Saturday, September 21, 2013

On The Road Again

There are two ways to get from Romance, West Virginia to Galax, Virginia, our next destination. One can take Interstate 77, the easy way...or US Hwy 60, the hard way. We chose the hard way and I'm glad we did. There were some hairpin 15mph turns and some rather steep grades, railroad tracks and an occasional construction zone, but the scenery was unsurpassed. Here are some pictures....

We headed southeast through Charleston, then turned off Interstate 77 onto US 60 east towards the town of Beckley. US 60 winds through the hills of West Virginia, past many small towns and coal mines.

Shortly after getting onto US 60, we encountered our first delay. A portion of the roadway had collapsed so they decided to widen and make this portion better than it was. Traffic was limited to only one lane, so we had to wait our turn. About a 15 minute delay, so it wasn't too bad.

We were following the Kanawha (pronounced Ke-naw) River. This river is a tributary of the Ohio River. Here is a large coal mine just south of  Quincy.

Our journey took us through towns like Monarch,  Cedar Grove and this one Hugheston WV...population, 569.

Since we have coal mines, we need to have ways to transport that coal. The preferred way is by rail. The slurry is hauled by ship and the coal by train. This rail yard was very busy.

Before the construction of Interstate 77 on the west bank of the Kanawha River, US 60 was the main access road from West Virginia to Virginia.

Keep in mind that Charleston, with it's location, is within a days drive of 60% of the population of the United States.

Just past Carbondale, we visited the town of Kanawha Falls. The city gets it's name from the turn of the Kanawha river where it passes over large formations creating numerous waterfalls. Not spectacular like Yosemite, but very pretty in their own way.

Town center, Kanawha Falls, WV. The river and the falls are behind the white house on the right.

Whenever a river changes course, a small lake is usually formed where the river turns. The bouys visible in the water are to warn boaters of the falls just downstream.

Leaving the town of Kanawha Falls, we will be going over the Gauley Bridge, site of the "Hawks Nest Incident". Here's the story:

In 1927, to generate electricity downstream Union Carbide's Power Company decided to burrow under Gauley Mountain. The plan was to divert the New River to increase it's power producing capacity. A dam was built near the town of Hawks Nest to divert most of the New River water into the tunnel. However, during the construction of the tunnel, large deposits of the mineral, silica were discovered. The tunnel workers were then instructed to mine this resource to be used in electroprocessing steel. Unfortunately, none of the workers were provided with masks or breathing equipment during the mining operation. As a result of the exposure to silica dust, many of the 3,000 workers developed silicosis, a deadly lung disease. While the exact number of deaths resulting from the Hawks Nest Tunnel operation is unknown, a Congressional hearing on the incident placed the number at 476.

Around a curve, across the railroad tracks and of course, a school bus.

US 60 follows the flow of the Kanawha River so it meanders around some tight curves. Here we see a 20mph warning sign. Glad I met that school bus a few miles back.

After the curves you have to face 5 miles of a 5% downgrade with more turns.

As we left the town of Beckley, we decided to jump back onto Interstate 77 as it appeared US 60 would take us an hour or so out of our way.

Once back on the Interstate, actually a TurnPike, which is Eastern American for "toll road", we were treated to some spectacular vistas.

But we didn't leave the trains too far behind....

On the border of West Virginia and Virginia is a mountain...the East River Mountain.  Prior to 1974 travelers wishing to cross the state line had to navigate a narrow, twisting, guardrail-less route  up and over the mountain. When fog or snow was present, the journey became arduous, and the road was occasionally closed completely (particularly in the winter months) due to treacherous conditions. In 1969 construction began to tunnel through the mountain. This tunnel was opened in 1974. It is over a mile long and rests 51% in West Virginia and 49% in Virginia. The only other vehicular tunnel that rests on a state line is the Cumberland Gap tunnel between Kentucky and Tennessee.

Cost of construction was $40 million in 1970 dollars. Since the northern part of the tunnel rests in West Virginia and the southern part in Virginia, both states shared in it's cost.

1 comment: