Perspective Shift

May, 2019.

It’s amazing what a perspective shift will do, isn’t it? Thing is… there I was in The Great Dismal Swamp, walking on a boardwalk, shooting photos and thinking about what I’d tell you… The next second, my eyes landed on a snake in a tree at my shoulder, about 10″ away. Kazam! I was out of my head and into that very moment. That second. That breath.

In the following days, as we continued down the road, I pondered the traveling perspective I occupied as writer of this blog. The realization that I’d been observing and cataloging rather than Being… hum, maybe that’s the wrong word… I’d not been completely present in and to the places and experiences I was sharing here. It gave me a disturbing sensation since I love writing, photography and sharing about our travels.

Much thought and conversation with other writers, artists and travelers later… I believe that with a perspective shift I can write about thoughts, travels and experiences and only if I breathe into and stay in the moment.

Style changes, timing changes… who knows what will emerge from the shift. In this case, SHIFT HAPPENS!

We spent some time at home. Had a huge yard sale… interestingly, the “tidying up” craze has changed the whole landscape of garage sales and thrift stores. Our sale was successful but we had lots of things left over. Habitat Restore couldn’t come pick up for several weeks – they were so booked up. Goodwill could come by in a week though.  Both businesses remarked that since the whole Tidying Up and Death Cleaning crazes (fads?) started they have been overwhelmed with folks’ stuff. Speaking of yard sales – we’ve spent hours on the yard and it is back to its former glory (I almost hate to leave it in its cloak of spring blooms) (not).

Somewhere in there, Barb and I decided to build a new cabinet to replace the useless 5″ deep magazine rack – cabinet across from the couch. After attempting to measure for it, we discovered we’d have to remove all the window valences around the cabinet to get accurate measurements.

Of course, we also had to remove the ones over the couch – so they would match.  The valences were tightly fit around HappiJacks that raise and lower the bed from the ceiling to sleeping height.  The cabinet fits between the valences. Upon closer inspection, we discovered the valences IMG_1560were terribly worn out. Backtracking to valence-landia.

If you RV, you know how overwrought some of the decorating inside can be… Ours was very colorful (dark greens, tans, blue and some pink in the upholstery fabrics). It seemed to shrink the sides inward – even though the windows are enormous. In the photo, you can see the jacks sandwiched between the valences.

Despite some misgivings about adding weight to the carriage of the Trek, we used 1/2″ Baltic Birch – a no gaps kind of plywood – with really pretty 5 layer edges. Barb made all the exposed edges soft half-rounds with the router. After sanding all the parts, we primed for staining and stained the wood with Simply White MinWax Stain. The soft glow of the wood comes through so the color is a soft tan shade of white.


As you can see above, everything has had to be custom cut and fit to each little area. It’s been a fiddly job. Luckily, Barb is super at building fine cabinetry and is, by nature, very detail oriented. I design and assist Barb with execution – tasks that fit for me.

Now that the project is finished, our RV seems so much wider, bigger and fresher. The cabinet parts are all ready for installation. Looks like we’ll have the project finished in the next few days.


New cabinet! And yes. That is a cat box cabinet to the left. The baskets are wire with woven webbing in two neutral colors. We got one set of three from Michaels and the others from Amazon.


We are delighted with how wide and open the RV seems. It’s really nice to look toward the front and not see the opening of the cat box! Can’t wait to see how the new storage baskets work out! We sure needed the space.

One of the things we’ll do when we eventually get to Arizona is get the RV weighed. We did reorganize the basement storage areas to remove unneeded items. With hope the added weight of the wood won’t make a huge difference.

Barb and I are both exhausted by the renovation, the yard, preparing the RV to go, packing – well, you know the drill. I need a vacation!

We’ll be on the road in the next few days, thankfully. Traveling to Montana and from there… well, I guess you’ll have to check back. We have a whole new focus to our RVing and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Breathe from your belly, and laugh from it too!


The Great Dismal

You can’t go wrong visiting the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park in Church Creek, MD, near where Harriet was born. The park is a celebration of enslaved peoples and their supporters. It is made clear that:  “The Underground Railroad refers to the actions of enslaved people escaping to freedom, those who helped them, and the sites along their journeys.” Harriet Tubman was one who was enslaved, gained her freedom and “determined to free [her loved ones].”

