west virginia: gauley bridge, kanawha falls & blackwater falls state park

Sunday, November 6:  After another wonderful breakfast at the Historic Morris Harvey House in Fayetteville, we check out and begin our long drive home, planning to make several stops along the way.   We’re doing a loop, so we’ll cover new territory on the way back.  Not far from US 60, we see Cathedral Falls in a blur as we zoom past; Mike turns around so we can have a look at this waterfall that drops 60 feet down rock walls in a narrow grotto.

Cathedral Falls
Cathedral Falls

We reach the town of Gauley Bridge, a small town in Fayette Country, West Virginia, where the New River meets the Gauley River and forms the Kanawha River.  We can see the church steeple in the town through the bridge over the Gauley River.

The Gauley River Bridge
The Gauley River Bridge

The New River widens where it meets the Gauley.  Across the way, we see a little building on a small rocky peninsula.  I’m not sure what it is, but it seems to bask in a pretty and sunny spot.

the New River meets the Gauley River
the New River meets the Gauley River
island oasis
island oasis

In the town of Gauley Bridge, we find a mural of a railroad crossing with a train barreling through.  It seems railroads played a big part in the coal-mining history of these West Virginia towns.

Mural in the town of Gauley Bridge
Mural in the town of Gauley Bridge

We drive 2 miles southwest of Gauley Bridge to the town of Glen Ferris. Here, we get out of the car to admire Kanawha Falls, which stretch across the 100-yard wide river.

Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
Mike at Kanawha Falls
Mike at Kanawha Falls
me at Kanawha Falls
me at Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
park at Kanawha Falls
park at Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls

We continue on Route 39, where we stop at a small overlook in the Gauley Bridge National Recreation Area.

overlook: Gauley River National Recreation Area
overlook: Gauley River National Recreation Area
Mike at the overlook
Mike at the overlook
overlooking the Gauley River
overlooking the Gauley River

It’s quite an uneventful drive for a long while.  Though it’s about 10:30 when we leave the overlook, we don’t arrive at Blackwater Falls State Park, near the town of Davis, until 2:30, four hours later.

For centuries, this pristine wilderness stood virtually undisturbed by man.  Native American foraging parties most likely confined their use of this area to the summer months due to harsh area winters.  Accounts of non-natives being in this area go back as far as 1736. It isn’t known who the first non-natives were to see Blackwater Falls. However, it was David Hunter Strother, going under the name of “Porte Crayon,” who, beginning in 1853, wrote a series of articles for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine about his adventures into the Blackwater Region.

Blackwater Falls State Park, established in 1937, takes its name from the Blackwater River.  The falls plunge five stories, then tumble through an eight-mile long gorge.  The “black” water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park

The lighting here isn’t great for pictures this afternoon.  It is a pleasant walk to the falls anyway.   Apparently, early visitors to the area scrambled down the boulder-strewn path and climbed over fallen trees to view the falls.  Luckily, our way is made easy by the boardwalks that include over 200 steps.

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park

The first boardwalk was built in 1961 and then replaced 25 years later in 1986.  Construction of the current walkway began in August 2004 and was completed in December of the same year.

Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls

The boardwalk follows the natural contours of the slope down to the waterfall; the wood in the walkway blends nicely with the natural surroundings, as if it grew there.  Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright referred to this process as organic design (according to a sign at the park).

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls

After looking at Blackwater Falls from every overlook and every possible angle, we take the short walk to the 20-foot Elakala Falls.

Elakala Trail
Elakala Trail
Elakala Trail
Elakala Trail
Elakala Trail
Elakala Trail

The Elakala Falls tumble into a canyon bordered by moss-covered rocks and rhododendron thickets.

Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
me at the Falls of Elakala
me at the Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
Falls of Elakala
canyon walls at Elakal
canyon walls at Elakal
ferns on the Elakala Trail
ferns on the Elakala Trail
view from the bridge over the Elakala Falls
view from the bridge over the Elakala Falls

We walk through the large Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center, and then stroll out back for a view over the gorge.

view from behind the Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center
view from behind the Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center

We still have quite a drive ahead of us to get home, so we get in the car for our long haul home, stopping at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar near our house for a delicious dinner and a glass of wine to top off our day.  Our 28th anniversary weekend has come to an end. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “west virginia: gauley bridge, kanawha falls & blackwater falls state park

  1. Looks like quite a trip Cathy. You had good weather. Those falls don’t seem to have much water in them. I suppose they are bigger in spring after the snow melt? Talking of which, have you had any snow yet this winter? We are apparently expecting a storm over from Canada bringing cold and very windy weather, but I think here in Cornwall it will just be windy and fairly mild still. I just hope it stays dry over the weekend so the grand-kids can get outside!!

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