Enjoy the silence: Residents of ‘quiet zone’ savor life without cell phones, wifi or radio

A phone booth stands on the side of a road in Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. While pay phones have all but disappeared in much of the United States, they can still be found in this part of the country, where a cell phone signal is hard to come by. Patrick Semansky / AP
Vickie Croston sits in her ten-foot by ten-foot, one-chair barber shop in Cass, W.Va., a former sawmill town inside the Quiet Zone. Croston's shop has no phone, and she doesn't want one. Nor does she care for a cell phone. If cell phone service was allowed, "it would be noisy. The same as everywhere else," she says. Patrick Semansky / AP
Weathered instructions for using a pay phone are seen inside a phone booth in Head Waters, Va. The tourism bureau provides visitors with a list of pay phone locations in case they need to reach the outside world. Patrick Semansky / AP

GREEN BANK, W.Va. — In these parts, a pay phone is a visitor's best option for reaching the rest of the world. A cell phone signal is an hour away by car. Wifi is forbidden. The radio plays nothing but static. And other than the occasional passing pickup truck whose driver offers a wave, it's dead silent.

Seemingly off the beaten path, this community of fewer than two hundred residents is the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area where state and federal laws discourage the use of everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. The quiet zone aims to protect sensitive radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from man-made interference. This silence enables the observatory to detect energy in outer space that is equivalent to the energy emitted by a single snowflake hitting the ground.

While scientists listen intently for clues from the universe on its structure and origins, residents in some of the timeworn railroad towns in this valley maintain a fundamentally tech-less lifestyle that for most Americans is a memory. More than 90% of American adults have a cell phone today, yet some locals fondly recall ditching their wireless device after moving here. After all, it's useless, and that's fine by them.

Vintage toys are seen on display in Stonewall Grocery in McDowell, Va., as owner Linda Simmons hands a Virginia State Police trooper his sandwich order. "It's pristine," Simmons says of the area steeped in Civil War history, noting that while having reliable cell phone service would be convenient, the sight of cell towers simply wouldn't fit. Patrick Semansky / AP
Betty Mullenax walks behind a checkout stand at Trent's General Store in Arbovale, W.Va. "We've never known any other way," she said of life without cell phones. Patrick Semansky / AP
Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, closes an elevator door on the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. Patrick Semansky / AP
Michael Holstine walks on the 2.3 acre surface of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope's dish. Scientists use the telescope to conduct a wide range of research, picking up faint signals that aid in the study of the origins and structure of the universe. Patrick Semansky / AP
EDITOR'S NOTE: Photos taken on November 13-14, 2013 and made available to NBC News today.