Through life sized dioramas, recorded stories by Moses Gandy, photographs and movies, visitors learn of the peril of trying to escape slavery. The story is told of Tubman’s life and her fierce courage in becoming a nurse and spy for the Union Army (she was the first woman in US history to plan and lead an armed assault), living in New York and fighting for Women’s Suffrage, and founding a home for the elderly and disadvantaged. Small and mighty would describe this woman who devoted her life to improving the lives of others. 

Nearby, in Cambridge, MD, you’ll find the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Blackwater was established in 1933 as a refuge for migratory birds. It included close to 30,000 acres of tidal marsh, mixed pine/hardwood forest, managed freshwater wetlands and cropland. Our hikes and bike rides through the park yielded views of the endangered Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel and Bald Eagles, Osprey, and the brilliant-yellow never-stop-hopping-butterballs, prothonotary warblers. 

[I have no photos of the above splendid and educational stops. My hard drive got drunk and crashed into some hot location unknown. Some photos, not all photos, were consigned to the same place single socks seem to disappear. I will apologize for it, the new hard drive was hired based on it’s sobriety.]


If you’re nearby in Eastern Virginia, you must visit! “The Great Dismal Swamp” conjures up so many images in my mind. When you hear that name, do you have an image of venerable cypress trees festooned with gray Spanish moss lazily stirring in the breeze? Deep green shade, twisted limbs dark against water that the sky illuminates occasionally, broken pieces of mirror glass shining up from tea colored waters?  

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was once over a million acres, 2,000 square miles, stretching from the Atlantic coast eastward to the bottom corners of Virginia and North Carolina. Contained in the vast wilderness were hardwood forests, islands, cypress trees, one of two natural freshwater lakes in Virginia, communities of people and countless species of birds and mammals. Her sister swamps, here on the Atlantic Side of the south are; the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp in Florida, the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, and Congaree Swamp of South Carolina (Congaree is on our bucket list so we can claim to have been in all of them!).

George Washington, first President of the US, when young, was a surveyor mapping out drainage ditches to tame the swamp into agricultural-ism (ha, what silly humans).


Covering 2,000 square miles in her glory, the swamp is 10% of that size today. Dismal has been occupied for around 13,000 years beginning with Native American coastal tribes. Communities of people who found life outside the swamp untenable found shelter in the swamp. As colonization expanded, Native Americans hid in the swamp, enslaved peoples ran deep into the swamp to find freedom in it’s dismal depths. Today, the swamp has been tamed and trimmed to 112,000 acres bounded by canals and roads, city and bus routes. 

We walked boardwalks and trails in the swamp. Snakes were plentiful, wood ducks, osprey, bugs – bugs – bugs, and a rare and amazing three-toed salamander went after a meal next to a boardwalk (nearly scaring me out of my skin!) with splashing and bubbles trailing. 

Lake Drummond, 3,100 acres, is an easy drive on a gravel road from the western edge of the swamp and is a beautiful dark tea colored lake. It’s a bit of a weird one though since originally there weren’t any streams emptying into the lake! Just where did this lake come from?


The Albemarle and Chesapeak canal was completed in 1858. By 1973, when the Great Dismal Swamp NWR was created, humans had completely decimated the swamp ecosystems. 

Dr. Daniel Sayers, professor of archeology at American University, and his students uncovered a hidden world in the swamp. Over the years their research has shown that Maroons (from the word marronage, meaning “to flee” or “to be removed”) lived in around 200 square miles of undeveloped woodland deep in the Great Dismal. As many as 50,000 maroons, who found permanent freedom in the swamp, lived in complex communities. In addition, researchers have found that Native Americans, enslaved canal workers, free African-Americans and outcast (criminal?) Europeans lived in the swamp and traded with the marroon communities.

Old Hwy 17 forms the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal Bike Trail. The canal has been continuously working, it is the oldest operating artificial waterway in the country and is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  

A good place to start your ride would be in North Carolina – there is a large parking lot, bathrooms and a welcome center devoted to the bike trail. Riders can go either way “up” or “down” the trail. We enjoyed the ten mile trip out we took south along the canal next to fields and old Canal stations. The trail is mostly bounded by tall hardwoods, shady and cool so the 20 miles total were not made arduous by the heat. 

