mullens’ kids were “townies”; if you were from Maben you were looked down upon.  Butch, my mom’s youngest brother, lived in Mullens when he went to high school.  He was lucky according to my mom.

Her favorite job was Stevens Clinic in Welch.  She worked there from 1954-56, and hadn’t been back until this trip.  Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a fantastic book that partially takes place in Welch.  I highly recommend it.  She paints a vivid picture of what living in Welch was like in the mid 1970s.  It has only gotten worse.  It was devastatingly sad to see the city.  My mom had wonderful stories about working there, and how the town was just buzzing with life.  We both knew it was going to be bad after reading Glass Castle, but even that didn’t prepare us for what we saw.  Boarded up buildings, empty lots, empty homes, no commerce, no buzz, no vibrancy, just a sense of hopelessness and despair. In the heyday of the 1950s the population was almost 7,000.  Now there is around 1,500.

McDowell is one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the USA.  Welch is the county seat.  I won’t overwhelm you with statistics, but here are a few.

  • Life expectancy for men is 64 years
  • Less than half the adults have graduated high school
  • Median income per household is $21,574
  • Overall poverty rate of 33%, childhood poverty rate of 56%
  • Obesity rate is 37.9%
  • Teen pregnancy rate is 96 out of 1,000 girls, double the state & triple the national average.

Most of the folks are down on the government or outright hate it, yet they are dependent upon it. Welfare checks, disability checks, food stamps, free lunches for kids, and the community hospital.  And drug abuse is rampant.

I often wonder why the people that remain just don’t leave?  I don’t know what the solution is?  Without coal mining there is no work.  Welch and all the small towns and coal camps are very isolated.  I can’t imagine what can turn it all around.  One day they will probably all be ghost towns.

I took very little pictures because it felt like I was exploiting their plight.






The nice part of Welch.




Wanda T. and my mom.  In front of Welch Community Hospital.  They badly need nurses. I told them to apply!  They would’ve been hired for sure with their experience.


My mom’s old high school, now a middle school.  Mullens big rival was Pineville.  Both high schools are now closed and they merged into one.  My mom still can’t get over that.


My mom and her childhood friend, Wanda S.




Wanda S. and my mom entering the China One Buffet in Sophia.  I wouldn’t say Sophia is thriving, but it’s doing alright since it’s really close to the big town of Beckley.  It was a crazy scene inside the restaurant.  Authentic Chinese food, Chinese employees with barely a grasp of the English language, and all the hillbillies just eating it up.  The place is always busy!


The nursing school buddies. L to R, Wanda T., Bertha, my mom, and Boots.


Wanda T.’s home in Scarbro.  A lot of homes, at least 20%, in all the communities we drove through had that star on them. I was convinced it had something to do with the military or perhaps a secret club.  Wanda T. said it was just decoration.


Yup, I went into a Walmart in West Virginia…




The Family Reunion: July 22-23, 2016


Leaving paradise for North Carolina & West Virginia.


This is my mom’s “last” big trip, or so she tells me.  (I thought Cuba was the “last” big trip?)  She wanted to go to West Virginia one last time and to North Carolina for a family reunion.  So off we went, while Amelia and Sara held down the fort.

In March of 1957, at 24 years of age, my mom fled West Virginia.  She jumped on a plane, for the first time in her life, and flew to California, where she’s lived ever since (except for a three year stint in Idaho from 1971-1974 and quick detour to Bay City, Texas in 1980).  Her first thought in California was, my god I can see forever.  It was nothing like the hollers of West Virginia.  She moved in with her brother and his family in Winters.  Nurses are always in high demand so she quickly got a job at Yolo General in Woodland, and then four months later Sacramento County Hospital.  She bought an orange Mercury convertible with a black top, and according to her, she was the cat’s meow.   I count my blessings everyday that my mom moved to California.  The downside, I never really knew my grandparents.  They were in West Virginia, then Florida, and eventually Texas where they both passed away.  I only saw them about five times throughout the years.  Amelia is lucky.  She grew up across the street from her grandparents.  They practically raised her.

My mother grew up in West Virginia, but spent most summers in North Carolina visiting all her cousins.  The reunion was held at Ashe Baptist Summer Camp just outside of West Jefferson, which of course is just down the road from Jefferson!   We were told to BYOB, so naturally I picked up some beer , 4/16oz pack of Appalachian Mountain Brewery Long Leaf IPA, for myself and a couple of waters for us.  When we arrived, most folks were already there and it took me about 30 seconds to figure out no one was drinking alcohol.  That was almost a faux pas!  So I stealthly put the 4 pack back into the car.  That would’ve been something, the odd duck from California drinking beer as they all were pounding soda pops and sweet tea.  These are true Southern Baptist folk.



My mom’s mother’s maiden name was Yates, her sister married a Barker.  So this is my great aunt’s people.



Gravel road up to the reunion.



The reunion invite wasn’t kidding when they said weenie roast the first evening.


Nor were they kidding about the Rook tournament.  Sonny boy and I almost won it.



