Archive for the ‘keystone’ Tag

Coal Heritage Trail, West Virginia

I took a drive through a couple of regions of the state, starting with a tour of the Coal Heritage Trail, and then a trip to the New River Gorge region. It’s a beautiful part of the United States, but a state that has fallen off the radar, and to a certain extent, has not recovered from the Great Depression and the decline in American industry over the past 50-60 years.

West Virginia ranks 49th out of the 50 states in income per capita and per household, and the poverty of the state really shows. I counted more mobile homes in one day than in the last 10 years combined, saw plenty of shuttered businesses and abandoned houses, and some aspects of the state do live up to the stereotypes. But that’s far from the entire story.

My first stop was Bluefield, a town on the border with Virginia, which features a notable skyline dating from the 1920’s when it was a boom town; now it’s mostly abandoned and clearly struggling. Just down the road is Bramwell, which is a neatly kept town that featuring the grand houses of millionaires who struck it rich during the boom years of the early 20th century.

Downtown Bluefield, WV

Keystone, WV, with its dominant coal mine

Abandoned house, Kimball

As for coal mining, it’s pretty much absent. I noticed perhaps a couple of operating mines, most notably in Keystone.

Welch and Mullens are hanging on, but Mullens was devastated recently in the flood of 2001. The area is a parallel America, far removed from the busy cities, an isolated, poor enclave in an isolated, poor state. The communities sprawl along the numerous rivers and streams, and now that the economic base is mostly gone, they have been steadily losing population.

Wyoming Hotel in Mullens, John F. Kennedy took lunch here during his 1960 campaign.

The New River Gorge is the most prominent natural feature of West Virginia, an ancient river that cuts a nearly 1000-foot deep gorge as it winds through the state. The small ghost town (or nearly ghost town) of Thurmond lies at river level, brought to life by the railroad, and doomed as the railroad traffic slowed to a trickle. And a word of warning, the planks on the railroad bridge are dodgy, I nearly fell through, and that would have been the end of shredworld!

New River and the bridge into Thurmond

Thurmond, West Virginia, population 7

Further north, the bridge is spectacular, a magnificent steel arch span completed only in 1977 that shaved the crossing time from 45 minutes to 45 seconds. It’s 876 feet above the river, and an awesome piece of engineering.

New River Gorge Bridge

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 1

Now that I’m unemployed (anyone want to hire a highly qualified biochemist?), I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

So with the help of an Epic Pass, the string of Colorado resorts along or near the I-70 corridor are within financial reach.

March 30- After a 90 minute drive the night before from Albuquerque to Espanola, I drove the last 60 miles to Taos. This was my first legitimate spring riding day this season, with a cool breeze on the ridgeline, slush at the bottom, and one lousy last run down an icy Al’s run. I got on the road by around 4:30 PM and drove north along the spine of the Sangre de Cristos to Salida, CO. This is the wickedest range in Colorado, a jagged ridgeline rising 6000 feet from the San Luis Valley, somewhat reminiscent of the Sierras and the Owens Valley in California.

The Sangre de Cristos

March 31- Breckenridge, turned out to be the only nice day, packed powder at the top, with moderate winds, a bit icy in the middle and windy, and spring slush and warm temps at the bottom. It was a smooth drive from Salida with great views of the University Range, with the exception of a near wipeout on an icy spot on the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass. Good times otherwise. They groom the resort perfectly, and the various rollers and hits are fun to bomb down. It’s not a steep mountain overall, though.

Mt. Princeton and Buena Vista, CO

Top of Imperial Express, Breckenridge, looking north

April 1- Beaver Creek, dust on some very rough crust in the morning, which became a whiteout by late morning, and continual snowfall and winds in the afternoon. The snowfall turned a crappy day into a great one, despite a broken binding that needed fixing. The bonus was getting over Vail Pass during that 45 minute window of being open, otherwise I would have been stuck in a shelter in Vail for the night. But the driving was downright hazardous.

Mid-afternoon break in the weather, Beaver Creek

April 2- Breckenridge, powder day in early April. No, not bottomless stuff, but still excellent. It was downright cold, though, luckily I packed the cold weather gear.

April 3- Breckenridge, this time it lived up to its moniker Breckenfridge. Rode the top lifts until it was shut down due to high winds in early afternoon. The crowds were minimal, nobody was riding the top lift, although the snow was excellent. Oh, and I think the reason why was the beerfest in town.

April 4- Keystone, okay half day, since I went all out the past five days. The sun finally came out, although it was still somewhat unsettled. Hooked up with another solo rider who showed me some of the goods in the woods. And he proceeded to take multiple bong hits, Keystoned indeed. Then it was back south towards New Mexico, via Climax, Leadville, Alamosa. . .

Leadville, CO

April 10- An afternoon at Ski Santa Fe, probably my last day this season, nothing exceptional, but it was outstanding snow cover for New Mexico, which had an excellent season, and I hiked the peak behind the top lift. It’s a 15 minute walk or so at 12,000+ feet, and, it looks like excellent backcountry / sidecountry descents back there, but well, I’ll save it for another day and do it with a partner.

Obligatory self-portrait at the summit, showing off my $2 beanie purchased in Morocco

Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas Peaks

So that’s my season, 21 days. I was hoping for more, but who knows?