Mount Vernon 2011 Trip Day 6

Thursday June 9




Travel 264 mile today




Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center

Located at the junction of Rt. 150 and Rt. 39/55, the visitor center offers information about the national forest and other nearby attractions. An exhibit hall and audio visual programs provide interpretation of forest ecosystems and local history. Special programs and guided tours can be arranged.

Hours: Memorial Day through Labor Day: 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
January through April and November: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat. and Sun.
May, Sept. and Oct.: 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fri., Sat. and Sun.
December: Closed

Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

The largest area of bogs in West Virginia occurs within this 750 acre National Natural Landmark. Bogs are acidic wetlands typically found in Canada and the northern United States. To protect this fragile area, a half-mile long barrier-free boardwalk has been constructed for visitor use. Guided tours are conducted at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer months or can be specially arranged by contacting the Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center.

Cranberry Glades Botanical Area


The Cranberry Glades is the largest area of bogs, or acidic wetlands, in West Virginia, a unique and exotic ecosystem on 750 acres. This spectacular and beautiful area was established by the United States Forest Service in 1965, to protect and preserve over 60 unique plant species, many of them descended from seeds that took root here over 10,000 years ago.

Whether you are looking at an individual fuchsia-colored Wild Orchid or taking in the beauty of the bog plains, there is a special tranquility found only here.

The Glade’s fascinating sphagnum bogs are similar to that found in “Muskegs” of the Artic Tundra.  When you first enter the area, you will notice Red Spruce, hemlock and Yellow Birch trees. 

Along the left side of the boardwalk you may see a tree that has fallen over.  The shallow roots so necessary for survival here do not adequately anchor trees against strong winds.  Thus, the very adaptation which allows these trees to live here can also cause their death.

Carnivorous or insect-eating plants also make their home in the bogs. The half-mile boardwalk was constructed so you can enjoy the area without disturbing this fragile community.

Keep a watchful eye as you walk through the area and you might spy some of these wild animals:  American Black Bear, WV Northern Flying Squirrel, Red-tailed Hawk, American Bald Eagle, Red Fox, coyote, White-tailed Deer, Cooper Hawk, and Eastern Screech-Owl.

As you walk along the boardwalk, you might see some of these plants:  Bishop’s Cap, Jewelweed, False Hellebore, Indian Pipe, Turtlehead, Wild Raisin, Sundew, Grass Pink Orchid, and the Pitcher Plant.

The wheelchair accessible boardwalk is available for self guided tours and pre-arranged tours made in advance.

Cranberry Mountain Nature Center
Open April through November

Perched on the edge of Cranberry Mountain in the Monongahela National Forest on Highway 39/55 is the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.  Operated by the USDA Forest Service, the Nature Center features live programs on birds of prey as well as poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes of West Virginia.

An exhibit hall and audio visual programs provide interpretation of forest ecosystems and local history.  Noted guest speakers often visit with programs on wildlife, Indian folk lore, and forest conservation.

You will find nature books for sale as well as informational brochures and maps.  Thousands of people visit the Center each year from April through November to learn about the area. 

Cranberry Glades Boardwalk
A photography picture of wooden boardwalk path that leads through Cranberry Glades.
Picture taken summer 2004.

A half-mile boardwalk has been constructed through two of the bogs so you can enjoy the area without disturbing this fragile community. Help protect these bogs and stay on the boardwalk, and leave the flowers for others to enjoy. Remember...many of these unique plants are descended from seeds that took root here over 10,000 years ago! With your help, they will continue to live here, making Cranberry Glades a special place to visit for a long time to come! The boardwalk for this area is wheelchair accessible


Mystery Hole.

Mystery Hole

Field review by the editors.

Ansted, West Virginia

"Wow!" reads a zany sign atop a metal pole. "See the unbelievable. Mystery Hole."

The pole juts out of the top of a corrugated metal Quonset hut, along with several American flags. A rainbow of stars, teardrops, question marks, and hypno-swirls adorn the hut's exterior, along with another emphatic "Wow!" Protruding from its side is an old VW beetle, nose buried, brake lights almost to the road shoulder, its exterior embellished with painted daisies, bird poop, a "Love" license plate, and a loosely-rendered message: "Flower Power."

