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!

Maine: Ever So Briefly: OTR 5.1

We departed Gorham, New Hampshire driving due east on Route 2 to Bethel, Maine. https://www.sundayriver.com/ In Bethel we took a break at DiCocoa’s Bakery & Cafe for coffee, tea and delicious baked goods. We highly recommend stopping here when you are in town. http://www.cafedicocoa.com

From Bethel we traveled north on Route 5 where we stopped in Andover for provisions. Andover is a small town in western Maine that dates back to 1788 and its roots as a lumber town go back to those early days. Ethan Allen Furniture operated a sawmill there until 2009.

This region of Maine has seen almost no Covid-19 cases and we did not see a single local resident wearing a face mask. When we entered the local grocery we were advised that “we don’t wear masks here, when it is your time it is your time”. Good luck………

Because of it’s geographic location Andover was chosen as the site of the Andover Earth Station, one of the first satellite earth stations. This antenna installation was utilized to communicate with the Telstar 1 satellite which provided the earliest satellite television and telephone service between Europe and North America. The original antenna was dismantled in the early 1960s. Currently the site is operated by Verizon in support of their satellite communication network. Today, Andover is primarily a destination for hunters and fishing enthusiasts.

After provisioning in Andover we traveled north through South Arm and into the backcountry of the Richardson Public Reserved Land Trust. There are 37 land trust areas in Maine. The land trust areas provide dispersed camping opportunities in addition to a multitude of outdoor recreation activities. https://www.nrcm.org/explore-maine-map/public-reserved-land/

Part of our reason for heading to the Richardson Lakes area was the opportunity to put the Beast into 4wd mode on the many forest and logging roads and trails that run through the reserve. We spent a fun afternoon circling around the perimeter of the 22,000 acre preserve before heading to Worthley Lake to camp.

Lover’s Lane, Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Worthley Pond, Peru, Maine

After our night at Worthley Pond we made the short trip to Hallowell to spend the day poking around in this historic town situated on the Kennebec River. The town was first settled in 1762.

The town has a prosperous history which was driven by the logging, shipbuilding, granite and ice industries that benefited from access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Kennebec River. Ice from Hallowell was taken by sailing ships to Cuba and various Caribbean Islands.

Today the town is a tourist draw with its many restaurants, pubs, shops and art galleries.

As many of you know, we are coffee and tea fans and were very pleased that Hallowell is home to Traverse Coffee Co located right in the heart of town on Water Street. Highly recommended. http://www.traversecoffeeco.com

Water Street, Hallowell, Maine, Pop. 2381

From Hallowell we made our way to the coast and the lovely town of Boothbay Harbor. The town sits on a peninsula which extends into the Bay of Maine and as such is a popular summer vacation destination and yachting center.

Our friends Dianna and Scott were vacationing in Boothbay Harbor while we were in town and they graciously allowed us to bivouac on their property during our stay.

Our Hosts: Scott, Dianna, Joanne, Penelope Rose, Phoebe Jane
Bivouac, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

While in Boothbay Harbor we visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. This botanical garden is an absolute gem located on apx. 300 acres. The gardens are thoughtfully designed for touring and there are walking trails that provide access to the Back River which abuts the property. https://www.mainegardens.org/

The gallery below consists of photographs taken by the talented photographer Phoebe and feature her sister Penelope.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

In addition to the botanical gardens we spent an afternoon in town at the harbor. Again we were blessed with an excellent coffee cafe in the heart of the shopping and restaurant district along the harbor. Highly recommended. http://www.brisettos.com

Portland was our destination after departing Boothbay Harbor. We had not visited Portland since 2011 so we were excited to get back to the city and see if the food, coffee and art scene is as vibrant as we remembered.

We spent our first afternoon walking around the city mural hunting and quickly found a plethora of fine works both authorized and unauthorized. We have included several works here but would refer you to our earlier post: Street Art From The Road:OTR 5.1 which includes a selection of murals from around Portland.

Portland, Maine – East Bayside

The third wave coffee scene in Portland has grown since our last visit but we continue to place Tandem Coffee at the top of our list. In addition to the great coffee the Congress Street cafe has an excellent bakery.

We made our first visit to Speckled Ax Coffee. This roaster and cafe operator opened in 2012. The coffee is excellent. Speckled Ax is unique in that they wood roast their coffee – not a common or easy way to roast coffee – but they have certainly mastered the technique.

Casco Bay, Portland, Maine

After taking in a nice sample of the street art and coffee scene we took advantage of the wonderful weather to ride the Casco Bay Ferry across the bay to Peaks Island. The island is about three miles off shore from the Portland waterfront and the ferry ride is just 20 minutes.

