Located in the heart of the United State’s rich mining history, New River Gorge is a beautiful park that overcame its industrial past. Once populated by coal dust, railroads, mining and timber towns, New River Gorge managed to avoid permanent scarring. Railroads and coal conveyers still sprinkle the landscape, but today they provide a window to the mining world that employs the West Virginian population, past and present.
The New River cuts through the lush green Appalachian mountains providing ample opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts. White-water rafting is among the most popular activities on the New River, as it is home to some of the best rapids in the United States. Hiking, rock climbing, cycling and fishing are on the short-list of activities that kept us entertained for days.
For our first day in the park, we decided to go to ACE Adventures and raft the New River. Our other option was the Gauley River, which is known to be more of the bucking bronco of the two. Since we were traveling with my mom and sister who had never gone before, we opted for the tamer of the two. The Lower New River all day trip still gave us plenty of thrills! My two sisters, mom and I were paired with 4 young men from Indiana who were outgoing and goofy. Along with our tour guide, Smiley, they made the excursion a lot of fun! It didn’t take long before I was thrown out of our raft on the second rapid we went through. First out of the raft for the whole crew! Not much later a big rapid shot Kara airborne across the raft taking out Katie in her path! Both ended up in the water, getting hauled back into the raft by our newfound friends. Part of the way through the trip we set up a small camp on the beach and the ACE Adventure guides made a hot lunch. The hot food warmed us from the cool June air that we were unfortunate to experience during our river ride. During our trip, the water felt warmer than the air temperature!
As we continued down the river, we came across a giant rock from which our guides encouraged us to jump. Kara and Katie were the only two of us bold enough to give it a go. Near the end of the excursion, we made our way to some lower class II rapids which I believe they called body rafting. We jumped out of our raft and let the current take us through some boulders that created some swift currents for a totally different kind of rafting experience. At this point we were able to catch some good group photos of us in the river with the New River bridge in the background.
Once the trip was over, the guides brought us back to the ACE Adventure Resort where they prepared a DVD of our trip. We found it to be worth the wait. We laughed and laughed as we watched what really happened when we tumbled out of the raft, and some close calls of those who were nearly thrown out yet managed to somehow stay inside. On the river it all happens so fast you only get a small dose of what all happened. On DVD, we had the whole picture at regular speed, slow-motion, rewind and re-watch.
After taking showers and cleaning up, we went into Fayetteville to find something good to eat. Pies and Pints, a small pizza style restaurant in Fayetteville, won out. They made their own root beer, and it was almost as good as their pizza. It certainly was a good cap on a good day.
This morning we decided to sleep in a little bit since our zipline adventure started at 10:15. We booked this through ACE Adventures as well. Before we left on our vacation, our research proved we could get better discounts by booking ahead and grouping adventures. We rode on a total of 9 zip lines in about 2 hours. We went from one rocky cliff top to another, with some of the best ones nearer to the end. After that we took Smiley’s recommendations on trails worth hiking and started on the Long Point Trail which ended with a great rock plateau overlooking the New River Gorge and bridge. We hiked this trail 3 different times during our trip easily making it our favorite. Living in the midwest, views like that at the end of the Long Point trail can be few and far between. We also did the Butcher Branch trail which intersected with the Long Point trail. Mom took a spill on our way down the steep trail, but her pain was worth the gain. There was a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail. Coming back up to the top of the trail was a workout!
This evening we ate at the Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville. As you may have guessed, the cafe is inside an old cathedral, complete with stained-glass windows and soaring ceilings. It doubles as a library, housing a collection of donated books free for the curious minded. After dinner we went to the Visitor Center, just north of the bridge on state road 19. We took a small trail there that took us to an outlook of the bridge. There were some good photos of the bridge we snapped. After that we went back to Long Point, hoping to get some good photos of the bridge. We found out we needed the morning sun. It was still a relaxing way to end the day. We decided to top the day off with an ice cream cone from McDonalds, before heading back to the motel.
We got up nice and early and headed straight to Diamond Point via the Endless Wall trail. The trailhead was not well marked, but we were able to find the parking lot. This trail took us up to the top of the gorge where there were several outcroppings of rock where we could easily look down on the river cutting through the valley. We saw two deer on the hike. Diamond Point is the largest rock outcropping, and there were many areas to peek out. The brush and trees up there all appeared to have been burnt somewhat recently. We continued on the trail and eventually got a peek of the bridge, but no good photos were to be had. Shortly after, the trail started going downhill so we decided to head back to the start since it was not a loop.
After finishing the Endless Wall trail, we drove the slow, winding backroads to Babcock State Park. This was a beautiful park with a working grist mill and beautiful water falls. After many pictures and a trip to the gift shop, we headed down to Sandstone Falls. We had to drive a while to get to the falls, so maybe it’s something we would not repeat, but it was another view of New River.
From there we headed down to Beckley, WV to visit a coal mine museum. They actually had a complete mining village that was reconstructed for display. We went through the museum, then the village which consisted of a family home, a one person house for a single miner, a schoolhouse, a chapel, and the huge three story home of the supervisor. Later we rode on an actual mining car down into the mine to learn how the mining was actually done. The tour guide was a descendent of miner’s who used to earn their keep in the dark, dangerous coal mines. The average coal miner had to use a pick axe in the working space of the underside of a desk with no more light than what his headlamp provided. Laying on his side in a claustrophobic tunnel, he would pick away at the walls until he had enough to load by shovel into his wagon. The miner’s were paid by the ton! Heartbreakingly, these mining towns were owned by the mining companies who paid their employees in company issued scrip instead of government issued currency. This meant the earnings were only usable in places that were owned by the mining company. Furthermore, the homes, grocery stores, hospitals and other basic-needs suppliers were owned by the mining companies. So at the end of a long week of working in the mines, a miner had to pay his company issued scrip back to the mining company for his rent and groceries. In the end, the miners hardly had anything to live on, and their savings weren’t worth anything outside of their mining village. The injustices miners had to endure barely raise it above slave standards.
After the mining expedition, we headed to the Outback Steakhouse for a delicious meal. Then, of course, we had to hit McDonalds for our 49 cent ice cream cone 🙂 before heading back to the motel. Sue, Kara, and Katie enjoyed the hot tub a bit, while Erin relaxed in the room.
We got up early once again, ate our continental breakfast, then took one last hike up Long Point trail, hoping to capture some good pictures of the bridge at daybreak. It was a beautiful morning for a hike! Eventually it was time to start our trip back home. During our drive back,we stopped at Bob Evan’s original farm in Rio Grande, OH. We toured their farmhouse, where they displayed antiques used during the era of the original restaurant opening and aired some of the old commercials. We then ate in the restaurant before heading back to Erin’s house in Cincinnati.