Time to leave the Shenandoah National Park today. It’s a cool and damp start to the day after overnight rain. The remaining 22 miles of The Skyline Drive seem to take forever as the road descends and twists and turns. There are still many overlooks and hikes and we see several cyclists on this section of the road.
Exiting the park which in a few weeks will turn into a riot of autumn colour we head south along the Shenandoah River Valley through neat and tidy smallholdings, many with the 5-pointed star on their gables and porches. Luray is a neat town with many of the clapboard houses and porches we’ve come to envy. With swing chairs, Adirondack chairs, cane chairs or a comfy sofa and always with pot plants and flowering hanging baskets. The fences around the edge gives some privacy but they’re often looking out onto the street. Nevertheless, we love them.
Looking out from one of the viewpoints on Skyline Drive over the Shenandoah Valley
The Blue Ridge Mountains run parallel with us and we keep looking up and saying, we were up there! Luray is a convenient stop for a food shop (and some more gin!) and then we start to head southwest on the awful Interstate 81 with huge trucks driving menancingly close to get a run up the hills. There are plenty of truck run-away lanes on the steep descents. We pull into a rest area for lunch but the noise is deafening and we eat quickly and get back on the road. It’s a relief when we finally get onto the I-64 and leave behind this crazy busy road.
The Blonde is busy researching what we can see today. For goodness sake we can’t travel all day and not photograph something! She find's a website featuring, “20 things you shouldn’t miss in West Virginia” and “5 things to see on the I-64”. Hah! The first is the oldest of Virginia's covered bridges, in Covington, which also happens to be the only hump backed bridge left standing in the United States. We find it easily and spend an hour taking photos and paddling in the river. A few locals chat to us and we just love their accent - it’s a sing-song drawl and very distinctive. The Blonde is called Ma’am too.... which she loves!
Next on our list is Greenbrier Resort at White Sulphur Springs in the Allegheny Mountains, West Virginia (we crossed the State border just a little way back). A massive white hotel dating back to 1778, it’s a National Historic Landmark set in 11,000 acres with 710 rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest and estate homes. There are 10 lobbies, 40+ meeting rooms and a complete conference center facility plus a championship golf course and its own railway station. To say that the interior is colourful would be an understatement!
Filled with floral printed ceiling to floor length curtains, chandeliers, fireplaces, bars, rich colours juxtaposed with pastels, ‘old master’ paintings with huge fresh floral displays, cosy snugs and open sunny conservatories. We were able to wander around and take photos having parked BH across the road and walked into the hotel (with permission of course!). It was stunning, lavish, peaceful and restful too.
The Concierge/Doorman Henry was as cute as button!
Back at Big Henry we realise we’re on a Station Carpark and we’ll be seeing this railway line for the next few days. There’s also a Christmas Shop in an old railway building. What fun! It is FILLED with Christmas decorations. We’ve seen shops like this before but this one seemed special. For starters it was painted red, green and white outside and inside the walls were the same. Huge Christmas trees were decorated with the most gorgeous decorations and the two ladies were clearly having so much fun playing with the new stock. In fact, they told us they get to play Christmas all year round! The Greenbrier Resort guests were all walking away with bags of goodies from here!
Back on the I-64 we stumble upon New River National Park Visitors Centre and discover an area we hadn’t any idea about but with the help of Richard, a VERY enthusiastic Park Ranger, we knew instantly this area was going to keep us out of mischief for several days. The New River, part of the Ohio River watershed, 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. Much of the river's course through West Virginia is designated as the New River Gorge National River and it is one of the world’s oldest rivers.
We have an area here filled with National Park and State Park campgrounds, hiking and biking trails and just thoroughly pretty countryside. It’s getting late and we need to get to camp now. Richard says we’ll be just fine at Little Beaver State Park about 10 miles up the road. We’re welcomed there and find a nice little pull through spot in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s supposed to be a dry camp but hey, we’ve come a long way today and a little G&T would be just perfect!
Yesterday was such a big day, so today we are not inclined to go very far. David gets cleaning stuff out and Big Henry gets a makeover. Tar spots are removed, windows polished, some pinstripes polished out. He works hard for most of the day. I play inside, emptying a few containers, making granola, playing photos. We need a day like this sometimes, it is just nice to catch up and "fluff" around.
While The Bear dozes I go off for a little jaunt. It's almost like Hari Nyepi in the park...Hindu All Souls Day, where everyone stays indoors and it is very,very, quiet. There are cars outside people's houses but not a sign or sound of anyone! Weird, but nice. The verges are full of colour of goldenrod, yellow daisies, purple flowers and pink sweet peas. Beautiful.This area is filled with white oak and red oak, rhododendrons and some Virginia Pine with very feathery needles. In June there were terrific rains in the area and huge floods. The forest was still littered with fallen trees and branches and gullies cut deep from the run off. Some trails are still closed. The dam is quite pretty with a little overflow falling down the stone wall twinkling in the sunshine and pedalos are available for hire. There are plenty of picnic tables and shelters around the dam too.I wander back to camp by lunchtime and into my chair that's about as far as I got for the rest of the day! Tomorrow we'll go and photograph a sunrise and then go to Sandstone Falls. Easy, peasy!
Enticed by a local photographers work on the Internet and a the National Park brochure we set out to Grandview before 6am to catch the sunrise over the loop of the river. I was starting to berate myself fro not insisting we scope it out yesterday while it was daylight...and then we found two other photographers who had started their day at 4.30am from Lewisburg, Virginia and were already in position. They had all the fancy, schmancy gear as well a camera drone. They were really nice guys and happy to share their expertise and views.
