When we planned our anticipated route this year, West Virginia was not on the list. But Betsy’s maintenance took us back to South Carolina, quite a ways off our planned route. So, we decided to swing through WV again before heading into Kentucky. The drive from NC to WV enabled us to enjoy rugged mountain scenery, pass through two tunnels, and marvel at the wildflowers that still adorned the median areas of the byways.
West Virginia’s welcome sign greeted us with their tag line, setting the tone for our short stay here.
Yes, we were going to get wild and feel wonderful afterwards! But hold that thought for a moment.
First, let’s talk about New River, which is one of the big draws in West Virginia. Although named New River, it is not new at all. In fact, it’s the oldest river in North America. Then why call it “new” if it isn’t? The National Park Service has a better explanation, click here to get the real juice. But I will break it down into fast facts for easy reading:
- The New River is a 320-mile river that begins in North Carolina and continues to Virginia via West Virginia.
- The river is unique in that it flows from south to north, unlike most other area rivers which flow toward the Atlantic Ocean.
- It sculpts the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachian Plateau, cutting through the mountains as it flows south to north.
- Geologists have speculated that the New is the oldest on the continent and among the two or three oldest in the world, right up there with the Nile.
- No one knows the name’s origin, some say explorers found a river “new” to them and indicated it on a map. The name stuck.
- The New River is froth with white water rapids, making rafting a thrilling activity for folks of all ages and abilities.
Our first wild outdoor fun involved us two old geezers joining a troup of Boy Scouts for a little rafting thrill ride in the white waters of the river. We chose the Upper New River course, since it was described as dotted with bouncy, smaller rapids and had some of the greatest swimming holes you’ll see anywhere.
At first we thought we’d be in a raft with a group of people, but when we were given an option to ride in an inflatable “ducky”, Steve took it. Little did he know that the option he chose was commonly referred to as a “divorce ducky”. The very sensitive steering of the ducky almost lived up to its name for us, as we had a hard time getting coordinated and ended up “spinning out” several times. These things were nothing like the canoes and kayaks we’ve used in the past, and we won’t be trying them again! We finally got our act together after a “crew change” at lunch time. Despite the sunburn and sore upper muscles the following day, we both agreed it was exciting and we had a blast!
After rafting the river, we worked the heights over it. Our other wild adventure was leisurely, but a bit knee-buckling and stomach-churning if you have a fear of heights as one of the guys on our tour did. Imagine walking on a catwalk 2 feet wide, over an 1815 foot arch, 3030 feet long and 876 feet high. Yep, that’s it – a bridge walk under the New River Gorge Bridge, and over the New River rapids below.
The New River Gorge Bridge has become an icon of West Virginia. When it was finished in 1977, it cut travel time across the gorge from “45 minutes to 45 seconds.” It is considered a work of structural art – the longest steel span in the western hemisphere, and the third highest in the United States. It was the longest single-arch bridge in the world for several years.
If you’re old enough, you might remember the GMC Jimmy car commercial where they dropped a GMC off a bridge on a bungee cord. Well, this is the bridge! Click here if you’d like to see the original commercial and some other interesting videos about the bridge.
On our bridge walk day, we were hooked to a harness system that kept us safely attached to the bridge, just in case an unexpected crosswind blew us over. As we mounted the catwalk, we could hear and feel the traffic rumbling overhead on US 19, but it was reduced somewhat as we approached the stronger section of the arch in the middle.
Our guide not only lead us on the catwalk, but he also shared the history and facts about the bridge and its construction features. He pointed out that one million nuts and bolts were used to hold the bridge together, not rivets. This monolithic structure is always moving, swaying side to side (in feet, not inches!), reacting to temperature changes and weather.
From the catwalk we had fabulous views of the gorge, the rafters running the river, climbers on the rock faces and a freight train that looked like a toy from our vantage point.
We lingered and soaked in the scenery and breathed the fresh West Virginia air as we moved along. It was a very leisurely walk with several stops, and it took about an hour and a half to get all the way across the span.
The New River Gorge Bridge weighs 88 million pounds, and is built of USS COR-TEN Steel, which oxidizes with age and gives the Bridge its dark russet color.
And who says there’s no wildlife on a bridge? Several Peregrine Falcons were eyeing us closely, wondering what the heck we were doing in their domain.
