west virginia: the endless wall

Saturday, November 5:  Before it gets dark, we’re determined to hike the 2.4 mile moderately difficult Endless Wall Trail along the New River. The trail passes through forest, crosses Fern Creek, then zigzags along the cliff edge.

the forest trail
the forest trail

It takes a while to walk through the forest to reach the cliff edge, where we have great vistas of the New River Gorge.

first glimpse of the Endless Wall
first glimpse of the Endless Wall

This trail has been voted #1 National Park Trail in the U.S. by USA Today readers.

The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall
hardy tree
hardy tree
The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall

The overlook at Diamond Point provides a great panorama of the gorge and a good turnaround spot.

trees along the cliffs
trees along the cliffs
The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall

Besides the fantastic views, the trail offers access to some of the best rock climbing in the eastern United States.

The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall

Looking into the distance, we can see the “endless” cliff walls following the curve of the 1000-foot deep gorge.

The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall

If you look closely in the picture below, you might catch a glimpse of some hardy souls climbing the sheer cliffs.

rock climbers
rock climbers
The New River
The New River
The Endless wall along the New River Gorge
The Endless wall along the New River Gorge
rocky overlook
rocky overlook
Mike at the Endless Wall
Mike at the Endless Wall
me at the Endless Wall
me at the Endless Wall
the Endless Wall
the Endless Wall
sheer drops
sheer drops
the Wall
the Wall
overlook
overlook

We make our way back through the forest to the road, where we have to walk along the two-lane highway for about a half mile to reach our car.  It’s a little dangerous along this road, with pick-up trucks speeding along at breakneck speed.  It would be nice if the National Park Service built a path along this road.

walking back through the forest
walking back through the forest

Back in Fayetteville, we find an interesting wall mural showing white water rafters, the marquee for the Fayetteville Theatre and a sign for Fayetteville Physical Therapy (cropped out in this photo).

Street art in Fayetteville
Street art in Fayetteville
Fayetteville
Fayetteville

We head back to the Historic Morris Harvey House, where we walk around the impressive gardens and then relax in the sitting room with a glass of wine.

In the evening, we head out to dinner at the almost-empty Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant.  We’re told we can’t order drinks because the restaurant has lost its liquor license.  I’m of a mind to leave, but we sit through a mediocre dinner, wondering why we didn’t just return to the lively Pies and Pints, where we ate a delicious dinner last night.  As a matter of fact, after our very unsatisfactory meal, we return to Pies and Pints, which is as crowded as it was last night, and order wine and dessert.  It’s a fabulous top-off to a busy day.

Tomorrow, we’ll have to return home to Virginia, but we plan to make a few stops along the way.

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west virginia: the almost-ghost town of thurmond

Saturday, November 5: During our fantastic communal breakfast prepared by Bernie at The Historic Morris Harvey House, we meet several couples who are either traveling through or staying in West Virginia for the weekend.  We keep our conversation light and carefully avoid discussing the upcoming election, which is sure to cause disagreement. West Virginia is definitely Republican territory, and we’ve seen many signs for Trump-Pence in people’s yards.

We have a lot planned for today, and though the weather forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s, it is quite foggy this morning.  I’m never happy about fog, but I guess it does lend an appropriately eerie atmosphere to our first destination, the almost-deserted town of Thurmond.

We enter the town on the one lane bridge adjoining the railroad bridge, which crosses the New River.  The town, nearly deserted now, is preserved by the National Park Service, but in its day it boasted opera houses, two banks, two hotels, saloons, restaurants, clothing stores, a jewelry store, a movie theater, several dry-goods stores, business offices, and over 400 residents.  As of the 2010 census, only five people lived in the town.

CSX railroad line bridge over the New River
CSX railroad line bridge over the New River

According to the National Park Service website: During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a classic boomtown. With the huge amounts of coal brought in from area mines, it had the largest revenue on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Having many coal barons among its patrons, Thurmond’s banks were the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town — its depot serving as many as 95,000 passengers a year. The town’s stores and saloons did a remarkable business, and its hotels and boarding houses were constantly overflowing.