I guess these are my kin?  Cousins, once, twice, three and even four times removed and their families. I only met one person before, Polly.


My mom’s first cousins. L to R, My mom, Sonny boy, Florence Ella, Jane, and Polly. In case you didn’t figure it out, the theme for the second day picnic was super heroes.


Polly, Florence Ella, and my mom, circa 1939.


Ashe County Cheese Factory.


I’m a big rooster guy!  West Jefferson is a hip little touristy town.  They have all the cool things like a brewery, art shops, antique stores, and a coffee shop with cold brew on nitro!



There are many murals on the bulidings in West Jefferson.


This was my favorite because of the Spanish!



All in all it was beautiful country, but a bit claustrophobic.


If you ever find yourself in this part of North Carolina be sure to tune into WSGE-FM 91.7.  What a great independent radio station!

Worth the Drive

It’s a rare post by the blogger’s wife.  I’ve been told you, the reader, would figure it out right away because I don’t write at all like Greg.  He put the pressure on so I enlisted some help from my poetry writing kin.

I drove 11 hours and 15 minutes to get there and 15 hours and 30 minutes to get back, but it was well worth it.  My dad’s third wife and my later in life stepmom, fondly called Geanie Geanie, lives in Fortuna and her son and his family live close by in Redway.  I spent five fabulous days with them.

Geanie and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Trinidad State Beach.  The fog was rolling in and out as we walked through the warm sand collecting drift wood and shells while admiring the huge rocks and plants clinging to them and the cliffs.  We also visited Patrick’s Point State Beach, which had incredible views from multiple spots.



by Geanie Geanie

We arrived at low tide
the sandy shore was long and wide
captured on it’s Eastern side
by rugged bluffs in camouflage
hidden beneath a hodgepodge
of needled trees and some with leaves.
Woven through with hanging vines
sipping fog’s dewy wine. A drink
shared with flowers
in yellow, purple and pink.

Sentinels of rocks on the exposed shore
(We’d never seen up close before)
wore their geology
scarred and dark with history.
Growing on their lower side
was sea life nurtured by the tide,
but up high where it was dry
Succulents flowered in the sun
Nature showing it can be done
Diversity works for everyone.


This was our view from the bench where we had a lovely lunch just out of the fog .


Delaney and me atop a huge fallen redwood in Rockefeller Grove.


Geanie, James, Francine, and Delaney on the Eel River.

One day we piled into the Subaru and headed out to the Lost Coast.  So beautiful!  Within the first ten minuets of our hike Delaney had composed a poem especially for this blog.


Can you feel ocean breeze

as it tickles your nose with ease?

Listen to the little bird’s song,

can you try to sing along?

Look at the sea foam in the waves

as it crawls into hidden caves.

Watch the little bumble bees

pollinating willow trees.

Look closely at the wild flowers

as they change through the hours.

You hope and wish the clouds will shoo

to show the sky’s brightest blue.

This is what I love the most

about walking throughout the Lost Coast.


Tonopah, Nevada: June 26, 2016

After leaving GBNP the plan was to go to Lone Pine, Ca so I could singlespeed up Horseshoe Meadows Road on my birthday.  It’s a solid 8 hours from Great Basin, longer than we like to drive, so we decided to stop half way and spend the night in Tonopah.  To be honest I can’t remember if I’ve ever even driven through Tonopah?  I’ve definitely never spent the night.  I knew it was a mining town.  Tom Russell sings a song about a Tonopah whore.  The weather guy in Mammoth often mentions a Tonopah low, an atmospheric condition that creates heavy percipitation on the east facing slopes of the sierras.  And Tonopah Brewing Company is supposedly pouring quality beers.  Why not stop?

From GBNP you take US-50, the so called loneliest highway in America, then US-6.  You only drive through two towns in 240 miles to Tonopah, Ely and Warm Springs.  A whole bunch of nothing is out there, that and every single road sign was shot full of holes.


Silver Sage Travel Center. Ely, Nevada.


Let me forewarn you, the town of Tonopah is a speed trap.  The county line goes through the middle of town so there are two Sheriff Departments handing out tickets.  If you are going one mile over the posted 25mph speed limit expect a ticket.  I’ve never seen a short stretch of road being worked so hard in my life.  We were not ticketed because we didn’t speed, but we sure saw a whole lot of folks getting written up.

We spent the night in the back parking lot of Tonopah Station Casino.  They called it their RV Park.  Yes, it was full hook up, but it was definitely the back parking lot.



Tonopah Station Casino RV Park.



Amelia was less than ecstatic about spending the night here.  I convinced her dinner and beers at Tonopah Brewing Company would make it worth it.


My mom always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  So I have nothing to say about Tonopah.

After all of that we ended up driving nine hours the next day to San Diego.  We scrapped Lone Pine because of temps above 100 and poor air quality.  Smoke from the big fire in Kern County was drifting into the Owens Valley.  Horseshoe Meadows Road will have to be for another day.