Wild and Wonderful – Fayetteville, WV

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New River Gorge Bridge

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.

Highway 64

A bit of traffic welcomed us near the West Virginia border

Wilflowers in Virginia

West Virginia’s welcome sign greeted us with their tag line, setting the tone for our short stay here.

West Virginia Welcome sign

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.
New River gorge

New River Gorge National River runs 53 miles through huge gorges like this one

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.

Upper New River Rafting

Upper River rafting

Supervising the Boy Scouts as lunch is prepared

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!

Upper River Rafting

You can’t tell, but he’s yelling at me here…

Whitewater rafting

We finally seemed to get our act together

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.

New River Gorge BridgeThe 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.

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge Bridge, as seen from the visitor center overlook

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.

Bridgewalk, New River Gorge Bridge Walk

Approaching mid-span – this is awesome!

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.

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge looking south, with the old bridge below

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge looking north, with railroad tracks on both sides

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.

New River Bridgewalk

Dangling my toes 850′ up – don’t worry, I’m on my leash!

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.

Longpoint Trail

Another couple took this shot of us, while we waited for the clouds to lift

New River Gorge Bridge

A man-made marvel – the New River Gorge 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.

River Expeditions

The most unlevel campground we’ve ever seen

West Virginia is definitely a good place to get wet, wild and feel wonderful!


Next up:  Heading into the horse capital of the world!




Our Top Ten Favorite Hikes – 2nd Anniversary

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Stone Mountain Trail

We have crossed another milestone.  Two years ago today, on March 1, 2012, we embarked on our new lifestyle of living on the road.  One of our many goals was to continue to exercise and be active.  Building on what I began last year, and to commemorate our 2nd year of full timing, I have compiled our new set of favorite hike/walk trails.  This top ten list covers the trails we explored between March 1, 2013 and Feb 28, 2014.  It does not include the dozens of beach walks we took while on the east coast.  Although we love long walks on the beach, they tend to be fairly similar and we decided not to try to rate them. Continue reading

Blackwater Beauty – Davis, WV

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Blackwater Falls

Steve saw an article in Motorhome magazine about a picturesque falls nestled high in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia and he was excited to see it.  The campground at Blackwater Falls State Park, located in Davis, WV could not accommodate Betsy – she is a little too big.  We found the nearest available RV park in Moorefield, WV called Riverside Cabins and RV Campground,  a spacious park by the river with a separate lot area designated for transients like us.  Getting into the campground was not a walk in the park, however. Click here if you want to see Steve’s review.

Riverside Cabins RV Park

Riverside is nice – once you get in!

Blackwater Falls is about 57 miles from where we were parked, so we set aside a day to see for ourselves if it lived up to its billing.  Well, it did!  For one thing, it has its own distinctive characteristics.  The name Blackwater comes from the dark reddish-brown appearance of its water, which has a color sort of like tea.

Blackwater Falls

Note the tea-colored water

The river is fringed by red spruce and eastern hemlock, and the tannic acids from their needles and branches leach into the streams after falling to the ground and receiving a pelting of rain and snow.  The waters plunge 57 ft over Blackwater Falls and then flow through an 8-mile long gorge within the Alleghenies.

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls

Access to Blackwater Falls is thru a 214  steps boardwalk that follows the natural contours of the waterfall.

Boardwalk to Blackwater waterfalls.

Though Blackwater Falls is the centerpiece of this park, there are two other waterfalls – Elakala Falls and Pendleton Falls – that we came across during our 8+ miles of hiking.  We enjoyed hiking in this neck of the woods because despite the humidity, the trails are shaded and it stays fairly cool under all the lush greenery.  Several trails intersected and we got a good workout following seven of the many trails.  And once again the rain did not fail to drench us just as we were heading back to our car!

The article mentioned one more hike with a view at the end that we wanted to see – Lindy Point.  It showcases stunning mountain views and a large section of Blackwater Canyon.

Lindy Point Outlook

Lindy Point overlook

Steve also likes riding on trains (although we don’t like the noise they make passing by our RV parks).  We hopped on a vintage passenger train, the historic Potomac Eagle, which rolls through a scenic section of West Virginia and is considered one of America’s most beautiful train rides.

For three hours we enjoyed a narrated excursion through a tranquil and pristine mountain valley, historic farms and lush mountain greenery.  Around every curve we were rewarded with the blooming wildflowers, evergreens, and mixed hardwoods in this unspoiled countryside environment.  Bald eagles were soaring above as we enjoyed a yummy lunch and then sat outside in an open car for a portion of the trip.

Mountain Greenery, Potomac Eagle

View from train

The train briefly stopped at “The Trough”, a spectacular narrow mountain valley.  Below us ran the South Branch of the Potomac River, where the water was so clear that we could see fish as they lie resting in the shade.

The Trough, south Potomac River

The Trough

We saw a young eagle perched high up on a tree, and according to our guide the area is the eastern home of the American Bald Eagle.  Our lunch consisted of “comfort food” and was very filling.  We felt the trip was a bit pricey for 3 hours but we really enjoyed it.

Bald Eagle

Young Bald Eagle – no white on his head yet

These wildflowers brought color to the lush and green background scenery.

Next Up:  Finally – a great biking trail, in Maryland.