After the walk and to get another perspective of the bridge, we took a 3.2-mile hike on the Longpoint Trail. It took us to a rocky outcrop long known as Long Point. The trail meandered through a field and forest before descending through another area full of rhododendrons and wildflowers.
Mid-way through our hike, the sky burst open and drenched us. But it created a cool effect, for the steam fog displayed a lovely mountain cloudscape that covered the gorge. We waited for a while, and the clouds lifted so we could enjoy another great view of the bridge.
West Virginians get to celebrate a Bridge Day Festival here every October. On that day the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic, allowing folks to explore and enjoy sports from the structure. This includes BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth) jumping, rappelling and zip-lining from the bridge. Wow, would we love to see that! If you’d like to jump off an awesome bridge legally, check out the next Bridge Day scheduled for October 18, 2014 here.
West Virginia has the steepest fines for littering we’ve ever seen, but apparently the litterbugs can’t read the sign…
Our home base was not exactly perfect, even if we were the only ones there. For $40 per day we got only water and electric, and the sites were not even close to level. Steve’s review of River Expeditions is here.
West Virginia is definitely a good place to get wet, wild and feel wonderful!
Very, very cool excursions! Looks like fun and fascinating!
I had to laugh when I read your caption about Steve yelling at you in the Ducky!!! I can just hear him as you two tried to figure our the paddling system. I am sure that was worth the price everyone else paid…haha!! John would have been the same way.
Brave souls to walk under the bridge like that but your views were amazing!! West Virginia has more to offer than people realize. Their state parks are unlike any I have ever seen. They are top of the line with resort hotels and restaurants, golf courses, huge houses to rent, activities and beautiful campgrounds. We stayed at the Stonewall Jackson Resort. We were so surprised. Glad you had a fun adventure:)
Steve’s frustration and yelling was overshadowed by fun and we had a blast. But I think next time Steve would insist to have his own ducky 🙂 I agree with you Pam, WV is a beautiful and rugged and laid back state.
I think you can handle the bridge walk, nothing to it, really!
You are back in my neck of the woods.
My father’s family is from Fayetteville with Lively Street to prove it. It was not actually named after my direct family, but we are Lively’s, so we claim it too.
Good post and I’m happy you liked your visit!
Oh yes, I saw your street! We enjoyed both our visit to your state, very beautiful and scenic.
Also, I did see a Lively Market and a street in Alabama and I remembered you and your family.
For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell us you went bungee jumping off that bridge. Those views look amazing and you captured some great shots. Hubby and I have had our fair share of ‘moments’ during our canoeing days so I can totally relate to the ‘divorce ducky’. I used to own a Jimmy lol.
Oh no, bungee is no longer on the table, that I would not do, Ingrid. Im just glad Im not the only one having those divorce moments, those stupid rubber duckies are the enhancers. Midway thru we switched and then on the final leg we hauled ourselves to the bigger raft, and everything was calm. ha ha .
Reading this blog and looking at the pictures of you walk under the bridge gave me a big case of the “squeezies”, if ya know what I mean!
Sue, I know I can’t convince you but it was rather a peaceful and leisurely walk, nothing to it.
Sorry, ML… but I LOLed reading about your Ducky experience! I could relate. We had a canoe once…….. but thankfully switched to separate inflatable kayaks. That’s just how it is sometimes! 🙂
Im so glad that I am not the only one experiencing this divorce moments… when on a ducky. Midway through we switched and then on the final leg, we haul ourselves to the bigger raft. Whew, other than those moments it was actually fun.
That river trip looked like a blast! I love the photo of you two in the “ducky” — and got a good laugh out of your tale! Eric and I have had a tandem kayak for 16 years and manage to work things out, but we definitely have our “moments.” Not sure if I could do that bridge walk — it makes me dizzy just looking at you dangling your feet over the bridge. But SO COOL that you were up there with the Peregrines!
Laurel, except for the sun cooking us and Steve’s frustration we had fun ! You can do the bridge walk, it was so leisurely that it feels just like walking on the actual bridge not on the catwalk. And yes that was my first sighting of the Peregrines.
