New River Gorge

Published

All photos taken November, 2019.

Waypoints
Gauley Bridge & Hawks Nest
Looking across the Gauley River to the town of Gauley Bridge. This town and the Gauley bridge itself play a central part in the story of Hawks Nest (1941), a book worth reading.
This is the old C&O rail bridge that connected the K&M with the C&O. From here, the C&O (now CSX) follows the New River and runs south east, through the length of the New River Gorge. From the late 1800s through the 1980s this was also the point where a C&O branch line split off to the right. That branch followed the river north to reach Gauley Mountain mining sites, passing by the coal mining shacks of Vanetta, another key setting in Hawks Nest.
From Gauley Bridge, the road continues into the gorge, climbing Gauley Mountain to reach upper Hawks Nest.
I took this trip in early November hoping for some good fall colors after the leaves were mostly off the trees farther north. I was expecting grey and cold weather, but the days ended up being clear and fairly warm for the most part, up until the end.

Looking into the gorge from the overlook you can see where the CSX line crosses from the north bank to the south bank, along with the abandoned path of the C&O Southside.
At center is the Hawks Nest tunnel entrance and to the left the dam that feeds it. The tunnel carries water 3 miles under Gauley Mountain to a hydroelectric plant just upriver from Gauley Bridge. It was constructed in the early 1930s, mostly by migrant labor during the depression. Hawks Nest is told from the point of view of several families that worked on the tunnel and survived the harsh winters along the river.
From Hawks Nest I headed down the side of the hill to check out this bridge and take a walk back Mill Creek.

My first brush with the rhododendron.
Useless
C&O Ansted Branch



This is Mill Creek, which flows down from the town of Ansted.

A branch of the C&O once curved off the main line here, following the creek to service the coal mines above Ansted.


This seems likely to be an adit that was plugged up.

This is the first of the two trestles on this branch.

The gully it crosses isn't very tall or wide, but it's the first trestle of this sort of construction that I've been able to see first hand.
No guardrails back in the day of course.

A little ways down the line, we can follow the path to the left that serviced the Mill Creek Colliery mine.







View just outside the adit.

Finally making it to the Mill Creek trestle.
The shadows were starting to get long, so I decided I'd come back in the morning to spend more time taking this place in.


Heading back out for the night.








The next morning I took the road to Ansted and hiked in from the opposite direction.


There's a strong smell of creosote and damp wood around these wooden trestles.













Another building sits farther back along the creek.
NF&G Koontz Bend Tunnel & Bridge
About 6 miles north east of Ansted (as the crow flies) is the section of the Gauley River that loops around Koontz Bend. There may be better ways to get to the south bank of the river here, but the way I worked out ended up being a narrow single lane road most of the way. The area I used to park felt fairly sketchy and was technically on private property, but as far as I can tell there don't seem to be any better options. This is looking back up the steep path that leads down to the river.

At the bottom we intersect the path of the NF&G, which in this section runs on a shelf along the south bank of the Gauley River. This section of the line was constructed between 1929 and 1931. Here we're looking to the eastbound section, which followed the Gauley and Meadow rivers down to eventually connect with the old C&O.
We'll be heading west along the river, towards Koontz Bend.
It's about a 2 mile walk alongside the rapids of the Gauley.


Laurel Creek.


Some photogenic rhododendron.

Approaching the eastern portal of the Koontz Bend Tunnel.


This guy stood out bright on the ground just outside the portal.

This tunnel was likely dug through between 1929 and 1930.

It's a little over half a mile to the other end, around 3000 ft.




Solitary bat.
Around 15 minutes later we're at the western portal and the Koontz Bend bridge.




Right outside the portal the line then starts across the Koontz Bend bridge, which spans about 700 ft over the Gauley.



It's probably not saying much, but this is by far the most remote and rugged area I've been out to. Getting to the spot up on the hill by road was a job in itself, and I don't really see any other good ways out here that don't involve conspicuous trespassing or walking the nearby rails for a good ways. Maybe it's easier to brave the rapids and come in by water?