The Dismal Swamp State Park Welcome Center, north of the bike trail and just across the border in North Carolina, has bikes to borrow, boardwalk trails and hiking trails to explore. It sits on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal – you cross a bridge over the canal, if there isn’t a boat going through. The center is large and interpretive displays explain the swamp ecosystems and the preservation and restoration work done in the swamp. We attempted a ride on the wet dirt and sand roads of the State Park, made it a couple miles and gave up – gave in to the bugs, the mooshy mud road and turned around to go to the lovely paved ride down the road.


The Dismal is as good as it’s evocative name suggests. Books have been written about the Marrons, the early inhabitants and the Underground Railroad into the swamp; I sure could see someone writing a rousing Civil War mystery about the (then) incredibly endless swamp.


As Annie Lamott writes in “Hallelujah Anyway”… here, I apologize for copying out her words… they speak so to my heart. With hope you will procure the book, as have I::

“The path away from judgement of self and neighbor requires major mercy, both giving and, horribly, receiving. Going without either of them leads to fundamentalism of all stripes, and fundamentalism is the bane of poor Mother Earth. Going without engenders blame, which offers it’s own solace but traps us like foxes. We trick out box traps with throw rugs and vases, until the pain grows too big. Then the only way out of jail is forgiveness.

There should be an app, with a checklist or map. But no, the way out takes admitting you are wrong and sorry. No, no, anything but that. Forgiving people makes you weak. Push them away! Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” But I can’t launch forgiveness of my own volition, from my air-traffic controller mind. We avail ourselves through failure, service, singing, silence, sorrow.”

Humbly attempting to challenge a well embossed pattern here… I am in the process forgiving myself for (so many things…) not writing in this space for a time. Having passed judgement on myself and found imperfection and failure, I retreated and pushed writing (my soul’s balm) and you away.  It took a bit of time for me to bring the airplane home safely and land myself within my own forgiveness.

These particular travels, April – June, have taught me much about signing up (arranging, scheduling, reserving) for nearly continuous stimulation, experiencing new places and people without setting aside time to let them inhabit and develop. Without time for contemplation of all that action or for time for unpacking. Skimming along at the speed of, what – I don’t know.

The next post, written early in this month, June 3 and summarily banished. Written from the passenger seat while driving to The Next Destination (TND), re-read and disgustedly banished from my screen as we arrived at TND because it was so fragmented and senseless. Because it was a blow by blow without the heart of the experience. 

Hidden in a folder until today when I was finally sweetly, forgivingly able to read, reorder and calm the chaos. I honor that time of writing by posting for you the following experience.


Fly Fishing & Family – May 7 – 21, 2018

Remiss: “lacking care or attention to duty; negligent: it would be very remiss of me not to pass on that information | the government has been remiss in its duties.”

I think that about covers my attention to our blog since May 6. Not that we haven’t been insanely busy. Not that our attention hasn’t been subject to the demands of learning, connecting, fishing, or reconnecting with family. And rain. Days and days of rain and grey skies.

This morning, in a span of an hour we’ve driven from Delaware through Maryland and into Virginia. We’re in the DelMarVa region.  There didn’t seem to be much of a difference from Delaware to Maryland but the second we crossed into Virginia there was a marked difference. Gone were the new style strip malls with the usual tenants (Smoothie King, fast food restaurants, Sally Beauty, Nail Salon du jour…) set off by stretches of tidy homes and farms. The farms continued but with a difference – we decided that the properties looked less tended somehow.

Last night we glamped at Trap Pond State Park in Delaware. So named because in the 1700’s a stream was damed to funnel water through an iron mill, gone for more years than it existed. The pond is an impoundment and now part of the Delaware recreational offerings. Set in a mixed loblolly pine and hardwood forest surrounding the dam end of the pond. The cats loved walking on the deep duff. The sun came out in the afternoon yesterday. The sky is blue. We’re shedding those rainy blues.

Visiting with family in Delaware was so much fun.

One day we went with Barb’s niece, Andrea, to Philadelphia. The train took us right to the historical center of town and we walked around in the rain while visiting the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Reading Station Market didn’t spit us out for a couple of hours – what a place! We had lunch, ate ice cream, bought bagels and oogled the people and shops crammed into the historic market.

