While we were in West Virginia for our By-gosh-we-actually-pulled-this-off Thanksgiving weekend, the whole family visited the New River Gorge Bridge Visitors’ Center, run by the National Park Service.  We had driven across the bridge to get to our destination, but to really appreciate the marvel of engineering, the bridge has to be seen from below.  For instance, here is the view when we were crossing the bridge.  It didn’t feel or sound like a bridge, so as long as I kept my eyes shut or straight ahead (after making sure Dearly Beloved had both hands on the steering wheel) I didn’t get bridge-o-phobia.  

The strip of road visible in the photo below is actually part of the bridge.  The steps are a pathway to an observation deck…

…where I took this picture. To clarify, cars ride atop the bridge.  That ^^^^ section just underneath it is open for walking (it’s even handicapped accessible) should strolling on an two-ft. wide, 876-ft. high catwalk for 1/4 mile strike your fancy.  My fancy remained unstruck.  It’s the fifth highest vehicular bridge in the world.  The Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial could be stacked atop each other and pass underneath with enough clearance to spare for you to hop aboard.

The gorge was so deep that this is as close as I got to the river:

The hardier members of our group took a second hike, this one on Kaymoor Miners Trail. which took them down to the New River and the ghost town of Kaymoor, one of about 60 towns built along the New River after the (1873) completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad opened the area to coal mining.  Everything in the towns was owned by the coal companies– schools, churches, saloons, pool halls, stores, scrip*, theaters, houses, as well as the coke ovens, tipples, and other structures used in mining.  In reality, there were four Kaymoors- two in the gorge, one on the rim of the canyon, and one where the south pier of the arch bridge is located.

The coal camp towns were so remote that when coal became scarce in a vein, that town was simply abandoned.  The ruins of the ghost town my family visited are now owned by the National Park Service and were reached by a strenuous trail which ended in  a 821- stairstep descent.  (And what goes down, DEFINITELY wants to get back up!)

In 1978, the National Park Service took over about 53 miles along the river to protect and maintain the area.  The cleanup and management efforts have made it a popular site for whitewater rafting.  The ruins of the towns are barely visible now, having been reclaimed by the forests.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the supermarket cashier who overheard my conversation about our pending trip to “Nowhere, West Virginia” and how she told me that she was from that area.  A few days ago, I was in her checkout line again. She remembered me and asked how our weekend had gone.  She particularly wanted to know if we’d seen the New River Gorge Bridge. I said that we had and were very impressed with it.

“I was in high school in 1977 when they opened that bridge,” she said, smiling broadly.  “I marched across it on opening day, twirling my baton.”  

I know nothing about this woman’s life other than what is etched on her face.  I hope that one day she will tell her grandchildren of that day.  She can show them the West Virginia quarter, which has a rendering of that bridge.   The next time my own grandchildren visit, I want to take them to the supermarket and introduce them to the lady who marched across the bridge on the very first day it opened.   Her story and her smile deserve an encore.

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.
Isaac Newton


More about coal mining along the New River Gorge:

Photo website showing some of the towns and buildings.

Kaymoor site with photos of ruins.

*Scrip was the term for the “truck system” whereby non-transferable vouchers were used to pay the workers.  The vouchers could be used only at the company-owned stores.  It was this system which inspired the song, Sixteen Tons, believed to have been written by former coal miner and folk singer George S. Davis.

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.

21 thoughts on “Abridgement

    1. I thought it was interesting that she didn’t mention it that first day I spoke with her. She waited until she knew I had seen that bridge and could understand that it had been a big deal for her.

      I’d have been crawling, to make sure I was below the sight line.

  1. What an amazing bridge. I love looking at it but have a ridiculous fear of going over bridges. I might manage the walk, tho! What a great story the check out lady has to share–I am sure your grandchildren would love it. Real people sharing real life experiences coupled with your own experience is such a goof thing.

    1. Katybeth, I am the world’s biggest chicken about bridges. It is so high that you can’t look directly down to see what deep doodoo you’re really in–you look out, where you’re seeing trees at a more respectable level–as in, perhaps they’re only a county or so away. Believe me, if I did it without having to stop for a bathroom as soon as we reached the other side, you could, too!