The 1987 movie Matewan was filed here, depicting miners’ struggles in the early 1900s.

The two-story Thurmond Depot was built in 1904 after the original station was destroyed by fire.  The upper level housed the signal tower and the offices of the dispatcher, train master, and conductor.  The lower level served travelers coming and going from Thurmond.  The ticket agent’s office, baggage room, waiting rooms, restrooms and a snack/news room were at track level.

In 1995, the building was restored by the National Park Service for use as a visitor center.  Sadly, it isn’t open this morning, making the place really feel like a ghost town.

Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot

We walk along the railroad tracks despite the warning in the Park Service brochure to “use extra caution when crossing the road and the railroad line” and to “Cross only at the designated railroad crossing and do not walk on the track line.”  The track is still a CSX mainline, with over a dozen trains passing through Thurmond daily.  We’re lucky enough to have one come through while we’re here, but we’re not on the track at that time!

We come first to the U.S. Post Office building.  In its prior life, it was a commissary built by Fitzgerald & Company to provide supplies to the hundreds of railroad workers in Thurmond in 1929.  When fire destroyed the Lafayette Hotel and the town post office, this building became the Post Office.  In the late 1900s, it housed the last business in Thurmond — Thurmond Supply.

Commissary turned Post Office
Commissary turned Post Office
CSX Railroad line
CSX Railroad line
U.S. Post Office
U.S. Post Office

There isn’t much happening in the town this morning, but we do see festive signs of Halloween in front of the post office.

We approach the Mankin-Cox Building, which marks the southern end of the commercial district.  Built in 1904, this building is the oldest in the district.  The Mankin Drug Company was on the right side and the New River Banking & Trust Co. was on the left.

Welcome to Thurmond
Welcome to Thurmond
Mike on the CSX Railroad line
Mike on the CSX Railroad line

There are hundreds of engraved paving stones in the walkway that commemorate the happenings in Thurmond.  You can see a few of them below.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

We see a wooden house set on a hillside above the commercial district.  I’m not sure if it’s inhabited today.

a house on the edge
a house on the edge
The Mankin-Cox Building
The Mankin-Cox Building
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.

We continue our short walk past the commercial district and find the tall coaling tower.  Tracks ran underneath the coaling station to allow as much as 500 tons of coal to drop via chutes into the coal tenders of the engines.  The tower was abandoned by CSX in 1960.

the railroad tracks
the railroad tracks
Storage shed
Storage shed

While we’re at the far end of the town, we feel the earth reverberate under our feet and hear a rumble in the distance.  Before long, a CSX train roars through the town, reminding us of the lost spirit of the town.

a train roars through
a train roars through
the train
the train
Mike and the train
Mike and the train
me and the train
me and the train
the train
the train

We come upon the Fatty Lipscomb House, built around 1900 and used as a boarding house.  For a number of years the Littlepage family lived on the first floor and rented the second.  At least through 1984, it was used as a guesthouse for whitewater rafters.

Fatty Lipscomb House
Fatty Lipscomb House
stairs to the Fatty Lipscomb House
stairs to the Fatty Lipscomb House

The James Humphrey Jr. house was built around 1920 and was said to have been the train master’s house, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior National Register of Historic Places.

We make our way back to the Depot, getting a view from across the tracks, climbing to the second level, and then checking it out from the railroad bridge.

Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot from the railroad bridge
Thurmond Passenger Depot from the railroad bridge
The New River
The New River
Conductor's Office
Conductor’s Office
Railroad bridge over the New River
Railroad bridge over the New River

With the Great Depression, several businesses in Thurmond closed, including the National Bank of Thurmond.  The town’s economic vitality waned after two large fires wiped out several major businesses.  In addition, roads improved and Americans began to favor automobile travel. The C&O Railway changed from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1940s, leaving many of the rail yard structures and jobs obsolete.  The town is still incorporated and hosts a reunion for former residents each year, according to a National Park Service pamphlet, “Thurmond: Heart of the New River Gorge.”

