Monday, October 5, 2009

Going on the Gauley

From Staunton, Virgnia, after we visited Woodrow Wilson's house, our first stop was the Cryrus McCormick Farm, where the inventor of the reaper that revolutionized agriculture was born and lived. Beautiful idyllic farm site. Then went in search of a working horse exhibit at the Virginia Horse Center, a large complex where the exhibit is no more, but we got to see parts of two competitions: Icelandic ponies and Pacer stallions. That led to an incredibly scenic road, Hwy 39, westward over the mountains to West Virginia, following the Maury River (and the Diggity Dog hot dog stand at a scenic pull-out) Scarlet fall color added a touch of flame. Pearl S. Buck was born in Pocohantas County, West Virginia, the "Birthplace of Rivers;" 8 of them have headwaters in this high mountain country. A small festival was underway at her well-preserved birthplace, celebrating Buck's connections to China. Several of the ladies enthusiastically suggested following up on Buck's connections on the 38th in Asia.
In the Monangahela National Forest, the Cranberry Glades site was a strangely fascinating stop along our route, where arctic bog species are found, remnants of an ice age glacial advance that delivered the species to this latitude. The conditions in this area (acidic soils, cold, snowy, etc.) are apparently right for the plant community to persist far outside of its regular current range.
We are now in Fayetteville, WV, next to the New River Gorge National River (an unusual national park designation) and today rafted the lower Gauley River (Janet's birthday present!) on a great 14-mile trip provided by the New & Gauley River Adventure company, with our raft guided by local West Virginian Justin Reynolds. The owner of the company, Skip Heater grew up here too and is a font of knowledge about local history. These 2 rivers are the most popular whitewater rafting areas in the eastern U.S. and we hit the Gauley season just right; it only runs for 6 weekends in the the fall. The latitude here is 38°04'. One reason the National River Park was created was to stop a coal strip-mine plan for the New River Gorge, back in the '70s. The Gauley is fed by a dam built to provide steady water flows for barges on the big river heading toward Charleston, WV. Today, releases from the reservoir are closely tied to the needs of recreational rafting; which serves about 200,000 people a year, an intriguing evolution that we will explore fully in our future book. These postings can only do so much!
In coming days, we are going to learn more, first-hand, about the latest coal mining technique that is devastating the region: mountain-top removal. Stay tuned!

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