Wild, Wonderful Ride on the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad: Our trip to the West Virginia Mountains
by Micaela and Jay Williamson
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers a variety of regular and special trains from April through December. While each ride is unique, they all offer a chance to learn more about railroad history and see the beautiful West Virginia countryside. The rides are scenic and relaxing as well as a great opportunity to spend time together watching the world roll by. Even better, no one’s feet get tired riding the train.
Some of the regular trains include:
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad also has a number of special trains and options suited to various interests, such as:
The Durbin Rocket
The Durbin Rocket leaves from Durbin, WV. If you’re in Elkins, you’ve missed your train. It is an easy mistake, but you know better, now.
The first glance you get of the Rocket is impressive. Black smoke floats from the chimney while white steam billows forth in multiple directions from the engine. Bells sound and the engine hisses as it pulls forward into position. The engine pulls four cars, an open air car, a converted mail car that has several small tables, a covered seating car, and a caboose. While on-board you can pass easily between the cars.
Our boys liked the caboose and open air car best. In the caboose they were able to climb into the cupola and watch for sparks, just like old-time engineers. The train wasn’t crowded when we went and they played there for a significant portion of the trip. Their other favorite location was the open air car. The seats face outwards providing unobstructed views of the forest and river that are a constant part of the journey. Occasionally the smokestack exhaust would push tree branches skywards, cheering us on like fans doing the wave at a baseball game. Sometimes we’d get an early fall leaf shower too; it is the only shower we haven’t heard them complain about. Another highlight occurred during the second half of our 2 hour journey when our train had to stop for water. Everyone on the train enjoyed watching the boiler being filled with a hose from a nearby creek and the friendly engine crew filled the time talking with us and answering questions. It was a good chance to talk about how the train operated and the work necessary to keep it running.
Once our train arrived back in Durbin we kept running too. Well, driving actually. Our next stop was a scientific and engineering marvel: The Green Bank Science Center: National Radio Astronomy Observatory
The mountains are full of surprises, and this happens to be one of the biggest. The Green Bank Science Center serves as the welcome center for visitors to this NRAO site. The center has a sunlit atrium with large views of the mountains and the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. It also has a small cafe that serves wraps, burgers and other light fare. This was the perfect place for us to eat. The food was light and fresh and sitting together in the atrium allowed us to transition into the next portion of our adventure.
The tour starts off in a hands-on science center with plenty of learning activities and exhibits for the whole family. Then, visitors are taken into an auditorium to watch a short film featuring the history of Green Bank and radio astronomy followed by a question and answer session by the tour guide.
Our tour guide was passionate and knowledgable about a radio astronomy and able to explain it at a basic level, with interactive demos for the kids. After the movie and presentation, the highlight of the tour was boarding the bus to see the stunning 140 foot Green Bank Telescope. Due to the National Radio Quiet Zone, there is no cell service at Green Bank (and much of the surrounding area.) Please take this into account this before visiting.
Accommodations: There are lots of accommodations in Elkins, WV and the surrounding area boasts many ski and mountain resorts. We stayed at the Iron Road Inn, which was clean, quiet, convenient and had a very friendly staff. Kids will love their train themed lobby.
Dining and Entertainment: We experienced true local dining and entertainment at the Gandy Dancer Theatre. During our dinner of chicken, baked potato and brisket we watched The Andy Griffith show on a wide screen. it was a rare treat to see how TV used to be, filled with extensive dialog between a father and son, mixed with a bit of good nature mischief. it was the perfect segue to a sweetly nostalgic show with country, gospel, mo-town and rock influences. The show features talented performances of a wide variety of music. It was a great family atmosphere with all generations represented in the audience. Our family was captivated by the singing, dancing, effects and many costume changes. Afterwards we were glad that our hotel was a 10 second walk away.
Horseback Riding: Have you ever gone to a fair and waited in a line for a 20 minute pony ride? This isn't that. Not at all. Mountain Trail Rides is real horses, real experts and a great, authentic experience. Mountain Trail Rides is conveniently located off Route 32 near several resorts in the Canaan Valley area. Our youngest son was too young to ride by himself so he used a ride along saddle with one of our two guides. Our guides helped us saddle up and we were off on a beautiful adventure. Our one-hour ride took us through flower-filled fields with mountain views and dense forests. Mountain Trail Rides also caters to families with gemstone mining, an adventure cave, and barnyard petting zoo.
Other things to note:
We received complimentary services, tickets, dining and an overnight stay in return for doing this honest review. All opinions are our own.
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