We make our way down Route 25 for 7 miles, where we catch glimpses of a stream feeding the New River, along with a pretty series of waterfalls.

stream feeding into the New River
stream feeding into the New River
Waterfall
Waterfall
waterfall
waterfall
a waterfall along the way
a waterfall along the way
waterfall
waterfall

We return to the town of Glen Jean, scattered with a few stately buildings.

stately building
stately building

For thirty years, from 1909-1939, the Bank of Glen Jean provided financial power for the mines, towns and people along Dunloup Creek.  The McKell family provided the land on which the bank stands and William McKell served as the bank’s president for its entire existence.  When William McKell died, the bank closed.  During the next 50 years, the building changed hands ten times.  In 1986, The Nature Conservancy purchased the bank and donated it to the New River Gorge National River to be preserved as a visitor center and park offices.

Bank of Glen Jean
Bank of Glen Jean

Our next destination is Babcock State Park on the east side of the New River.  Since we’re on the west side of the river and have to pass through Fayetteville to cross the New River Gorge Bridge, we stop for lunch at the Secret Sandwich Society.  Here, we share a Truman sandwich: Turkey, peach jam, blue cheese spread, and crispy onions on a toasted baguette.  We order a side of pimento cheese fries.

The Truman Sandwich and Pimiento Cheese Fries at the Secret Sandwich Society
The Truman Sandwich and pimento Cheese Fries at the Secret Sandwich Society

Now the sun has broken through the fog, and we’re on our way to Babcock State Park.

west virginia: the new river gorge bridge & fayetteville

Friday, November 4:  It takes us a good long while to get to the New River in West Virginia after leaving the Skyline Drive. We finally arrive at 4:00, just in time to get a glimpse of the river and the New River Gorge Bridge and to take a long winding drive down to the river bed and then climb back up on the other side.  It’s a good thing daylight savings time doesn’t begin until Sunday morning.  Otherwise it would be dark by 5:00.

The New River is about 360 mi (515 km) long. The river flows through the U.S. states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before joining with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River at the town of Gauley Bridge, WV.  We’ll plan to visit the point where these two rivers meet when we drive back home on Sunday.

Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest rivers in the world (Wikipedia: New River (Kanawha River)), even older than the Appalachian mountains through which it flows.  Local legend claims only the Nile is older.

The New River Gorge
The New River Gorge

As it flows through West Virginia, most of the New River is designated as the New River Gorge National River. It is one of our country’s American Heritage Rivers, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive special attention in furthering three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation (Wikipedia: American Heritage Rivers).

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge, completed in October of 1977, reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. According to the U.S. Park Service website, it is “the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.” A sign at the overlook says it is “the world’s longest single-arch steel span bridge.  At 876 feet above the river, it is America’s 2nd-highest bridge.”  I think the sign’s information is outdated.

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

Though the tree-covered slopes look the same from top to bottom, they actually vary with slope, moisture and soil type.  The river bottom, a water habitat, nourishes water-loving plants and animals.  The gorge’s slopes, steep and well-drained, support a mixed deciduous (leaf-dropping) forest.  Secluded shaded side-drainages harbor patches of hemlock-rhododendron.  Evergreens eke out a living from the dry rocky soil on the ridge-tops.  On the flat plateau, a deciduous oak-hickory forest thrives on stable soil.

The New River Gorge
The New River Gorge

The steel used in the bridge is Cor-ten steel, which rusts slightly on the surface.  This surface-rust inhibits deeper rust, protecting the steel and eliminating the need to paint.  It also provides the color which darkens with time.

under The New River Gorge Bridge
under The New River Gorge Bridge
silhouettes
silhouettes
a rock for climbing near the New River Gorge
a rock for climbing near the New River Gorge
climbing rock
climbing rock
silhouette of The New River Gorge Bridge
silhouette of The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous bridge is open to pedestrians.  Thousands of people are drawn to participate in a wide variety of activities, including food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, and music. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.

