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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Midland Trail (or more abut water)

The drive from Charleston to Anstead, West Virginia encompasses some of the most beautiful scenes in the country. There are also some scenes that are not so beautiful, but these make up a short part of the trip. A good place to start is in front of the State Capitol building, designed by Cass Gilbert, and laid out and built as nice as any structure in the world. Yes, the world.  Some buildings are larger, or more regal, but our capitol is dignified with a calm elegance sitting in a great spot between aged mountains split by the flowing Kanawha River.  While you can now only drive past the front of the domed beauty, it is worth stopping to walk around the back side to enter from between its wings and up the large staircase. The capitol's dome, risingt 293 feet provides a great backdrop for the start of any journey.
 (WV state capitol building by unknown photographer)

Leave the capital city following Route 60 along the river.  Route 60 was first known as the Midland Trail, a name that continues today.  Originally a wide bison path and later a well-traveled Native-American trail, the Midland Trail has been a major throughway into the Kanawha Valley from the east and south. It follows the New and Kanawha Rivers from Virginia.
The same traits that made it a good travel route have also made it a great place for industry.  While the industry has brought business and money to the valley, the wealth has been accompanied by dirt and smog in some places.  The short stretch between Malden and Montgomery is crowded with chemical and coal plants that hide much of the valley's beauty. Any coal-darkened roadside blemishes are quickly forgotten, though upon reaching Kanawha Falls at Glen Ferris.  Here, not far below where the Gauley River comes into the New River to form the Kanawha River, falls span the river with a force of beauty. Water falls with power that sprays a mist creating a watercolor effect above the river.  Below the falls is a small campground that is a great spot to pull off and view the scene.
Traveling just a bit upriver, the parking lot of the Glen Ferris Inn provides another good place to pull off for photos or to just sit and view the falls. Perhaps you will see some fishermen in tiny boats fighting the current.

Continuing on above the falls we can see giant boulders sticking out of the river.  One such boulder is even inhabited.  It has housed a mobile home for as long as I can remember.  Sometime in the past thirty years someone has erected three crosses a familiar scene across Appalachain byways. 
A bit further up river, the town of Gauley Bridge sits at the confluence of the Gauley and New Rivers. The Gauley is a world class rafting river as it pours out of the Summersville Dam Resevoir. Beyond Gauley Bridge the road starts up hill passing a couple great waterfalls spilling off the steep hillside on the left.

As you climb the mountain above the New River Gorge, there are several places to pull off for scenic overlooks but the best is at the Hawk's Nest State Park overlook with its stone lined parking lot built by the CCC during the depression.  On the left of the highway are great stone and timber picnic shelters while on the right is the short level path leading to the overlook.
From here the New River Gorge always takes my breath away as I look down on flying hawks and rhododendron that covers the hillside. Just a bit further it is time for a meal at the state park lodge where a window seat lets you look out toward the gorge and if you venture out onto the deck on a clear day you can glimpse the famous New River Gorge Bridge. For the adventurous there is even a short gondola ride down to the river. If you have time, stay the night in the lodge ready to be awakened in the night by the sound of the train slowly chugging its way along the river far below with its long load of coal.
This hour-long trip is worth taking if you are any bit into beautiful scenery. 

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