New River Gorge, West VirginiaConservation, ROAD TRIPS, USA MAINLAND — By Milli Thornton on October 8, 2010 at 11:50
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Brian Williams.
ON OUR WAY from Youngstown, Ohio to Asheville, North Carolina, we took a scenic route through Pennsylvania and West Virginia to glory in the early autumn leaves. We had one day to get to NC, so no time for side trips. But the New River Gorge is something everyone should stop for, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in.
The park covers 70,000 acres and there are two visitors centers. Between Hinton and Fayetteville, West Virginia, you can pull out of traffic and be enjoying the views at Canyon Rim within minutes. The parking lot is barely a blip off the freeway and it takes but a few minutes to stroll the upper level of the boardwalk.
If you have an extra 15 minutes and you’re in reasonable shape, you can also take flights of wooden stairs to the lower level. (Fitness tip: going down all those steps is deceptively easy. . . .) The view from either level will feed the soul.
The name “New River” is ironic since this river may be one of the oldest in North America. Apparently the river existed before the Appalachians formed—and it’s not hard to guess that the mountains themselves are very old. Some of the rock face that can be seen in the gorge is believed to date back 330 million years.
In 1978 Congress voted to establish and preserve the park. Rangers from the National Park Service staff the visitors centers and help keep access to the park safe for visitors and protected from human folly. In the Canyon Rim Visitors Center I was glad to notice that at least one of the rangers is Native American.
For centuries the gorge could not be traveled. In 1873 the railroad changed all that: train tracks can be seen from the boardwalk as they snake along beside the river. Overhead, the New River Gorge Bridge rushes with traffic. I tried to block out the sounds of speeding semis as I focused on the wonders of nature. Seeing a Walmart truck passing as Brian snapped photos of the bridge was one of those jarring moments when magic meets reality.
But you can soon leave the uproar behind and lose yourself in this magnificent park. Hiking, whitewater rafting and fishing at Sandstone Falls are popular activities. You can also ride the AMTRAK along 70 miles of rail lines, enjoy the rhododendron displays in Spring or buy a ticket to the outdoor theater at Grandview. Nearby Thurmond Historic District sounds intriguing too.
My main feeling as we joined traffic on the bridge and left the gorge behind was “Darn! Wish we had more time to linger!”
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.