New River Gorge Bridge, WV: Over, Under, and Through

New River Gorge in West Virginia is this nation’s newest National Park, #63 to be exact, and preserved in order to protect the rugged New River below, as well as 70,000 acres of natural beauty and recreation.

When built in 1997, it was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world at 3,030 feet long, but China has since built 4 bridges longer than this, so now it’s merely the longest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

We’ve had our feet firmly planted thusfar on this three-month trip, but that was about to change! Dun dun dunnnn ….. meet the catwalk!!

Not only were we to experience this massive bridge from over and under it, but we were also going through it — on this narrow catwalk just 24″ in width, right below the road portion of the bridge. Eeeek!

There are two attitudes about heights in the Miller family. The pictures say it all!

Would you be Team Tranquil or Team Terror?

The guided tour took place on a catwalk 25′ below the massive iron bridge, 876 feet above the ground below. We were placed into a harness that was kinda like a strappy diaper, and securely fastened to a safety cable overhead, making it impossible to fall, but being up that high, your mind plays tricks on you!

As the tour went on, we practiced breathing normally again, actually swiveling our heads around instead of frozen straight ahead, less affected by the “Good Vibrations” (as they call the rumbling, bouncing, trembling, shaking of the entire bridge every time a car or semi-truck drove overhead), and eventually even felt comfortable enough to sit down on the catwalk, and savor the experience.

It took them four years to build the bridge, starting at both ends and meeting in the middle. A single connection can have up to 20,000 bolts! That’s the catwalk on the right in the picture below.

For exactly ONE day a year in October, the bridge is closed to traffic for Bridge Days. On that day, idiots daredevils are allowed to base jump, parachute, or rappel off the bridge. The numbers painted on the catwalk indicate the “stations” to which they report to do their crazy stuff.

The views from up high were extraordinary and besides a Via Ferrata climbing route, whitewater rafting, and the most recent riding out a tornado, it was one of the more adventurous things we’ve ever done … and a ton of fun! Highly recommend!!!

Despite ironically being called the “New” River, the river is very “Old,” in fact thought to be the second oldest river in the world, possibly up to 360 million years old.

The big bridge was built to allow travelers to cross this gorge in 45 seconds, instead of the 30 minutes it used to take to drive down to the bottom and back up again. Imagine traveling the old, tiny bridge instead of the big bridge — obviously quite the improvement!

A scenic one-way drive, with a narrated historical audio tour available on the NPS app, zig-zags you down to the old bridge and the river itself on the 100-year-old Fayette Station Road.

The park has a number of historical areas including an old coal mine town, preserved railroad station, and more. It’s hard to believe this gorgeous natural area used to be clogged with coal mining operations, filled with disgusting smoke, with noisy trains running through all day and night, during 24-hours-a-day coal mining. It has since been cleaned up such that you can’t even tell where it used to be.

Wild Mountain Laurel runs rampant in these parts.

White water rafting is huge here, with Class IV and V rapids just waiting to throw ya in the drink.

Rock climbing is also a huge draw, especially at the Endless Wall area, where sheer, straight vertical rocks threaten your health and safety just by looking at them. There are more than 600 rock climbing routes in this area alone, reached via super-steep long ladders.

The Endless Wall hiking trail leads to these climbing areas, but for non-climbers, it also leads to gorgeous views of the New River Gorge and river below.

We camped in nearby Fayetteville, with the best pizza restaurant we have possibly ever visited. Started from this tiny town, Pies and Pints now has locations in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. If you ever find yourself near one of these restaurants, run-don’t-walk there! The Cuban Pork: caramelized onions, pulled pork, fresh pineapple, jalapeños, feta, cilantro & crème fraiche — OMG!

On our way through West Virginia, we stopped to tour a congressional fallout bunker “hidden in plain sight” beneath a luxury hotel. In nowheresville West Virginia. Huh? That’s right, carved deep into the mountainside is an enormous Cold War fallout shelter.

The Greenbrier Hotel is one of the loveliest playgrounds for the wealthy, and has even played host to 26 U.S. Presidents since 1778. Called “America’s Resort,” it’s decorated like your gramma found a 90% discount on Lili Pulitzer fabrics, but hey, the rich want what the rich want.

Underneath one wing, however, was a facility secretly built in 1961 to house the entire 535 members of the U.S. Congress in the event of a national emergency. Eisenhower and his administration “visited” the Greenbrier but were actually there for a kickoff meeting, because Zoom wasn’t a thing yet.

Dug into the Earth underneath a new wing of the Greenbrier and nicknamed “Project Greek Island,” it remained in a state of constant readiness for 30 years before being exposed (and therefore no longer useful) in a 1992 story by The Washington Post. The day after the story was published, the facility began to be phased out.

We took a fascinating 90-minute tour of the bunker, but because it is now leased by a data company to house their Internet servers, no photos were allowed — so stupid — but this is the closest we’ve come to understanding what exactly “THE CLOUD” is — apparently, it’s rooms full of humming equipment that can’t be photographed. Here is the one photo I hurriedly snapped before they confiscated everyone’s belongings at the beginning of the tour: one of four enormous, 25-ton steel blast doors to be swung into place as needed.

Basically disguised as a trade show exhibit hall and meeting rooms, are 112,544 square feet and 153 rooms. Dormitories, cafeteria/kitchen, communications rooms, dispensary and clinic, assembly rooms for the Senate and House of Representatives, laundry, power plant, trash incinerator, and more — it’s all here. Too bad it was never used, not even once, even though a full staff operating as “Forsythe Associates” had to keep everything in a constant state of readiness at all times.

Nearby, the Greenbrier River Trail beckoned with it’s flat-flat-flat grade and hard-crushed trail for a full 78 miles alongside the river. We went out 10.5 miles, had a sweaty picnic, and returned 10.5 miles, for our longest bike ride so far of the trip.

Our 3-year-old grandson Connor is obsessed with fire hydrants, even the boring yellow ones. (This is an improvement over 2-year-old Connor, who was into air conditioners.) We’ve been on a cross-country search for interesting fire hydrants to send to him via picture or video. Lewisburg, WV, where we camped, did not disappoint!

All in all, we’ve found this part of West Virginia really “radical, man” and a great place to “chill out”!


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