New River Gorge National River (NRGNR)

New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Long Point Trail
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Road
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Bridge

The New River Bridge is quite a sight to see and truely an engineering marvel. It is the fourth longest single arch bridge in the United States and sits at a jaw dropping 876 feet above the floor of the gorge.

But for our money, the real attractions of the NRGNR are the history and artifacts of a way of life that existed down in the gorge for more than eighty years. The gorge was scarcely inhabited until surveyors discovered coal, and not just any coal. The coal in the gorge was high quality “smoke less” coal – highly prized for its high carbon content with minimal waste.

Within the gorge the remains of the Nuttallburg Mine provide insight into the workings of a coal mine and the life of the miners and their families. It is considered one of the best preserved mining complexes in West Virginia.

Visiting the site is a commitment in and of itself. The mining complex sits deep in the gorge at river level and requires driving down a windy, narrow and sometimes steep one lane road.

Keeney’s Creek Road (CR 85/2)
Drive to Nuttallburg Mine Site

The Nuttallburg Mine began operations in 1873 after the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railine through the gorge was completed. The rail line enabled the shipping of large quantities of coal as the river was not navigable and getting coal up out of the gorge by road was not feasible.

Because mining in the early days was very labor intensive and the local population was small, the mine operators needed to import workers. Workers came from all over Europe and Canada to work at the mine in a variety of capacities. As a result, the mining workforce and their families were a very diverse population.

The mine also employed African American workers who worked side by side with the other employees. However, outside of work the black employees and their families lived in a segregated town on the opposite end of the mining complex with their own church and school.

The mining town here appears to be typical of mining towns in this era as it was self-contained with its own schools, doctors, blacksmiths, social clubs, athletic teams and company store.

Coal Conveyor, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The coal conveyor pictured above is 1385 feet in length and brought coal down from the mine 600 feet above the gorge floor. This conveyor was built in 1926 and could move 125 tons of coal per hour.

Coal Tipple, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The company store was a necessity because the employees had no means to travel from the mine complex. Therefore, the company paid the employees in a company issued scrip and most likely significantly overcharged their employees.

Henry Ford leased this mine and others during the early 1920s in order to control the coal supply that Ford needed for automobile production in the Dearborn, Michigan plant. Ford made substantial investments in the mine including the state of the art coal conveyor.

Ford ultimately sold his lease back to the Nuttall family when he found that he could not control the the railroad companies and often could not get his coal to Michigan when he needed it.

The mine continued operations under three different owners until the mid 1950s when it became abundantly clear that the mine was “played out”.

Today the National Park Service manages the mine complex and is doing a good job protecting the area and providing research and education relating to the history of the mine and the town of Nuttallburg.

Thurmond, West Virginia

After our exploration of the remains at the Nuttallburg Mine site we ventured south and then east along the Dunloup Creek on County Road 25 to the town of Thurmond. The only way to get to Thurmond was by rail until 1921 when CR 25 was built. Crossing the New River today to Thurmond entails driving across a single lane bridge shared with the railroad.

Car and Train Bridge, Thurmond Road, Thurmond, West Virginia

At one time Thurmond was a rail center where short coal trains were assembled into longer trains that hauled coal out of the gorge. It was also the only place in the gorge where steam engines could load coal and water.

While the town “thrived” (population 462 in 1930) during the early portion of the 20th century the advent of the diesel locomotive rapidly diminished the need for the fueling and servicing of steam powered locomotives. From 1930 on the population diminished steadily although passenger trains continued to bring visitors who stayed at the two hotels that had been built during the prosperous days. Unfortunately, both of the hotels burned to the ground and those events put the finishing touches on the demise of the town.

While the town essentially vanished by the 1950s, the rail lines continue to be operated by the CSX Railway- still hauling coal out of the gorge from the many active mines that remain operational today (more on that topic in a future post about coal country).

Today the population of Thurmond is four and most of the property in the town is owned and managed by the National Park Service. The former depot pictured below is now a visitor center during the summer months.

Thurmond, West Virginia,

Additionally, the Amtrak Cardinal train which runs three times a week from New York City to Chicago still stops at the Thurmond Depot. Not surprisingly, there is only one other stop in Amtrak’s entire system where fewer passengers board the train.

Main Street, Thurmond, West Virginia

An interesting feature of the town is that it never had a main street. All of the commercial buildings in town sat directly along the railroad tracks because there was no room for a street in addition to the rail line in the narrow river gorge.

