In recent years the Appalachian-derived branch of my family has taken to holding reunions each summer in the southwestern part of West Virginia, and I was able to attend this year and last. Before the reunions I'd never been to West Virginia, but I immediately fell in love with this wild, rugged section of Appalachia.
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We did a lot of hiking, and one of our favorite hikes was Castle Rock Trail in the Grandview area of the New River Gorge National River.
This trail is considered "strenuous" on the National Park Service's scale of such things, and in many places you're scrambling over rocks and tree roots.
The trail winds along the base of towering sandstone cliffs.
One of the many weird fungi growing along the path.
Not far from Castle Rock Trail is a sandstone formation called Turkey Spur. Here's the overlook atop the spur, which is reached by climbing way too many stairs which wind up the sides of the formation. When we got up there, a cloud had veiled the usual panoramic view in eerie whiteness.
Looking into the emptiness was like seeing the edge of the universe, but soon the air began moving, and as the cloud flowed softly, damply past us, the landscape below began to reveal itself.
It was like veils were lifting...
Eventually, you could see all the way down to the river where it's bridged by a railroad trestle and Route 41.
A couple days later; the same bridges viewed from below.
Nearby is the abandoned coal company town of Royal, West Virginia; here we're examining one of the ruins. There was a plaque here commemorating the town which included these lines from an old song:
It's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew
Where the dangers are double and the pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines
It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mines
To get down to the bridges and the abandoned coal town we had to hike the Little Laurel Trail. It's an old coal/logging road, and on the way down I didn't understand why the NPS listed it as "strenuous."
On the way back up, it became clear. Little Laurel, from the trailhead to the bottom near the New River, drops 1,400 feet in around a mile and a half, and while descending was a breeze, the ascent was more of a death march than a fun hike in the woods. Here we're resting as I try to decide if I'm going to have a heart attack or not. (photo by Scott Dakota)
A typical West Virginia view; mountains piled on mountains.
The same view at sunset.
We stayed for several days at Babcock State Park, where there's a grist mill which is supposedly the most-photographed place in the state. This is the mill viewed from below while standing in Glade Creek.
A little farther down the creek.
By mid-July the wild rhododendrons are pretty much done blooming, but along Glade Creek, possibly due to cooler conditions, they were still at their peak.
We spent an hour and a half to explore a quarter mile or so downstream from the mill. Each new pool and riffle and moss-covered rock was a revelation, and I could easily have spent the whole day down there. Here, from left to right, is Trig, cousin Scott, and Eli.
A sunburst through the trees near our cabin.
West Virginia is beautiful even when you aren't in the woods. Here are black swallowtail butterflies on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).
BONUS SECTION: See Me AlmostDie in a Raging Mountain Torrent!
One of the many interesting activities during this summer's reunion was a rafting trip on the New River, a popular whitewater destination which flows through one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi. Cousin Holly, who lives in the area, arranged the whole affair, which was a seven mile float through twenty rapids, some ranging up to Class 5. Eleven family members took part, distributed on two of the three rafts in our group, and a great time was had by all.
Some rapids we floated toward the end of our rafting trip, viewed from 900 feet up on the rim of the gorge.
The scenery was stunning and the opportunities for nature/adventure photography were limitless. Unfortunately, you only bring your camera with you on the raft if you want to lose it. By way of compensation, the outfitters place a videographer with each group; his job is to go ahead of the rafts in his kayak and position himself on a rock to film the clients as their boats pass through each rapid. Then, once everyone is back at the bar enjoying the free beverages which are included in the price of the trip, the camera guy whips up a video montage of the day's events, complete with slow motion effects and cheesy rock songs, so that anyone who's interested can buy a CD movie of their day on the river.
Below is a video which I edited from the original sold to us by the outfitters. The part where I nearly die begins about 28 seconds in.
Watching the clip, it's difficult to see exactly how I got sucked off the raft; the footage shows me cartwheeling into the rapid for no apparent reason whatsoever. What actually happened, though, is that as we were "surfing" into the hydraulic the videographer pointed out in the vid, I made the mistake of placing my paddle in the water. It's impossible to overstate the power of the current in situations like this, and so, in what seemed like half a second, the water gripped my paddle and pulled it under the boat, with me still holding on to the damn thing. I'm not a strong swimmer, and I was certain I'd be mangled against the rocks or swept into a crevice and drowned like a rat. As the churning, chaotic water closed over my head I did as they'd said to do if you went off the raft; I pulled my limbs in and let the current carry me. After an eternity which lasted only a few seconds, I popped back to the surface about twenty feet downstream, after which I grabbed my paddle and swam back to the boat, where I was unceremoniously hauled in like a wounded elephant seal.
In my raft that day were, on my side (port? starboard? left?), cousins Scott and Jeremy, and on the other side at the front were my nephew Eli and brother Steve, or Trig to you OSers. A little farther along in the video, we jump off a giant rock into the river; the first jumper is Eli, followed by Jeremy, Uncle Arnie - 70 years young and still leaping off twenty foot rocks - and myself, then cousins Big Bill, Vanessa and Heather jumping in tandem, and Holly.
Back on dry land; Holly explaining why it's best not to fall in the river. (photo by Scott Dakota)
Anyway, that's all for now. I could relate other adventures from the reunion, such as my first-ever ride on an ATV which I then rolled over on top of myself, or the fireworks imbroglio at Robin and Lee's where I was shot in the leg by a rogue incendiary device, but those are stories for another day.
This last, brief video shows the family relaxing by a bonfire. I have no recollection of shooting this, but it was on my camera's memory card so I know it must have happened.
Unless otherwise noted, all images ©2011 by nanatehay