This whole path was apparently going to be part of a rail trail, but I can't tell if that has ever come to fruition. These guardrails were obviously installed for pedestrians at some point, but they've not been treated well by the elements and apparently not been maintained.
This is the site of Peters Junction, where the NF&G once connected onto a branch and made its way to the NYC main line.
In more recent times this was a Norfolk Southern branch, here running south west back to Gauley Bridge.
It's now leased by the Kanawha River (KNWA) Railroad and here runs north up to some mines. It seems like there must still be some activity through here by the luster on the rails.
Down by the river we can see the piers carrying the span.








Most of the tunnel seemed to be in surprisingly good shape. This was one area where the concrete was starting to crumble somewhat.



C&O Southside – Old Brooklyn
It was starting to get late in the afternoon, so I made my way south back into the gorge and decided to spend the night at the ghost town of Old Brooklyn. This was a coal mining town that sits on the south bank of the New River.

The C&O Southside once ran through here, on a shelf following the river. This section of the line is now a trail that runs past the ghost towns of Red Ash and Rush Run down to the Thurmond junction.






Losing all cell signal south of Charleston was a given, but I'm not used to also losing NOAA weather. Down in the gorge there was no weather radio or even broadcast FM. Only occasionally the scanner would pick up some chatter from the CSX dispatch.

Some leftover ties when the rails were pulled up.

CSX heading north out of the gorge.
About two miles down the line from Old Brooklyn is the ghost town of Red Ash, another underground coal mining operation. It appears the mines and coke ovens were active here from the late 1800s to the 1940s.






More photogenic rhododendron.

At this point it was really getting dark, so I decided to head back for the night and come at Rush Run from the Thurmond side later.
Several trains pulled through during the night.
Kaymoor
It was a fairly chilly night by the river, got down around freezing, but the sun was out and bright in the morning.
The first stop for the day was Kaymoor, just downriver in the gorge. This is the view on the trail from the top of the mountain down to the Kaymoor №1 mining complex.
This is likely the route that power lines took from the powerhouse at Kaymoor Bottom to the homes at Kaymoor Top.

Kaymoor №1 sits on a bench about 300 ft in elevation below the top of the mountain and about 700 ft in elevation above the river below. It's close to a 50% grade down the side of the gorge here.
The coal mining here was active from 1899 to 1962, after which the town died.




Along with the deep mine entrances, this bench was also home to the powder house, lamp house, and a minecar repair shop, among other support buildings.




An 800 step staircase connects Kaymoor №1 and Kaymoor Bottom. This set runs parallel to the original staircase to the east. These tracks carried the mountain haulage that transported workers up and down the mountain. It was an open wagon carried by a cable from the haulage house at Kaymoor Top. For the people living in the Bottom coal camp, the choice was either riding the haulage or walking the stairs.
Just down from adits is the headhouse, where the coal was loaded and transported down to the Kaymoor Bottom conveyor with gravity incline cars. It's now just a pile of sticks due to the unstable hillside.
The conveyor sits just up the hill from Kaymoor Bottom, where the terrain levels out a bit.


The conveyor transported the coal here to the processing plant and tipple.
At the bottom was also the power house and long rows of coke ovens.
This 4-wide rail yard connected the loading tipple with the C&O Southside line and coke ovens farther down the hill.









I followed the tracks out for a ways until they started to merge but decided I'd better turn around.

Back to the conveyor and back up the steps we go.



Canyon Rim
Resting the legs at the top of the gorge before heading to Nuttallburg.

Keeneys Creek Branch & Nuttallburg
The next stop for the day was Nuttallburg, which sits on the north side of the gorge just upriver from Kaymoor. The Keeneys Creek branch line ran through the Nuttallburg area, connecting up with the C&O main line near the Nuttallburg tipple. From there its path switchbacks up and follows a narrow shelf on the gorge wall, swinging around to follow the Keeney Creek ravine north east, where it once serviced several mines.
This is one of the trestles on the line, here crossing over the Short Creek gully.