Mystery Hole sign.

At the end of the hut, over its entrance, squats a large, black gorilla.

The Mystery Hole definitely knows how to catch the eyes of passing motorists. Its message may be confusing, but no one seems to mind.

Will and Sandra Morrison own The Mystery Hole. Original owner Donald Wilson "discovered" its mysterious powers in 1972, and did a good business from the tourists who flock to this part of the New River Gorge, which is a mecca for rafters. Time, however, was even more powerful than the Hole. Wilson closed his attraction in 1996 and died soon afterward. The Hole was left exposed to vandals and other chaotic forces.

The Morrisons have put in a lot of hard work to restore the Hole to its 1970s glory. This was especially hard for them, as they had moved here from Michigan in a risky career maneuver. Working from old photos and the memories of local folks, they have brought the much-beloved attraction back to life.

Visitors pay to tour the Hole in the Quonset hut gift shop, then walk outside and around the corner to the entrance. There is a stairway down into the unknown (or perhaps just the quonset hut basement).

Over it is a large clown painted on a piece of plywood, and a fresh set of declamatory signs.

"An experience that will intrigue you the rest of your life."
"Nature's gravity seems to have gone haywire and your sense of balance is extremely upset."
"If your heart can take it, see the laws of nature defied."

Chair Balancing demonstration.

The biggest sign of all lists the "Rules of the Hole," which include "No cameras or cell phones," "People with heart ailment, vertigo, or high blood pressure do not enter," "Not responsible for accidents or after effects," and "Shoes recommended." The Hole must be powerful indeed to merit such caution!

It is difficult to describe what goes on within The Mystery Hole, since it is so mysterious that we are forbidden to reveal it. We can tell you (since it's in the brochure) that you will see a ball roll uphill and a person sitting in a chair somehow balanced on a strip of wood on a wall. Those who have visited other "Mystery" attractions can guess at some of the other freaky hoo-ha that goes on here -- and staging it in a sealed-in underground "hole" is a unique touch that improves its effect. The "Miss Mystery Spot," and "Miss New River Gorgeous" gags are also enjoyable -- but that's all that we can say.

Sandy and Will are nice people who perhaps are a little overprotective of their attraction. Maybe the mysterious forces that fill the hole have overflowed to entrance the minds of those who guard it. Will in particular hints that he has received many, many offers -- in the millions of dollars -- to reveal the secrets of his attraction. He has turned them all down.

Also see: /set/SCIspots.html

Mystery Hole

US Hwy 60, Ansted, WV
West of town. On US 60 at mile marker 44, just west of Hawks Nest State Park.
W-M 10:30-6 (summer); reduced hrs/days off-season; wknds only - Apr. (Call to verify)

Day 6 Alternate with coal mine tour added and Mystery Hole deleted:

This will add 15 miles to the day and require return trip by express way.

281 Miles if day 6 Alternate is used.

Bridge from the scenic overlook.

World's Longest Single Arch Steel Span Bridge

Field review by the editors.

Fayetteville, West Virginia

West Virginians are proud of this bridge over the New River Gorge, the second highest in the world (876 feet down to the water). We even saw a painting of it in the West Virginia State Penitentiary, by an artist-convict who was later killed by a knife through the eye.

The view of the bridge from its overlook near the visitors center is impressive, but it's to West Virginia's credit that they not only look at their bridge -- they have fun with their bridge. That happens every third Saturday in October, on Bridge Day, "West Virginia's largest one-day festival." The bridge is closed to traffic and a quarter of a million people converge to watch hundreds of thrill-happy rappellers and parachutists disappear into the gorge below.

It is, as official state tourism literature makes clear, "the only day that jumping from the bridge is permitted."

World's Longest Single Arch Steel Span Bridge

US Hwy 19, Fayetteville, WV
Northeast of town on US 19 across the New River Gorge. The overlook is just north of the bridge, east side


Canyon Rim Visitor Center
CRim_VC.jpgNRG bridge view in Spring.JPG

The primary purpose of Canyon Rim Visitor Center is to act as a visitor contact station for area information and for interpretation of the natural, cultural, recreational, and historic values of the New River Gorge. With an estimated 300,000 visitors each year, the center provides the park with a nationally recognized facility, revealing the beauty of New River Gorge National River to the nation and the world.

