Jul 7, 2009
|Views don't get much better - Tuesday, July 7
Today we headed for Hawks Nest, a West Virginia State Park on the New River Gorge. We’re looking for a jet boat ride and this is where you come to find one.
The park is on the east side of the gorge, a few miles downriver from the famous gorge bridge. The good news is; there is plenty of parking. The bad news is; it's an 800 foot drop from the parking lot to the river! Fortunately there’s a tram.
You board the tram from a lodge at the rim, and all the way down the view is magnificent. You can’t see the gorge bridge from here, but a rusty old railroad bridge spans the river and it’s so low that only small boats can get under it. The New River is definitely not a ‘navigable waterway’ at this point.
The river stretches several miles upstream and a mile or more downstream before it disappears around two bends. The water is moving slowly through this wide spot in the river bed and the color is a muddy brown. We boarded a boat named Miss M. Rocks, and with our bearded ‘captain’ we set out to see the gorge.
We went under the rail bridge and the first thing we did was go far enough around the bend to see a dam that stretches across the river downstream. The thing that makes this dam interesting is that a tunnel from the dam goes under the mountain and carries water to power a hydroelectric generating station four miles downstream around another bend. From this low vantage point we couldn’t see beyond the dam so we had no idea what the river looks like below it.
Next we turned upriver and passed under the rail bridge again, this time traveling several miles before coming to the next bend. There are small cabins and shacks along the banks, and Capt’n Rick told us they belong to ‘squatters’ who have no rights to be there but who are left alone by the state agencies who (for the time being at least) ‘look the other way’. Some were abandoned dumps and others were nice structures with decks and flower gardens.
We had to travel several more bends before we got our first look at the New River Gorge Bridge towering high over the canyon. Even from this perspective it’s hard to appreciate the scale of the thing. You can’t see the traffic crossing it, and from the bottom it is awesome but still somewhat unreal. If you could get right under it that would probably change. Unfortunately we could not, kept at least a mile downstream by the formidable rapids below the crossing.
The boat got into the white water and turned several directions to let us take pictures, but the turbulence of the water and the rocking of the boat made it hard to get clear shots. The rest of the voyage was uneventful and we returned to the dock and ascended the tram. We decided to follow the river north as far as the Gauley Bridge where the New River joins the Gauley River and the two merge to become the Kanawha River.
Gauley Bridge was a drive of another 20 miles or so, and on the way we stopped at the Hawks Nest Overlook. Here was the most spectacular view of all because we could see all the way upriver to the far bend we’d just traveled by boat, and we could look down on the dam and see the rocky bed of the river below it. Farther down the road we passed the hydro plant, and finally we reached Gauley and the confluence of the Gauley and the New Rivers. It is kind of anticlimactic after the drama of the New River Gorge, but we saw a beautiful waterfall and that alone made the trip worth the effort.
On the way back we stopped for lunch at a little roadside place called the Chimney Corners Café. It was rustic and out in the West Virginia boondocks where we expected it would be an ordinary hamburger joint. A waitress ushered us to a table on their outdoor patio, and when we saw the menu we were in for a big surprise. You couldn’t get a hamburger, but you could get any number of gourmet entrees and appetizers.
We settled on two pear salads and an order each of their fried green tomatoes and chicken satay appetizers. The fried tomatoes were smothered in a crab sauce, and the food was so good we actually turned down chocolate bread pudding desert because it would have spoiled the taste of the other dishes! The things you find when you were looking for something else!
Our next destination was Summersville to find a campground, but first we wanted to take a drive over the famous bridge before we left it. This involved a short drive south before going north but it seemed worth it. As we approached the bridge though I began thinking back to all the statistics we’d read, and especially to the one about the thousands of pages of calculations that went into the design. They say it would have taken a person working 40 hours a week fifteen years to make all those calculations, and as we approached the bridge I was hoping he’d thrown a small motorhome into the mix. Since there weren’t many motorhomes on the road in the seventies I could picture him thinking about it and then saying “Nah - that would take another whole day!” But it was too late to turn back so we hoped he’d at least allowed for a ‘margin of error’.
We made it over and back, and we continued on to Summersville where we scored a campsite at Battle Run Campground on a Corps of Engineers lake. We took it for two nights and we settled in with a crowd of vacationing locals. One of the hardships of retirement is that we no longer get vacations ourselves - it’s just one day of life after another. But we don’t resent the people who do, and when they go back to work we stay on, lonely as it may be. Doing the thankless job of keeping the campgrounds occupied as best we can.