The Coaling Station pictured below was built in 1922 and could hold more than 500 tons of coal for re-fueling steam locomotives.

Coaling Station, Thurmond, West Virginia
Thurmond Depot, Thurmond, West Virginia

We enjoyed exploring the New River Gorge National River and highly recommend this area for its beauty and history.

We will spend the next several days touring “coal country” in the southern part of the state before turning east and heading for Lewisburg, West Virginia for several days of bicycling the Greenbrier River Rail Trail.

Be seeing you!

Big Bend National Park

Hola!

After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.

Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.

We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).

Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.

Be seeing you!

Video Clip: FM 170

Rio Grande, Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains, Mexico

St Elena Canyon

St Elena Canyon

Side Canyon Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off

Lower Buro Mesa Pour-off

Box Canyon, Lower Burro Mesa

Tuff Canyon

Scrambling in Tuff Canyon

Burro Spring Trail

Chisos Mountains

Early Morning Fog Lifting Off Chisos Mountains

Video: Chisos Basin Road, BBNP

Rio Grande

Boquillos Canyon, Wild Burro

Boquillos Canyon, Rio Grande, Mexico on the Right

Rio Grande, Sierra del Carmen Mountains, Mexico

Zion NP – River Walk and Hidden Canyon

On Thursday morning we made an early drive into Zion NP for our final hiking of the trip. We started with a walk along the Virgin River following its winding path until we reached the narrows where the flow of water due to winter snow melt makes continuing further too dangerous. We then hiked the steep climb up to Hidden Canyon. This is a fairly strenuous hike with a 1000 vertical climb along steep narrow switchbacks and exposed cliffs. Well worth the climb with outstanding views and exhilarating moments holding tight to the chains bolted to the rock.

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The Narrows

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Virgin River

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River Walk

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Hidden Canyon Trail

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Cliff Section

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On the Edge

 

Kolob Terrace Road

On Wednesday afternoon we drove the Kolob Terrace Road to take in the views of the terrace and Zion NP to our east. The road ends at the Kolob Resevoir after 24 miles and an elevation gain of over 1000 ft. We traveled to mile 18 where the road is still closed due  to remaining snow making the road impassable. Great views and a refreshing drop of about 10 degrees in temperature from the desert floor below.

 

Kolob Terrace

 

Taylor Creek – Kolob Canyons

On Tuesday we hiked the Middle Fork of the Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons district of Zion NP. We accessed the hike from the trailhead on Kolob Canyons Road. We followed the middle fork crisscrossing the creek multiple times. The canyon narrows and deepens until ending at a double arch alcove. Along the way we stopped to see two long abandoned cabins built by homesteaders around 1930.

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Larson Cabin

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Double Arch Alcove

Bryce Canyon NP – Fairyland Canyon

On Saturday we hiked down into the Fairyland Canyon from the rim of Bryce. This is one of a kind scenery with towering hoodoos reaching straight up into the sky throughout the canyon. As typical of Utah at this time of the year at 8000 ft elevation the weather can and does change dramatically within minutes. We started this hike under cloudy skies and then encountered heavy snow as we descended from the rim down into the canyon. Within an hour the snow moved off and we enjoyed blue sky and sunshine for the remainder of our trek through the canyon. This is a long hike with over 2000 ft of vertical but well worth it to experience these other wordly formations.

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Hickman Bridge

Hickman Bridge is a natural bridge  (not arch – bridge caused by water erosion) that sits at an elevation of apx 5700 ft above sea level. A short hike of 2.2 miles albeit the trip out is all climb to reach the bridge. The bridge is 133 feet across and 125 feet above the ground. A nice bridge to visit because you can travel under the bridge as well as climb above for a view from the top of the bridge.

 

Cathedral Valley Drive

On Thursday road conditions allowed us to venture into the remote Cathedral Valley district of CRNP. The terrain in this area consists largely of Bentonite which when wet is virtually impassable for any vehicle. So with several days of dry weather behind us we set out to reach the Sun and Moon Temples. Our average speed was only about 15 MPH due the significant washboarding present along with the many washes that need to be carefully negotiated. We again had many hours of solitude and beauty in this very unique portion of the San Rafael Swell.

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Caineville Rd

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Badlands

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Bentonite Hills

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Lower Cathedral Valley

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Sun Temple

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Sun and Moon Temples

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Bison