A Trip Down the James River

My parents loved to take canoe trips down the Brazos River in Texas back when I was growing up in the 1970’s.

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Mother on the Brazos River, Texas – 1979

When she signed up for a canoe trip with her church, Horsepasture Christian Church,  to tell the truth, I was dreading it.  I didn’t plan on going but the more I thought about my 70-something year old mother out on a river I didn’t know with people I didn’t know, I came to the conclusion that there was no choice in the matter.  No one else would be as concerned about her safety as I would, I thought.  If anything happened, I would never be able to forgive myself.  As it turned out, the group from the Horsepasture Christian Church was great.  I don’t know that I’ve ever met a better group of people. She would have been completely safe in their company. I’m so grateful that I got to go just because it was a great trip with a fantastic group of people. God works in funny ways.

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Our second stop before launch, just 10 miles from Iron Gate

We met up at the church at 6 AM and began a two-hour trip up to Iron Gate, a launch point  just a little below where the Cowpasture and Jackson Rivers come together to form the James River.

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Launching at Iron Gate

It was a big group, around 50 people, and it took a while to get us all on the river.

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Watching as everyone got onto the river

There was a small area of rapids right at the onset that looked deceptively simple but gave a few people some problems. If you were too far to the left, you could bottom out and have to get out to portage across the slippery rocks. You had to stay to the right to get through them but a strong current there could push you into a dead tree along the bank that could easily capsize you.

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The First Set of Rapids

Once we got past that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

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Canoeing down the James

It wasn’t uncommon to see cows down on the banks along the way.  One of the group members said that he’d seen bear along the banks too.

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Cows Along The Banks of the James River

At one point along the river, there is a train trestle that spans the width of the river. We had the good fortune to come up to it just as a train was passing.

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Watching the Train Go By

It was a great group and they pretty much stayed together, stopping a couple of places along the river to stretch legs. There were several areas of rapids but only one that was pretty serious (a class II rapids called “the Squeeze“). Here’s a random video from YouTube that shows you what it looks like.

Luckily, there was a long rocky beach beside it so most of the group opted to walk along the beach past the rapids while some of the more experienced men in the group navigated their canoes down the water to meet them.

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Stopping Along the River

It was such a wonderful trip. Mother really enjoyed it and I did too.  The church does a river trip once a year and picked this route because of the fishing.  They’ve also done a run on the New River.  This trip was just shy of a two-hour trip from the church.

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We got out at the Gala Boat Launch after about ten miles on the river and began the trip back.  We were home by 7:30 PM and that includes a stop at Dodge’s in Bassett Forks for egg rolls.

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If this has got you interested in taking a trip on the upper James River, check out the website for The Upper James River Water Trail.

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Author: Beth Barton

I love to blog about where I live. We moved to Henry County, Virginia, in 2014 and love its natural beauty and the wealth of kayaking and hiking opportunities. Henry County is somewhat equidistant from Roanoke, VA, and Greensboro, NC. It is also a great place for craft beer lovers. Between the local community college and the TheatreWorks Players, we have live plays, musicals, and variety shows every month or two and that's not even counting what's being offered in Rocky Mount, Roanoke, and Greensboro. We shouldn't run out of things to do for a very long time.

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