The use of natural materials in the building and surrounding landscape achieve a harmony between the visitor center and the rugged New River Gorge. These finely crafted materials of sandstone and red oak fuse with the exposed ledge of sandstone prevalent in this section of the gorge. As time passes, the harmony of the visitor center and the New River Gorge will be inseparable.

Features and Attractions
The visitor center features an exhibit room filled with photographs and exhibits on the people, towns, and industry of the gorge. Other displays focus on the recreation and natural history of the area. Visitors can enjoy two videos; on the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, and on how the forces of nature created the massive V-shaped gorge. The auditorium provides visitors an orientation slide program on the park, and other special features and programs.

The most easily recognized attractions of the site are the views of the gorge and bridge. The back deck of the center offers a two-mile view southward into the park. Visitors discover the striking size of the gorge with one of the world's oldest rivers at the bottom. A short hiking trail descends into the gorge on a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk has two observation decks which offer unobstructed views of the longest steel arch span in the western hemisphere and the mile wide gorge it spans. A fully accessible ramp provides access to the upper observation deck.

Publications & Sales
A sales area offering publications specific to the park and surroundings is provided as a service to visitors. A large selection of books on cultural and natural history, recreation, environment and nature, and children's topics are carried. Topographic maps of the park are also available here. The sales area is managed by Eastern National, a non-profit organization that returns its proceeds back to the park.

Programs are offered throughout the year, with the summer months providing the most offerings. Programs and activities include; evening programs, tours of the visitor center and boardwalk, children's activities, films about Appalachian life, and a variety of guided walks and hikes. School and educational groups can arrange for special programs through Parks as Classrooms.

Informational Services
The Canyon Rim visitor Center would not be complete without a staff of interpretive park rangers. These rangers provide information about the park resources and answer any other questions visitors might have. Additional visitor contact stations are provided at Thurmond, Grandview, and Sandstone. We encourage visitors to explore all of New River Gorge National River.

Season and Hours
Year-round: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Canyon Rim Visitor Center is located on U.S. Route 19, just north of Fayetteville, WV. U.S. Route 19 is easily reached from Interstates I-64 and I-79, as well as U.S. Route 60. Take a look at our map of the park.

162 Visitor Center Road
Lansing, WV 25862





Coal train heads into the mine.
Coal train tour heads into the mine.

Exhibition Coal Mine



Field review by the editors.

Beckley, West Virginia

Coal is the lumpy, black foundation upon which West Virginia rests, both physically and economically. A recent flap of mine explosions and cave-ins reminded us that West Virginia is still chock full of deadly holes where men toil to heat our homes. There really is no attraction better suited to this state than a coal mine.

Don't let the "Exhibition" in the name of this place fool you. Beckley's isn't a phony, like the fake factory at Hershey's Chocolate World in Pennsylvania. This once served as a working coal mine. It closed in 1910, the city grew up around its entrance, and the area surrounding it became a city park. In 1960 the mine was re-opened as a tourist attraction. We've been on plenty of underground tours, but never one where the main thrust is to tell you how to blast a bigger and deeper hole in the ground.

Into the mine.

You're seated in mine cars and driven in what is essentially a big loop under a hillside, with plenty of stops so that your guide -- an ex-coal miner -- can point out displays in the murky darkness and fill your skull with mine arcana.

Beckley was a low seam coal mine. "Low seam" means a low ceiling -- a fact that you need to remember when you visit. The ceiling is only an inch or two above your head in your mine car. If you stand up while the train is in motion, you will die. This is a grungy tour -- full of arcane facts and with nothing really attractive to see. It's not really geared for kids or the ladies, though our tour includes a mix of family units. You never get out of your seat, and it's cold and damp in a coal mine, so bring a sweatshirt.


Our guide, Charles, peppers the tour with a well worn set of jokes that don't seem so bad when they're delivered by an authentic coal miner. For example, he tells us about "the fire boss" -- the guy whose job was to check for methane gas and then try to burn it off before it exploded and killed him. "We went through a lot of fire bosses," Charles says. "A pretty good job for a mother-in-law!"