Barb’s brother and his friend, Jane, took us to dinner and the symphony one night. It was Mahler’s Seventh… I am not a fan. Though there were a few passages in the five movements that were not confusing, boring or disjointed, neither of us could fall into the music. Then there was the day Jane drove Chris and the two of us out to Cape May for birding. We walked on the beach, on trails, verges of fields and through sanctuaries hunting for Cape May Warblers (who did not reveal themselves). It was a warm day with clouds scudding overhead – a day perfect for birding and touristing.

We also met the extended family for lunch in Wilmington, down by the water. It was sure fun to see Halle and Riley who have both grown tall and poised and Claudia and Corinne who changed much as well. We don’t get out here enough to keep track of their triumphs and since we aren’t using FB regularly, we feel really out of touch.

The week before that… hum. Lots. We parked the RV at Frost Valley YMCH Horse Camp for five days. The Roads Scholar program, Fly Fishing for Beginners, took place at the ranch. The first day we learned about the history of Fly Fishing and the Catskills. It was on the Neversink and Beaverkill Rivers that European anglers demonstrated the grace and joy of fly fishing to American anglers. Hallowed ground, er, waters.

That afternoon learned to cast out on the big central lawn. Eleven hopeful anglers flinging line out with more and less accuracy, over and over. At dinner folks commented on how much shoulder action they had seen. We learned that fly fishing like medicine and psychotherapy is a practice. The more you practice, the better your body remembers how to do it and the more you learn about reading rivers and streams the better your chances of catching fish.

The next days we got into streams and the famed rivers. We even got to fish the Willowemoc River. The days were cold, grey and misty, the sun playing slight of hand. I’m not sure anyone escaped cold feet. We learned about flies and went to an Orvis store in Roscoe, New York for supplies.

Our indomitable instructor, Oleh Czmola is a guide and teacher there in the Catskills. He was patient, kind, devoted and always excited to share his expertise and love for fly fishing with each of us. Nothing seemed to dampen the joy Oleh got from teaching or from seeing our little successes. Barb and I both had a lot of fun and didn’t take even one photo!

The Frost Valley YMCA Staff, including Nicky Macy our group leader, Amy who made food for us, Michael and Laurie who helped with teaching made our stay comfortable and fun.

The lodge had a big fireplace indoors and one out on the deck next to a stream. It was lovely talking to Gene and Maggie, Marilyn and Phil, John, Vince and the others while the fire crackled and warmed us anglers up. I got great book ideas from Maggie and Gene (and have ordered same or picked up from Overdrive electronic library).

After we left Wilmington, we headed for 13-South thru Virginia, the road is in good condition and the towns along the way offered pleasant viewing as we cruise along. A nice change of scenery is ahead though – a practical transportation solution and tourist attraction.

The Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel! What an undertaking it was to build an over twenty-three mile crossing to accommodate cars, trucks and deep draft ships. Begun in 1960, the bridge-tunnel was opened to traffic in 1964. Twelve miles of low-level trestle, two bridges, two one-mile tunnels, two miles of causeway, and four man made islands compose this engineering marvel. One of the tunnels takes the traveler ninety feet deep! Driving the bridge-tunnel is fun – from the heights to the depths it makes short work of crossing Chesapeake Bay.

As it happens, we reached the south side at rush hour. We’ve managed to avoid traffic jams so far of this trip but this one made up for all the other’s we had slithered past. Thanks to a really nice trucker, we merged when necessary and got to 17 South so that we could find our (privately owned) campground adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp.

Scranton & Pittston Treats,

We spent a quick night, Thursday, at the lovely Bald Eagle State Park near Howard, PA. Lovely because the air was scented with cedar, the tree frogs were setting up a hoedown and the birds were fantabulous!

We saw a Baltimore Oriole, a bit of brilliant ORANGE glory, and the Yellow Warbler an adorable little yellow guy with a red streaky breast.

Dasher likes to sit on the back of the couch and watch birds, his tail twitches sweetly and he says “meh meh meh.” quietly.

Our trail walk out to a footbridge over a tip of the lake treated us to a didgeridoo of bullfrog song and some cool morning exercise.