We follow a one-way winding road from the visitor center down to the river bottom, where we cross over a small bridge.  Mike has fun being Mike.  We get a good view of the big bridge from the little bridge, and then we head up the other side of the gorge.

The New River is odd in that it flows north; this doesn’t usually happen in the American east.

The New River’s shape and form are also odd.  It has great bends that cut deeply into the earth, unusual in eastern North America where meandering rivers are normally broad and flat. Here, the New River slices through ten million years of rock layers.

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

As we climb up the road into Fayetteville, we pass a stream with some small waterfalls.

a smallish waterfall on the drive up
a smallish waterfall on the drive up

Finally, we arrive at The Historic Morris Harvey House Bed & Breakfast, our home for the next two nights.  The house was completed in 1902 for Morris and Rosa Harvey. This 3-story, 14-room Queen Anne-style house has five guest areas, seven fireplaces and two antique bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.

After the death of Morris Harvey, the house stayed in the Harvey family until 1931. From 1931 to 1953, it served as the parsonage for Methodist ministers. For the next 40 years, there were various owners.

The Historic Morris Harvey House
The Historic Morris Harvey House

In 1993, the owners Elizabeth Bush and her husband George Soros renovated the house extensively, including replacing the seven original oak fireplaces with Italian tile. Since 1994, the house has served as a bed and breakfast inn. The inn is currently owned by Bernie J. Kania Jr. and his family.

The Morris Harvey House has been placed on the Register of Historic Places by the Department of Interior and has appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including the book “Historic Inns of West Virginia,” according to the B&B’s website.

The Historic Morris Harvey House
The Historic Morris Harvey House

I’m not sure if the character on the front porch is a prisoner or an elf.

a strange character on the front porch of The Historic Morris Harvey House
a strange character on the front porch of The Historic Morris Harvey House

The gardens are quite beautiful.

garden at The Historic Morris Harvey House
garden at The Historic Morris Harvey House

And a little frog welcomes us into the house.

Welcome to The Historic Morris Harvey House
Welcome to The Historic Morris Harvey House

The Harvey Room, where we stay, has a toilet but no bath; we have to share the bath with one other room.  It seems to have a peacock motif.  I love the Italian tiles on the fireplace.

We take a bottle of wine down to the sitting room and enjoy our wine with some crackers and cheese that Mike thought to bring along.  Again, I love the tiles on the fireplace, along with the chess board.

I play around with the camera awhile, trying to get a decent picture of the chess pieces.

chess board
chess board

We find this interesting little book on the coffee table.

Strange Dreams
Strange Dreams

I like the thoughts in this little book, many of which I can apply to specific situations in my life now.

After we drink our wine, we head out to have dinner at Pies and Pints.  Though there are other restaurants in town, it’s clear this is the only game in town.  It’s packed.  We choose to sit at the bar rather than wait 20-30 minutes for a table.  We order a Spinach Salad (Spinach, red onions, Gorgonzola, red grapes & sunflower seeds, tossed in-house vinaigrette or creamy Gorgonzola) and a Mushroom Garlic Specialty Pie (Roasted mushrooms, feta, roasted & fresh garlic, caramelized onions, olive oil & fresh herbs).  I have a Blue Moon and Mike an Ayinger Beer.

As we sit at the bar, we strike up a conversation with an Arapaho guy, Jeremiah, around 40, who works with the National Park Service and is from New Mexico. His family is in Standing Rock and he wishes he could be there with them. He is also of Two Spirits, as Native Americans recognize seven genders. What an amazing guy and I’m so happy to have met him.

Here it is, the weekend before our election, and all I can think is that I love America’s diversity and can’t understand why people want to destroy what makes America great!