Primary Highways: West Virginia

Well, this is probably the most difficult state we've had to write about since beginning this series. Even harder than Indiana last week.

I did travel through West Virginia a couple of times on family road trips in my youth. We definitely passed through the panhandle on I-81, an area that probably now identifies more with the DC and Baltimore metropolitan area than with the rest of the state. I do recall signs welcoming us to “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.”

The capital and largest city, Charleston, has a population smaller than my former hometown, Santa Cruz. The state is synonymous with coal mining; and with some rather harsh stereotypes that have surfaced in the last weeks, especially with the demographic issues in the current campaign. We at CatSynth would prefer to consider the state's striking landscape and beauty as suggested by its iconic New River Gorge Bridge:

The New River Gorge Bridge carries U.S. Highway 19 over the New River. At a height of 876 feet (267 m), it is the highest vehicular bridge in the Americas, and the second highest in the world. This section of Highway 19 forms a rather spectacular bypass of Charleston and connects two of the states major highways, I-77 and I-79.

Situated in the Appalachian region, West Virginia is full of mountains and canyons, but altogether different from those one finds in the western U.S. The landscape isn't quite as “stark,” and its features are much older than the Sierra Nevada or the Rocky Mountains or the canyons of the southwest. Indeed, the Appalachians are one of the oldest mountain ranges that can still be considered “mountains.”

There is also Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. And this cable-stayed bridge over the Ohio River introduces a more “industrial Midwestern” area altogether different from the New River Gorge.

Quite a geographical diversity for such a small state. And perhaps appropriate given its history as a border region and breakaway state during the American Civil War. West Virginia pulled off the trick of seceding from a secessionist state, Virginia. It was admitted in 1863 under somewhat controversial circumstances, but has managed to forge an identity of its own.