– Summersville, West Virginia to Blacksburg, Virginia –

Today was quite a bit more fun than the last two. We spent most of the day playing around and driving slow, which is a nice change from just making miles. If you drive directly from Summersville to Blacksburg, it would only take a little over two hours, but as always on days like today, we took the circuitous route.

We began our morning with a run along the road that leads back to the Salmon Run Boat Ramp. I know that sounds a little strange, but there aren’t many options in Summersville, and the road is very quiet, particularly that early in the morning. In fact, we saw multiple other runners out in the area. The road to the boat ramp is just off of the main road, and once you pass the boat ramp, there’s another road/trail that leads you on to the marina. All of it was once a road, but a portion has been closed to traffic for what looked like a while. The road was overgrown with moss. There’s a few nature trails in the area as well.

Gauley River

It was a foggy-ish morning. It wasn’t a serious fog on our run, but along the main road, the fog was dense, and it hovered over the water in the Salmon Run. It was gorgeous, with the rocks and the trees, the water and the fog. In many ways, trees and water can get as monotonous as the desert can. It’s nice to be able to find moments of beauty in each, despite quickly becoming accustomed to such lovely views. I have to say, Mark and I generally like the desert more. I guess it just feels right.

Or goal for today was three national park river areas: Gauley River National Recreation Area, New River Gorge National River, and Bluestone National Scenic River. They are all so close together that they share visitor centers. With New River Gorge being the largest, it technically has three visitor centers, while each of the other two is served by one of the visitor centers for New River Gorge. It’s an interesting way to do it, I guess.

New River Gorge Bridge, view from the visitor center

The closest to us was Gauley River, so we did that first thing this morning. In fact, it is not far outside Summersville. After we’d packed up and had breakfast, we stopped along the Gauley River to look around. There’s less to do in the two smaller parks, unless you are interested in hiking or white water rafting. Given that we didn’t have time to do either of those, we were mostly just taking photos and seeing what we could see.

The most interesting feature of the Gauley River area for us was the dam. There’s a large dam between Summersville Lake, which was just outside of the town, and the Gauley River. We pulled off there first, where we walked down to the boat launch to see what we could of the dam and the river.

Ripley and the Tacoma

According to the signage, the dam is the second-largest rock-fill dam in the Eastern U.S. I guess that doesn’t mean too much to me, personally, but it did seem like a pretty big dam. After we’d taken pictures at the bottom and walked around the river banks, we went back up to the top of the dam to look at the spillway valve-thingies. Yes, that’s the technical term. I even got to stand inside one. They are huge, and imagining that much water moving moving through something is a little staggering. The signs mentioned that the valves are responsible for the slow release of flood waters after rain events to keep the river from flooding. The dam is releasing water all the time back into the river. I guess it’s a delicate process. There’s a hydroelectric plant at the bottom, too.

From there, it isn’t that far to the start of the New River Gorge scenic drive we wanted to do, which starts in Hico. There’s not too much that’s interesting in Hico itself, but as you head south to Fayetteville, there’s quite a bit more. This portion of the New River Gorge area is famous for its massive bridge, which is (creatively) named the New River Gorge Bridge. According to Wikipedia (and my handy dandy park map) it “is one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world, and is currently the third highest in the United States.” If you are curious, the highest in the U.S. is the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado, and the second highest is the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in Arizona and Nevada. If that doesn’t actually tell you anything, which it didn’t for me at first, it’s the new bridge by the Hoover Dam, that they finished in 2010. That thing is massive, for sure.

New River Gorge Bridge, view from below

Anyway, there’s a visitor center in Fayetteville that covers Gauley River and New River Gorge called Canyon Rim. We stopped there first to get our stamps and a map. It was more popular than I was expecting, though I guess, given how much bigger New River Gorge is than the other two parks, I should not have been surprised. While we were there, we managed to get stamps for all three parks, so we didn’t need to bring our passport book into any of the other visitor centers. We also didn’t need to visit all three anymore, though we basically ended up doing that anyway.

The visitor center is also home to a decent view of the bridge, so we prepared little Ripley for the walk down to the platform. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it, but this area must be gorgeous in the fall. So many places we go, all of the trees are evergreens, and fall won’t be that impressive, but it looks like it would be quite pretty here. Maybe we will experience it sometime for ourselves. Mark keeps saying when we finish school we will go “leaf peeping.” I thought he was making that phrase up, but it is apparently a thing.

Heading for the rapids

The walk down to the viewing platform is a bunch of stairs. The signs right before you head down say that it is easy to get down, and “strenuous” to get back up. I thought that was pretty funny. In any event, we all walked down for a decent view of the bridge. It would pale in comparison to the view we got from below later on, but it’s still a great overlook, particularly if you don’t have time to drive under the thing.

The walk back up was harder, of course, but certainly not “strenuous” by the regular definition of the word. It was no worse than the stairs for the Hopewell Rocks, though I guess you gain a little more altitude here. We had people at the top asking us if was worth the climb, and we assured them it was. I hope they thought we were right, too.