How fun! Mike and I did the same sort of bridge walk on the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia. What a blast! We also plan to rent a couple of duckies to whitewater on the Yellowstone River in 2 weeks. Ours are going to be singles, so hopefully that will keep us out of divorce court! Loved your update. We sure do enjoy the same things as you two.
Oh Linda, we did want to the bridge walk in Sydney Harbor but due to time constraints we just missed it. So cool you were able to do that! You know the New River Gorge Bridge is the only other bridge that allows bridge walking so we were happy. You are doing the right thing, individual duckies! Despite the yelling and STeves frustrations we had a blast 🙂
We did a raft ride down the New River also. The kids loved it. Me not so much.
There isn’t enough money I this world to get me to tour that bridge. No way!!! When we were there, people wer bungie jumping off the bridge. They had the bridge closed for the event. I could barely watch them just standing there. I never dis watch a jump. Paul loved it.
Thanks for all the facts about the New River. Really interesting. Great post!
The only thing I did not like on the rafting was the sun cooking us, otherwise it was fun. Oh so you were there on their Bridge Day !
Now that sounded like a lot of fun… not sure I’d get the wife over that bridge walk her being scared of heights, but it must have given an opportunity for some fantastic photos… loved the falcon that dropped in to see where you were going….
That was my first sighting of a Peregrine Falcon, and did not realize they have big eyes! The catwalk was really fun and leisurely 🙂
Loved this post about places near and dear to my heart. My father grew up in West Virginia and we spent every summer visiting my grandparents in the mountains and have been to New River Bridge a few times. I enjoyed your description of it and the river. Of course with my fear of heights I am not brave enough to do the catwalk! We’ve gone through that pass and tunnels pulling our fifth wheel – always an adventure! We camped at Pipestem State Park near Hinton a few years ago to explore the area.
You know, one person in our group has that fear, but he made it to the end but he still did not like it 😦
I chuckled when I read the line where Steve was yelling at you in the yellow Ducky! Terry and I have had similar experiences where I was sure he would have liked to take the paddle and clock me! 😉 I don’t think I could get Terry to walk across that bridge but I would have loved it. 🙂
I don’t know about our husbands, they think it is easy to be a steerer…ha ha ha.
That bridge walk was so leisurely and laid back, nothing to it, unless he has a vertigo or fear of heights.
My husband loves to steer, in a boat and outside as well, even if I am behind the wheel. 😉 Terry does have a bit of a fear of heights but I would have loved to experience it.
Boy are you two courageous doing the river in a rubber ducky. I’ve lived in Virginia all my life and never rafted the New. I know too many people who’ve had horrible accidents some fatal. But it is a gorgeous river and gorge. I’m so happy your ventures turned out so well. We really must put W. Va on our list of places to spend some time. It is a very beautiful state and we haven’t done much of anything there. I do agree that the private RV campgrounds are difficult and expensive for what you get. I think we’d try the state parks. I don’t know much about their RV spots since we only tent camped there and at that time I was trying to stay as far away from RVs and their outdoor TVs as possible. LOL
Sherry, WV is a beautiful state but mountainous. Since you like waterfalls I can recommend Blackwater Waterfalls in Davis, WV on your list. Now that is worth a visit.
The bridge walk must have been really something, Mona. So glad there are safety harnesses. What beautiful views you must have had from up there. You wouldn’t get me in one of those rubber duckies, but it looks like a lot of fun. How I hate litterbugs!
The bridge walk was pretty cool and luckily I don’t have a fear of heights or maybe the thought that I’m safe made the walk leisurely. And despite Steve’s yelling we had a great time on the river.
You two are so cute in the ducky! We rafted in the New River in the 80’s (!!!), but I’ve never forgotten what a pretty place it was. The bridge walk looks incredible.
What a wild post…I’ve never been in a ducky or walked under a bridge 850 feet tall…I sure enjoyed your adventurous pictures! We have to give them both a try if/when we are in WV….looks like soooo much fun! You both are certainly not wimps…I love it!
I laughed at the ‘divorce ducky’, I think our Pelican Kayak should be included in the category! You are one brave woman! I got damp palms and heart palpitations just reading your bridge adventure! Have fun and Safe Journey’s……
Just found your blog and your great pictures. Looking to buy a new camera for our next road trip. What kind of camera do you have that takes these great photos that you post?
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