Big Henry all cleaned up attracting attention at Grandview.
The Blonde clambered over the railings and stood in the edge of the rocks along with Dan. I stood well inside of course! It was so dark and she had only a little rock in front of her to focus the camera on. Using Live View is new for both of us, we really don't understand it and the camera wouldn't focus because it was so dark. BUT! The view was amazing! The fog rolled through the gorge and the river came into view. A long freight train came along and snaked around the edge of the river. This area was once a thriving coal mining area and the remains of a small village started to appear as the sky got lighter. We clicked away. Dan and his friend with the drone were busy with long 5 minute exposures.
As the sun broke the horizon the clouds coloured a little but the top of the fog was more magical for that instant. And then it was over! And the drone took flight...
The Blonde Photographer on the edge.........
Breakfast in the carpark and then we took a hike to a couple of the other lookouts. The hike to the Castle Rock was along an edge so I stayed back. Our only other commitment was to visit Sandstone Falls. This turned out to be alot further to drive to than we anticipated up a long 8% grade hill, through the former coal mining town of Hinton and then back along the west side of the river on a single track road. It was fortunate we did not meet many vehicles coming in the other direction. As we pulled into the car park we bumped into Ranger Richard who we had met at the Visitors Centre last Thursday and he gave us directions to the best photograph spots for the falls. We set out armed with cameras and tripods.
These are the largest waterfalls on the New River dropping 15-25 feet around a series of islands. Boy! It was HOT! We initially followed the boardwalk to get to where we needed to step away and across the rocks...I moved on at some pace and then realised The Blonde was no longer behind me. The Ranger had also mentioned poisoned ivy and snakes and when eventually I relocated her she had had a minor meltdown. It was soooo HOT.
We played for as long as we could stand the heat but no silky water was happening in our photos. Shoot fast instead. We think we got some reasonable ones. But Autumn is when we needed to be here. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this.... we can't always be in the right place at the right time and so we have to use the tools we have at the time.
We walked back to the carpark past a number of people sitting in the cold water. If there hadn't been a mention of snakes I think we would have jumped straight in to get cool! Back at Little Beaver State Park for our 3rd night we sat like zombies absolutely pooped!!! So much for a gentle day!!!
Great shot from The Blonde.....
New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Older even than the Appalachian Mountains. For centuries the New River was inaccessible to most people. In 1873 the railroad opened up this isolated part of West Virginia, making it possible to ship coal to the outside world. Mining boomed, and towns like Thurmond sprang up overnight near the coalfields and along the railroad. In 1978 Congress established New River Gorge National River to preserve this free-flowing waterway. Millions of visitors come here each year for the natural scenery and for recreation. Within the Park the New River drops 750 feet in 50 miles creating one of the nation’s premier whitewater stretches. Rafting is popular here as well as on the Gauley River National recreation Area. The Gauley drops 668 feet through rugged terrain and has over 100 rapids with steep gradient, technical runs, high volume of water and huhe waves.
Today is 9/11 - fifteen years since that terrible day. Flags are flying at half mast today. We're late to get up this morning. We finally pulled out of Little Beaver State Park at 11.30am. In no real hurry to do the things we'd planned. I don't know whether it's the calm weather, the change of season, this State of West Virginia or what but we feel relaxed and chilled.
We go towards Fayetteville in the Appalachian Mountains and a hiking trail that will take us to a viewpoint of the New River Gorge Bridge. The trailhead carpark was quite busy although most people seemed to be on their way out as we head down to Long Point. A simple, easy walk around 4 miles return through rhododendrons to a great view point on a rock ledge. The steel arch bridge is 3,030 feet (924 m) long. With an arch 1,700 feet (518 m) long, the New River Gorge Bridge was for many years the world's longest single-span arch bridge; it is now the third longest. In 2013, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The middle of October is "Bridge Day" when the entire bridge is closed to traffic, vendors set up their stalls in alloted sites along the road and people can walk across the bridge. More dramatic though are the Base Jumpers who jump from a specially built platform down to the river. One year they had a slingshot to fire parachutists into the distance. Utter madness!!! But it must be a lot of fun. Did I really say that??!!! While we're at Long Point we get chatting to a lovely couple, Jared and his partner Kat who is 7 weeks off giving birth to their first baby. Jared helps The Blonde scramble over the rocks to try and get a photo of the bridge against the sky. Failing, he offers to take us on the Fayette Station Road which goes from the Visitors Centre to the river underneath the bridge and back up the other side...Big Henry is a little on the large side to go down here. This was the original road built by the C&O Railway. He and Kat are gorgeous. We chat all the way back to the car park and then follow them to the Visitors Centre where we leave Big Henry and jump in with them. They show us every aspect of the bridge and the river, tell us about mining in the area (Jared is a coal miner and Kat is a psychology masters student - temporarily on hold).It was a wonderful afternoon listening and chatting, they were so generous with their time and yet another example of the wonderful hospitality we have been offered travelling in North America.
We say our fond farewells and then go back into the Visitors Center to get some more info. In 1873 the railway opened to carry coal out of the gorge to Virginia ports and cities in the Midwest. By 1905, thirteen towns sprang up between Fayette Station Road and Thurmond, 15 miles upstream. Between the 1870’s and 1950’s, West Virginia coal contributed significantly to the industrialization of the United States as it fed the nation's trains, factories and fleets. We have a brief look at the old and the new bridges from the Visitors Centre and then head up the WV19 towards Summersville dam and the Gauley River looking for a campsite for tomorrow.