The tiny Wolf Creek Falls

Next, left the visitor center to take a short drive down the narrow and windy Fayette Station Road, which goes down to the river and beneath the bridge, where you can get a better look at the whole thing, instead of just looking at it from an angle. It’s a slow, mostly one-way drive, so we didn’t see too many people down there with us.

When we stopped at the smaller Fayette Station Bridge to get photos of the big one, we got to watch a raft coming down the New River. They were thrilled with Mark for taking their picture. The whooped and waved and laughed. It was hilarious. They also asked us for a paddle. Apparently one of theirs had broken mid-trip. Alas, we don’t usually travel with a paddle, so they were on their own. We enjoyed watching them down down a tiny patch of rapids just beneath the big bridge before they disappeared from view.

The Secret Sandwich Society… shhhhh

When that was down, we made one more stop on Fayette Station Road at the small Wolf Creek Falls. The road was still one-way in this area, so it was sort of hard to miss. It was actually a little annoying to be trapped on the one-way road long after the interesting bits were over, especially given that it became a single lane road in the area, but the waterfall was going to be a nice reward for persevering.

I thought it was bigger than what we ended up seeing, and it turns out I was right. We saw the lower portion of the falls, but there’s a bigger waterfall slightly up the creek. According to the internet, to see the larger portion of the falls, you have to scramble down almost into the creek a little further up. Mark followed a little trail back, but it didn’t clearly indicate that there was more to see, so we only managed to see the smaller bit. It’s too bad, but we’ve seen many waterfalls, and even the larger falls still looks rather small in pictures, so it is no great loss.

Grandview of the New River

After we finally made it off of Fayette Station Road, we noticed it was right around noon, and since we had dinner plans at 5pm, we figured we’d better go ahead and grab lunch. Fayetteville has a little sandwich shop which I thought was a one off, but turns out to have another location. The top portion of the shop is a brewery/craft beer bar-like thing, and the bottom is a sandwich shop. They call it the Secret Sandwich Society. Am I even supposed to be telling you? Who can say.

They had several veggie sandwich options, so Mark and I picked two to split. The sandwiches were decent, but they homemade their ketchup, and it was incredibly weird. It tasted like too-sweet tomato paste. I wouldn’t even eat it, and I don’t think Mark would eat it again, either. If we ever go back, we’ll just have to go snag a few ketchup packets from the local gas station instead. Homemade ketchup is not okay.

Sandstone Visitor Center

From Fayetteville, we drove down to Beckley, then turned left to do the other two portions of the New River Gorge. Our first stop was in Grandview, which is supposed to provide (as you might’ve guessed) the grandest view of the river. From the park map, I thought the area only had a ranger station, but it turned out to be visitor center, or at least that’s what they called it. It was a tiny shed with a ranger inside, but you could visit it, so I guess that makes it a visitor center.

It was sprinkling a little while we were there. We took Ripley out to the grand view so we could all have a look. The light was very harsh, but it was a neat view of the river. We could see a big U-shaped curve in the river, and all of the trees surrounding it. The signs said that the trees had been practically eradicated a few decades ago by logging, and all of the ones below us were second and third generation. If it hadn’t been for the sign, I never would’ve known. The trees looked great to me.

Bluestone River

We were starting to feel a bit of time pressure, so we rushed off to Sandstone, West Virginia to go to the final visitor center and see the Sandstone Falls. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, it was getting pretty late in the day. After a brief stop at the visitor center, we checked the time and realized we wouldn’t really be able to go to the boardwalk that led you down by the falls, especially since it was on the other side of the river from where we already were.

Regretfully, we decided to just do the view from the canyon rim, which was fine, but not nearly as nice as seeing the waterfall up close would’ve been. Still, it was a smaller waterfall, and I guess we didn’t miss too much. We still had one more park to get, and it was another hour and a half to Blacksburg from there.

Gorgeous clouds

We rushed over to the Bluestone River to catch some photos and see the park, but we didn’t have a lot of time to spare. After a very short visit, we turned around and high-tailed it toward Blacksburg, where we had a dinner appointment with some of Mark’s friends and colleagues at a brewery.

The clock read 4:55pm when we pulled into the brewery, and we were glad to be on time. Both of us really hate being late. Since the place was outdoors and on a farm, it was dog friendly, so Ripley came to hang out under the table to search for scraps. Dinner was all local seasonal food, which is always fun, and Mark had from what I understand was a good beer. We left at almost 8. Quite a long day.

Rising Silo Brewery (and farm, and restaurant)

Tomorrow is just a day in Blacksburg. Mark has some meetings, and Ripley and I will be left to our own devices. I think we will probably visit some pet stores and maybe the local dog park, but otherwise it will be a nice day for resting. It looks like Blacksburg has some nice running trails, so we are all set for that inthe morning. For now, we are all exhausted.

– Trip Total : ??? miles

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