My sleeping quarters in West Virginia have taken many different forms: the back of my Subaru, a claustrophobic one-person bivy, state park lodges and cabins, large rocks on hikes, and a few other places my mom should never know about. In all my nights, I had never anticipated staying overnight in a fire tower.
That changed in 2015 when Seneca State Forest in Pocahontas County began offering overnight stays in the rehabilitated Thorny Mountain Fire Tower, a one-room structure perched atop its namesake mountain constructed in 1935. My girlfriend offered a night in the tower as a birthday gift. I was all in, but the tower was booked during the desired month of October, so I patiently waited until October of 2016 for my night. I’m a photographer, and patience in imagery is a virtue. I thought it best to wait.
After taking the long way from Morgantown to visit the Green Bank Observatory, my friend and I arrived late in the afternoon to set up. We climbed over 50 feet of stairs to the top platform surrounding the cabin containing two one-person cots. Although it houses the fire tower, Thorny Mountain didn’t appear to be the tallest mountain around. All things considered, the mountainous views from the tower were beyond spectacular.
A picnic table, fire ring, and rustic bathroom sit at the base of the tower. At one point, a car approached the tower until realizing it was occupied. We discovered a drawing in the guestbook illustrating how to park to discourage unwanted visitors. Frankly, we were willing to invite them up, but they never gave us the opportunity.
After setting up, we drove to nearby Droop Mountain State Park, then Patch Adams’s Gesundheit! Institute, and then dined at the Dirt Bean in Marlinton, the town closest (a quick 19 miles) to Seneca State Forest.
The night of our stay was windy and a fire tower tends to sway in the wind; the motion somehow soothing despite my slight case of acrophobia. I moved my sleeping bag out to the walkway to feel the fresh wind whip around the cabin. It was pleasing to the soul.
We rose at the light of the sun. Though my body often wants to sleep in, my spirit’s favorite time of day is the early morning, and the tower offered us a front row seat to one of the best places to view sunrise in the state.
We departed early en route to the Cass Scenic Railroad and stopped to check out at the State Forest headquarters. I went ahead and reserved a night for the coming October.
For more information about the tower and reservations, visit www.senecastateforest.com. The State Forest also contains a lake and hiking trails, including a section of the 330-mile long Allegheny Trail.