Rudy got a huge tick on his face. Surgery performed and tick photos taken. ick. just. ick. Then he got another one… repeat. ick.

Off of I-81 is the Johnstown Flood National Historic Site. We had to stop – Barb recently read David McCullough’s book about same. The visitors center is above the remains of the South Fork Dam that broke and caused an enormous disaster.

The story:
A bunch of rich guys – the same ilk as Rockefeller – built a dam and created a one mile wide, two mile long lake so that they, their families and friends could take a respite from the pollution and heat of Pittsburg – a mighty coal and industrial center. It was an exclusive club that for many years nobody knew the names of the members. Over time, they didn’t maintain the dam and in fact after it broke one time, the rich decided to take away some of the safety features of the original dam and just plugged up the break. No engineer was ever consulted.

In May, 1889, there was a monster storm – two weeks of solid rain. All the rivers, creeks and streams became swollen and filled with debris.

Downstream up to fourteen miles from the dam were three villages and a large town – Johnstown.

The streets of Johnstown were already almost knee deep in water from the Little Conemaugh and Stonycreek rivers that forked around the town. Many of the 30,000 citizens downstream from the South Fork Dam took to higher ground.

Three telegraph messages were sent downstream and to Johnstown warning that the dam was looking very unstable. At least one didn’t get through because telegraph wires had fallen to the existing flooding from the rain.

On the afternoon of May 31, people heard an ungodly rumble. The dam had broken and 20 million gallons of water were blasting down the valley. Folks ran for the hills as the already flooded rivers swelled from the pressure of the water coming behind. The water from the dam took 57 minutes to reach Johnstown obliterating everything in its path.

One survivor told the tale of his survival by getting on the roof of his families barn, then jumping from roof to roof as the debris raft surged down the valley. He said he never saw the water.

Over 2000 people died: babies and the aged, the strong and weak.

The rich club members were charged but escaped prosecution, in much the same way they do today.

“The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough is a deeply researched work that is approachable – though you may wish you hadn’t. It’s on my library list now.


We took back roads north to the Francis Slocum State Park near Wilkes-Barre, PA. Sometimes back roads are barely one lane and boroughs sport houses with porches three feet from the roadway.

Francis Slocum was a 5 year old when she was kidnapped by the Delaware Indians. Her brothers didn’t give up searching for her and found her 59 years later. She was living on a reservation in Indiana with her second husband. By then her four children had probably given her some grandkids. She refused to move back to Pennsylvania and died at 74. Sounds like a good enough reason to name a State Park after someone, right?

It’s really pretty here. The lake is small and though we’re near a busy city it feels very remote.

There is a stereotypical Pennsylvania view – pastoral with rolling farm lands, huge decorated barns and majestic Victorian homes. This is the land through which we drove. Settled, constant, reliable. That is, until we drove through woods. The multitude of snapped off trees had me searching the internet to see whether PA is subject to tornados. Yup. That was the answer, tornados.

We are doing home type things today and tomorrow to prepare for our 5 days of fly-fishing lessons. We hope that Road Scholar provides another excellent experience. We’re excited! The weather has warmed up (it’s 80 and overcast today) and we look forward to wearing our arms out practice casting.

Saturday, we did laundry in Scranton and drove around downtown to look at the buildings. An old city, Scranton has some beautiful and well preserved architecture. The places folks live, at least those we traveled through, have seen better days like a lot of America.

Barb took me to Pittston for a treat! We went to the old Blue Ribbon Dairy for ice cream sundaes. Still made with original recipes, Blue Ribbon can make ice-cream and the soda sweeties do their best to assure you like it!

I’ll post more after we leave Frost Valley YMCA as we begin to make our way south again.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. a recipe:

Cleaning Out The Refrigerator Hot Salad

Steam cut veggies until al dente. We had about 4 cups to eat: carrots, broccoli, some cabbage, onion and kale.

Mix: 2 T. lemon juice, 3 T, Tahini, 1 micro-planed clove garlic, 1/4 c. olive oil until it becomes smooth salad dressing.

Return veggies to pan (or use a bowl), add salad dressing and gently toss until coated.

Make a nest of lettuce or massaged kale,  Top with hot veggies. squeeze the rest of that lemon over the plates. Devour.