Continuing on towards the switchback.
The Nuttallburg mine seam sits about 600 vertical feet above the river bank. This conveyor transported the coal from the headhouse there near the top of the mountain to the tipple below, a distance of over 1300 ft down the gorge wall. It was put in place in the 1920s.


At the spot where branch line doubles back on itself to continue east towards Keeney Creek, a foot trail starts switchbacking up the mountain, following the conveyor all the way to the headhouse and adits.

Similar to Kaymoor, a mountain haulage was used to transport people and supplies up and down the gorge. A few artifacts such as the winch cable and haulage rails occasionally stick out of the tangled undergrowth.


The deep mines at the upper seam here were active from 1873 to 1958.

Top end of the conveyor.


This is possibly the winch that carried the mountain haulage.
More winch cabling visible on the way back down.
At the bottom of the mountain, the conveyor levels out with the terrain.

The Nuttallburg tipple sits just uphill from the C&O main line, just above the New River rapids.

A bank of coke ovens are located just west of the tipple. These were built around the time the mine opened in 1873 but have been idle since around 1920.


The tipple complex itself has been recently renovated and looks to be well preserved.
The shadows were starting to get long again, so I headed back up to the branch line switchback to check out a little more of the rail trail.



About 300 ft up the hill from the lower trestle over Short Creek is this iron beam bridge over the gully. From here the line continues on to the Keeney Creek mines.
The lower trestle was now in the shadow of the southern rim of the gorge.

Dunloup Creek & Rend Branch
I ended up spending the night here at Stone Cliff, just south of Thurmond.
The Dunloup Creek branch connects up with the C&O main line at Thurmond and follows the creek to the west. Its approach on the bridge over to Thurmond is also where the C&O Southside once terminated.



Just outside Thurmond the Dunloup Creek branch once connected with the Rend branch line. From there the Rend used a switchback to climb the hillside and make its way to mines at Oak Hill.
Rend running alongside Dunloup Creek.

The line runs on a shelf underneath steep cliffs. Here it crosses a gap in the shelf with an iron beam bridge.



At some point this rock face detached from the cliff above and blocked the pass.

Looking towards the former path of the C&O Southside and where we'll be passing through shortly on the way to Rush Run.

The final bridge on the upper shelf crosses a small gully.


C&O Southside – Rush Run
Just after the bridge on the upper line, there is a steep foot trail down to Arbuckle Creek and a short branch just off the C&O Southside track yard. The tracks continue back into the ravine.


End of the line.

Back at the mouth of the ravine, the C&O continues over the creek towards Rush Run.


There are a lot more artifacts on this stretch of the Southside compared to the approach from Old Brooklyn.
A long, squat wooden trestle crosses the Rush Run creek gully.


Some paw paws are growing in the moist area around the creek on the other side of the trestle. I wasn't expecting to have to deal with mosquitoes in November, but they were swarming in this area.
A good part of this line runs on a narrow shelf, with stony cliffs on one side and New River rapids on the other.



Finally reaching the outskirts of Rush Run.
Rush Run was another boom and bust coal mining town along the river. The mines and coke ovens here appear to have been active from the late 1880s to the late 1930s.



These appear to be the supports that held up the Rush Run tipple.
On the way back to Thurmond.

Approaching Thurmond, the Southside turns into a 4-wide yard and switching network.



End of the line at the bridge to Thurmond.
Thurmond
The tracks merge before crossing the narrow bridge over the river.





Thurmond depot junction.

The first loads of coal from the nearby coalfields were shipped through here in 1889. The town began to decline around the late 1930s, at the end of the C&O steam era.
The coaling tower portioned out coal for the steam engine tenders.




From here the tracks head south east and out of the gorge, past Stone Cliff, Prince, and numerous other ghost towns on the river. This is where I had to stop, though. I'm hoping to make it back one of these days to continue south into the gorge and see all the things I missed.
The weather started giving out the last few minutes in Thurmond. A cold front was blowing in, and rain started spitting as I made my way across the bridge and walked the road back. It was pouring all the way back through the mountains.