  2. That bridge photo i beautiful, but just looking at it brought out my bridge phobia! I give you a huge gold star for bravery to have taken the picture while crossing that bridge!!

    1. Yeah, but believe me, I didn’t hang out the window to take it! I read that before the bridge was built, the trip from point A to point B took 45 minutes. Now it’s 45 seconds. The 45-minute trip on winding roads (and at some point, there still had to be a bridge to get across the river) would have probably made me carsick, so 45 seconds of terror is a better option.

  3. West Virginia is one of the dwindling number of states I’ve never visited. You’ve tempted me. But is there another way to get out of that gorge?

    1. It’s an interesting state. One of our favorite B&B’s is in downtown Charleston, just a block or two from the gold-domed capitol building. This was the first time we’ve ever gotten off the main highways and seen the houses on the rutted, unpaved roads. Maintaining a strict environmental stance against coal mining becomes more complicated. However, the truck bumper sticker I saw that proudly proclaimed that the truck had been purchased with mountaintop removal coal mining money didn’t do much for me.

  4. Julie

    Loved the educational post and photos. I will add it to my bucket list. I will be on the floor board if brave enough to cross.

    1. I am discovering that we need a support group for the bridge phobic. I am usually screaming, “don’t look, don’t look, don’t look!” when we cross bridges because my decidedly un-phobic husband likes to look out at the scenery.

      We are going to visit my mother-in-law this week and to do so, we have to cross the bridge in Charleston. Ever seen that sucker? To quote my sainted grandmother, I’d rather be put behind a mule and farted to death.

  5. Did you take a close look at the catwalk? Talk about bridge-o-phobia. I would not cross that way even if I had a gun to my back. Kudos to the group walking down into the gorge and back up again.

    1. No close look. You’re seeing what I saw. People have even bungee-jumped from that bridge. I’m not kidding, I’d have been a wreck–I just didn’t realize I was ON the bridge for most of the drive over. It doesn’t have that bridge-y sound or feel.

      Do you remember seeing an old, old movie where Margaret O’Brien and some little boy had to walk across a high, narrow catwalk with some sort of awful, acid-looking stuff beneath? Oh, the horror. . . !

  6. Arkansas Patti

    I am a huge bridge-a-phobe and almost had trouble looking at the pictures but loved how it all tied in to that lady with her baton. Cool.
    Probably could have walked down those stairs but would have needed a chopper back up.

    1. As my family did not volunteer to carry my litter (I would not have required the curtains, for goodness’ sakes!) I did not go. Dearly Beloved said that the trick was to stop to look at something interesting when one needed to take a breath.

      The young grandson-who-never-gives-out, on the other hand, sang during the trek. DB especially remembers the renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner and Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

    1. It really is. It cost $37,000,000 and is made of Cor-Ten steel. . . a kind of steel which is not painted, but allowed to weather naturally. One of the tricky parts was to figure out how to get the welded parts to weather at the same rate as the rest of it.

  7. My family is from the coal mines of West Virginia-In my life time, I have never been to state of West Virginia. We have plans this summer for our first visit. This bridge will be on my list of places to visit.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.


  8. I love to read stories about people visiting our Bridge for the first time. It takes me back to when I first laid eyes on it when I was eight. Thanks for sharing your trip and piquing the interest of others to visit us!

    Misty (

    1. Misty, it was a most memorable visit. I noted all the rhododendrons dotting the landscape. It must be gorgeous there when they bloom! The picture on your website is gorgeous. It’s hard to believe that my family walked under that bridge.

      SO. . . have you ever done the catwalk? 🙂

  9. My Christmas wish for you, my friend
    Is not a simple one
    For I wish you hope and joy and peace
    Days filled with warmth and sun

    I wish you love and friendship too
    Throughout the coming year
    Lots of laughter and happiness
    To fill your world with cheer

    May you count your blessings, one by one
    And when totaled by the lot
    May you find all you’ve been given
    To be more than what you sought

    May your journeys be short, your burdens light
    May your spirit never grow old
    May all your clouds have silver linings
    And your rainbows pots of gold

    I wish this all and so much more
    May all your dreams come true
    May you have a Merry Christmas friend
    And a happy New Year, too .. xoxo

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