(this dish is one that benefits from a night in the fridge, eat leftovers, yum)




Ohiopyle State Park, Ohiopyle, PA

South-western Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh by an hour or so.

Ohiopyle State Park, 20,500 acres, was formed in [full stop with Jeopardy Buzzer] [I don’t want to write a detailed travelog today…]

May 1 and 2 have been sunny! Two gray days, one snow day and two sunny days were perfect for the explorations we had on our agenda.

Snow day (yes, snow) – we went to Frank Lloyd Wright’s – “Falling Water.”


  • On the National Historic Register; in consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, which it deserves.
  • If you go, you will know where I want to live and how much I love the constant sound of water (tinnitis be gone!). Barb – not so much – the water was too noisy.
  • Site design would work nowhere else on the planet.
  • From every room water is audibly or visually completing the experience of being in the home.

Gray day one- toured “Kentuck Knob” another FLW property. This was a fun tour – not as formal as the “FW” tour.



The roof is cantilevered over the porch, Wright built in hexagonal skylights to let water and snow pass through for less weight on the roof and to let wind caught under the roof escape.

The place is up on a “knob” which is the face of a big hill or mountain. The views were long, the sculpture garden thought provoking (a great chunk of the Berlin wall resides at the end of a neon yellow Forsythia aleé).


Gray day two – went grocery shopping, took Dasher to the vet after he endured 24 hours of vomiting, cleaned ‘house’.  Little cat is already becoming a champ at taking his meds – he’s a sensitive guy.

Sunny Day one – hiked the Ferncliff Peninsula out of Ohiopyle.


  • The peninsula is formed by an Oxbow in the Youghiogeney River (Yawk-io-HEN-y or Yawk in these parts). It wasn’t logged because it’s steep, notably sized Tulip Poplar and Hemlocks.
  • Great hike, tons of wildflowers – in fact, that has been a theme, right?
  • The Wooly Adegelid has damaged and continues to kill Hemlock trees up here as well as in NC, VA and WVa. Pennsylvania is right out there with their Hemlock injection program for protecting these lovely trees.

Ohiopyle, pop. 57, is all about rafting and the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail (the GAP).

Sunny Day two – rode from Ohiopyle to Confluence on the GAP trail, had lunch at Mitch’s and returned for a nice 22 miles. No cars, not crowded, fairly flat sweet ride.

Steep rocky mountain on one side of the trail, covered with bazillions of white Trillium. Tiny violets peeked from rock crevices and around roots of trees.
‘Yawk’ River rolling along on the other side of the trail.

Since our travels in North Carolina, the near constant background sound has been the call of train whistles and the movement of railcars over tracks. Whether close – with the attendant squeals and basso profoundo rhum-rhum of the engines or distantly just a hum and thin whistle. Sometimes one is barely conscious of the noise and others the noise reverberates in the chest.

Observations from a hard of hearing, hearing-aid head …

The Youghiogheny River has a song. As if symphony string section is playing a sustained note. The bass, violins, violas each hitting that note with their variations of sound. Quickly now, bows flicking quickly over strings, continuous. Very occasionally a bass drum sends a deep pop of sound – the water flying over a big rock, turning onto itself.

The woods – deciduous and just beginning to leaf – have a song. Wind doesn’t sough through the closely packed trunks here. It hums, a reverberant “C” punctuated by the squeaks of trunks that rub together.

One hand clapping. What would you hear, dear one?

We stood on the SPOT that George Washington stood. Is that like sleeping in an Inn where “George Washington Slept Here” is advertised? Barb felt a rush of historic patriotism! The place wasn’t good for George, he got defeated by the British here, poor guy.

Barb is making a beautiful salad and stuffed portobellos to grill. I made grilled chicken breast and yuzu sauce in veggie packets with creamy peanut slaw last night. Tomorrow night – Black bean and quinoa tacos with spicy slaw. We don’t eat to badly.

Gee, in a few days, we’ll be up in the Catskills at a YMCA camp for Fly Fishing 101.





West Virginia, Coal, New River


Cantrell’s Ultimate Rafting, Fayetteville, WV

Life has a way of changing our plans…

Plan was to go to Babcock State Park in Clifftop, WV for a few days. From that base we could explore the New River and it’s surroundings.


iPhone + map navigation took us the most direct route to Babcock. It was another of those semi-harrowing drives on narrow, windy, steep (up and down), narrow two-lane roads. Can a route be harrowing and lovely at the same time?