Peaks Island is part of the city of Portland but does have its own police station, post office and elementary school. Post elementary students ride the ferry to and from the mainland to attend school.

The full time residents of the island have a long history of trying to secede from the city – most recently in 2011 when the city reevaluated properties on the island and property taxes increased by over 200%. As with previous attempts to secede the Portland City Council Council voted no.

Ah well, a beautiful spot to visit even if you cannot afford to own a house. We took in the island scenery on a rented golf cart and dined on fresh sea food before returning to Portland

Portland happily is as handsome and interesting as we remembered. From Portland we meandered along the coastline and stopped for a hike as we made our way to Portsmouth for our final overnight before returning to Connecticut.

Susan Bartlett Rice, Biddeford, Maine

Our final day on the road required a short detour to Dover to check out locally renowned Flight Coffee and fuel up for the final leg to The Fort. A nice cafe for planning your next adventure! https://www.flightcoffeedover.com/

We thoroughly enjoyed our brief swing through Maine as the final segment of our brief return to the road. While all aspects of travel are not back to pre-pandemic conditions we think the country has opened up enough to allow life on the road to be enjoyable and safe. To that end we plan on departing The Fort in October for a fall tour of West Virginia and Virginia.

The Grid, Worcester, Massachusetts

We could not actually make it back to Connecticut without more coffee and tea so we ventured into The Grid district of Worcester for fika and found several fantastic murals to boot. Life is good.

Be seeing you!

New Hampshire: On The Road 5.1

Loading the Beast
Pandemic Travel Wardrobe

Howdy! After shortening our winter/spring roadtrip by about 50% we finally got back on the road for a short adventure. Based on the title above you have probably figured out that we journeyed up the road apiece from our home base in Connecticut to the Granite State, New Hampshire. This trip was intended to “test the waters” for travel conditions in the new normal of the forever pandemic. Our choice of New Hampshire reflected its proximity, the fact we had not visited the state in some time and the state is welcoming visitors from all of the other New England states.

View from Bald Mountain, Franconia Notch

We visited Nashua and Manchester briefly on our trip north to the White Mountains but our main focus in New Hampshire was on camping and hiking.

The White Mountain National Forest offers significant camping options as well as a seemingly infinite amount of hiking options. We were fortunate to have very comfortable and mostly sunny weather which made for some wonderful (and occasionally strenuous) hiking.

Hiking in New Hampshire is so rewarding with its abundance of streams, rivers, lakes and waterfalls to be found along the way not to mention the views from the ridgelines and summits.

Franconia Falls, Lincoln, New Hampshire
View from Pine Mountain, Gorham, New Hampshire
Cherry Lake, Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge
Beautiful Stands of Birch Trees are Scattered Throughout the Forest
Riding the Trails near Gorham, New Hampshire

Littleton, hard on the Ammonoosuc River, was one of our favorite small towns in the Franconia Notch area. It has a well preserved downtown with a variety of shops as well as a number of eateries right along the river. Of course, best of all there was an excellent coffee shop with ooutdoor seating on the riverbank (Inkwell Coffee & Tea).

Bridal Veil Falls, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Franconia, New Hampshire

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in New Hampshire and plan to explore all of northern New England on a more comprehensive basis at some point in the future. Next stop: a short swing into Maine to visit friends in Boothbay Harbor and then visit the beautiful city of Portland.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the art and coffee photo galleries in the sidebar.

Route 25

After flying to Spokane we made the drive to Rossland via the very scenic State Route 25. Route 25 originates in Davenport and ends just before the border with Canada so we were able to travel the entire route from start to finish. Lots of great scenery as much of the route hugs the river following the many bends and also rises above for spectacular vistas. The ferry is the Gifford-Inchellium Ferry. The church is located in the “town” of Hunters, WA.

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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

Route 12 to Escalante

We traveled from Torrey to Escalante on Scenic Byway Route 12. The views from the sinuously curving road with were breath-taking, especially from the summit at 9,600 feet. Stopped at Lower Calf Creek to hike to the falls, and, finally in Escalante, a good capuccino (with a view) at Kiva Koffeehouse–Stephen’s vacation is complete!

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Lower Calf Creek, viewed from Kiva Koffeehouse

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Route 12

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Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monumment

Hells Backbone Road Scenic Backway

Today we attempted to drive the Hells Backbone Rd.  We knew that it was unlikely we could make it through but wanted to see if we could make it to the Hells Backbone Bridge which spans Sand Creek. The Bridge is 109 feet long and 14 feet wide. The drop is 1500 feet on both sides! Unfortunately due to a late winter storm the road is closed just short of the bridge. We spoke with another traveler who proceeded past the road closure sign but turned back when he saw a vehicle ahead of him stuck in the snow.

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Not Today!

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