"Or a brother-in-law," he adds, quickly realizing that our train probably includes several mothers-in-law.

The coal seam in Beckley is 180 feet underground and 40 inches high. There are plenty of places where it can still be seen, which makes one wonder why the mine was closed -- except maybe because the place was so dangerous.

Lunch pail.

Charles shows us an example of a "widowmaker" -- a petrified tree stump uncovered in the ceiling, surrounded by a thin ring of coal where the bark was. Widowmakers had a habit of falling and crushing miners. "If this roof collapses," Charles adds in another well-rehearsed line, "we'll at least know there's nowhere around here we could be buried deeper or cheaper."

The mine has a weird smell -- like bad oil, we hope, not methane. Charles is oblivious to it as he does his best to entertain the group. He turns off the lights to give us the obligatory "moment of total darkness." He gets on the floor to demonstrate how miners would use "rail scooters" instead of crawling. He tells us that miners would discourage water theft by putting their false teeth in their water pails. He shows us the world's first mechanical coal scoop, invented in 1963 by a miner, and promptly stolen and patented by somebody else. "Probably a Yankee," Charles cracks.

The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is a gritty change of pace from the typical sanitized commercial cave. It's occasionally used as a set for independent features and cable TV movies. Tour guides like Charles work as extras, either as miners or as corpses.

Exhibition Coal Mine Overview

Mine new Photos
Exhibition Coal Mine
Visit Beckley, West Virginia, and you will find many scenic and recreational opportunities awaiting you. Two of the most unique attractions are the Beckley Exhibition Coal and the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia. These popular institutions officially joined in 2002, in an effort to portray the history, culture and character of this uncommon coal-mining region.

The Exhibition Coal Mine is the largest and most popular coal heritage destination in the region. After years of planning, the Exhibition Coal Mine completed an extensive renovation that includes the 14,000 sq. foot, Rahall Company Store, visitor center, coal museum, fudgery and gift shop. A visit will begin here with the purchase of a ticket and a visit to the extensive collection of mining artifacts and tools, geological specimens, photographs, and other features of early life among the coal towns of southern West Virginia.

The main attraction is a tour that takes visitors below ground, under the supervision of an experienced veteran coal miner. Traveling 1500 feet beneath the hillsides of New River Park, visitors are carried along track, riding authentic "man cars" from the mine entrance, to old working areas of the coal mine and back. Stops throughout the tour explore the history of low-seam coal mining from the hand-loading days into the era of modern mechanization.

In addition to the underground mine tour, visitors can explore the historical coal camp situated throughout the grounds. Lovingly restored, the Coal Company House, Superintendent's Home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School, give our guests a true representation of early 20th century coal camp life.

After your visit, buy a piece of history to take home with you! The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine’s Gift Shop has many unique local items for sale and finish the visit with a delicious piece of home made fudge from the Fudgery.

April 1 - November 1  Daily 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Last tour underground is 5:30 pm
Bring a jacket - the mine is always 58 degrees!

For more information on the Exhibition Coal Mine and events at the Youth Museum 
call 304-256-1747 or 304-252-3730


     ADULTS:          $20.00          (ages 13 - 54)
     CHILDREN:       $12.00          (ages 4 - 12)
     SENIOR ADULT: $15.00         (55 and over)

The admission price includes the underground tour, as well as admission to the coal miner's house, superintendent's house, miner's shanty, coal camp church, and camp school. It also includes admission to the Youth Museum and the Mountain Homestead. 

For more information, call 304-256-1747


Exhibition Coal Mine

513 Ewart Ave., Beckley, WV
I-77/64 exit 42. Hwy 16 (Valley Drive/Robert C. Byrd Drive) north into town, follow the signs. Cross Hwy 3 (Harper Rd), then a left on Paint St. into New River City Park.

Beckley, West Virginia -
Peace Totem with Propeller and Time Capsule

25 feet tall, topped with a crashed airplane propeller, painted bright colors. Oh, and it has a time capsule.

509 Ewart Ave., Beckley, WV
West side of downtown. Outside the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, which is in New River Park.