The woods were beautifully greening from canopy to earth, dogwoods lifting their planes of blooms like clouds through the grey of densely growing tree trunks. The rhododendron thickets weeped down the mountain sides, not yet in bloom, their leaves, stars points from the bloom, glistening with the misty rain.

Babcock SP was deserted. We left the RV in front of the check-in station and went back to Park HQ. We talked to the ranger and learned the springtime policy for the campground was “we might get up that way sometime…” We decided against staying at the park.  For some odd reason, neither of us felt safe there. There was a 300 year old Grist Mill at HQ that was worth a photo or hundreds (it’s one of the most photographed sites in Appalachia).


Consulting Campendium and Allstays apps pompted a call to Cantrell’s Rafting outfit. Cantrell’s advertised 11 sites, accommodations for big rigs (not us, but still…), laundry and bathhouse, restaurant, bar and clubhouse. Mom and Pop, Nancy and Richie Cantrell were waiting for us and got us all settled in our little site.


Cantrell’s hilly-meadow sport’s a bunch of little cabins, a bandstand, several school busses (rafter transport) and a really nice lodge. The hosts were very friendly and knowledgable about the area and shared some good hikes and drives with us.

New River Gorge National River. Do those words trigger thoughts of the largest arch-span bridge in the Western hemisphere? No? How about the river that runs, strangely, north? How about three canyons, three rivers and all running at least five Class V rapids each? I know, you have it now.

Coal country. Railroad country.

Once the rails opened the New River canyon, rich investors followed and created mining camps that eventually turned into small towns – 60 of them in all. Most have all but disappeared, some are still habited and four stand out. Nuttleburg, Kaymore Sewell, and Thurmond are explorable and often offer trailheads for hikes.

We visited Nuttleburg, built in 1870 boasted two churches, two schools and a bevy of small houses. The Company provided housing, a company store and jobs. Black and white workers were housed separately but worked together.

Henry Ford bought the mine in 1920, part of his plan to own everything from the ground to the final purchase of his vehicles. Ford needed the coal to fuel the railroad which would bring coal and coke to his steel manufacturing pant that then created the metal to make cars. The plan failed when Ford was unable to buy the C&O Railroad. Ford built a huge conveyor belt from the mine – high above the town – to the tippet. The tippet had coal sorters that deposited sized coal lumps directly into railroad cars.

The coal from this area of West Virginia was of the highest quality. When ignited inside a coke oven and left to ‘cook’ for a couple of days, the coal produced burned the hottest and was smokeless. Newer, less labor intensive, methods of turning coal to coke prevailed and coal mining was changed forever.

Look at for “Working Man” (the Miners Song) or “Coal Mining Man” by The Men of the Deeps and you’ll see photos of mining camps and miners lives. The music is haunting as was Nuttleberg.

New River Gorge Bridge was built from 1974 to 1977. It is the third highest bridge in the US and at 3,030 ft, long is the fourth longest arch span bridge in the world. The four lane roadway is 879 ft. above the New River and 16,000 plus vehicles cross it daily. Unusual in long arch span bridges, the New River Bridge’s span is below the roadway.

The construction of the bridge is an engineering marvel. We saw movies of the construction while we visited the National Park visitors center. They built huge towers that spewed gigantic cables, the cables held bridge parts while builders screwed together two-inch thick, seven-inch long bolts that held the segments together. Sections were floated out over the gorge on the cables and lowered into place one at a time.

Base jumpers, bungee cord boingers jump off the bridge on “Bridge Day” the third Saturday of October, when the bridge is closed to all vehicular traffic. In these parts, Bridge Day is a huge festival.

Today it takes seconds to cross the bridge but back when Nuttleberg was thriving, it took 45 minutes to get over the old bridge and climb out of the canyon – not counting the time it took to reach the old bridge.

There is still a low bridge to cross, just not the original which was washed away in a flood. The present bridge escaped being unmoored during another huge flood when the railroad stopped a train of fully loaded coal cars across to hold the bridge to it’s pylons.

From here we drive a short distance to Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania.