The Kayak Quest: Are We Ready for Whitewater?

No. No, I am not ready for whitewater.

The Powers That Be have got my blog’s Kayak Quest caught up in some kind of incredible current. So much so that I haven’t had a chance to regale you with stories of how I now have a roof rack affixed to the top of my car that acts like a giant flute, I finally made it down to the outfitters in Greensboro only to discover that I fall in love with all new kayaks, and I’ve had a proof of concept ride with a group of friends from church. I even got an invitation to go on an incredible ride on Wednesday but I’ve got to start stomping the brakes somewhere.

Could a Sign Actually be More Apropos?

I started looking into Madison River Park because I ran across a news report on YouTube and I thought it sounded like a great idea to get a group to go tubing together.

In a nutshell, Madison is a small community about twenty minutes to my south in North Carolina along the Dan River. The Smith River runs through my community and connects to the Dan. The Dan River Basin Association runs group activities like hikes and kayaking trips each month, often starting on the Smith. My community and theirs are pretty closely connected by these rivers.

The Perch Marks the Spot (Where I Was)

Apparently, there was a dam along this stretch of river that was failing. The town was told it would take between 8 and 15 million dollars to replace the dam but they only had 5 million. Then someone got innovative. I’ll leave the reporting to the journalists (see a great article here) but the synopsis is that they teamed up with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife and, with a little help from North Carolina’s General Assembly, built a seven-weir system with ten thousand tons of rock with a grant of 2.5 million dollars and no cost to them.

The Madison Recreation Center started a tubing program in the summer of 2020, in conjunction with this project, and the article I read said that was contributing $30,000 a year on its own. Which, I have to say, is brilliant since it is really hard to find any information on how to actually get on a tube. Remember, trying to figure out the logistics of doing just that is what got this all started for me.

Madison River Park does have a Facebook page but, unless you call them, there is no information about how to rent kayaks or tubes, what is the minimum number of people to book for, where do you go to put in the river, where will you get out, etc, etc. Take a look for yourself: Madison River Park Facebook Page (I dearly hope that they make a fool out me by fixing all of this).

I went out to find the park myself last week. I thought that maybe there would be a storefront there where rentals took place or all of my questions would have a logical answer if I was standing there, looking at it. What I found impressed me for other reasons. Kayaking reasons.

The Launch is into flat water just above the first weir.

There is a really nice, long concrete launch that goes all the way out to the water. Having been following a Facebook group for kayaking on Facebook for awhile, this looks ideal for solo kayaking (not that I’ve done that yet). I know that a buddy system is always better. Don’t yell at me. The solo kayakers I’ve seen on Facebook say that they look for rivers where they can park and then paddle upstream for awhile before letting the current bring them back.

And current is what the weirs do.

I’m probably oversimplifying this but the ten thousand tons of rocks in the weirs channel the water to the center of the river. When I went out last Friday, I ran into a kayaker from Greensboro. He had brought his Piranha whitewater kayak up to play in the currents and eddies created by the weirs. He said that the rivers everywhere are low – too low right now for kayaking. These weirs make this part of the Dan the only place that he could go play until it rains again.

Madison is hoping that the new park will help bring in 250,000 visitors annually and between 20 and 30 million dollars in tourism dollars. There’s a good chance that they could do that but they could certainly help it along. The kayaker I spoke to on Friday had no idea that Madison’s downtown area was really close by and that it had a brewery, a distillery, and two restaurants. And that’s not counting the coffee shop. He was on his way out and was excited to check it out based on my suggestion.

I had to go back out today (on my lunch break) because I had not noticed that my camera was set on “food” when I was photographing the rapids on Friday. It was that bad. I wondered if I would be seeing an empty park on a Monday morning.

No.

There was a group setting off with their tubes. I stopped them and asked them how they were going to get out without a shuttle. They said that they had parked a second car further downstream and offered to take me with them if I would like to go. I explained I was on my lunch break and thought about all the Medical Examiner shows that I watch.

There was also a woman and her mother looking for a place to swim. They stopped me to ask what I knew of places to swim. They had seen a sign but were unsure. There is a sandy beach-type area.

I was unsure too and basically told them the same thing that the sign says (I found the sign later). Based on the master plan sign, this area was envisioned for a beach. Which implies swimming. I’m not so sure that swimmers need the current or that kayakers are going to appreciate swimmers.

I’d really like to get on this river in my new-to-me kayak. I don’t feel comfortable doing it alone but a river race might not be the best time for that either. I plan on calling tomorrow to see if they have a non-competitive entry.

So far, though, it looks like this park is a very popular spot. It looks like it will probably have a good chance of having kayakers in it on any given day.

But these are real kayakers who know what they are doing.

Monday at Lunchtime

What I need is a bunny slope. (Not that I ski either).

If you are a kayaker or at least less timid that I, do consider the Dan River Boat Race. I just found the link and I’m really leaning towards it.

Here’s the link: https://m-mrec.org/danriverboatrace/

Check it out!

A Short Drive: Natural Bridge

This is the third in a series of posts about a recent trip up to the Natural Bridge area about two hours north of Martinsville-Henry County. To recap, we drove up to the area and saw the zoo, Dinosaur Kingdom II, the caverns, and the natural bridge. We didn’t have to leave insanely early and we were back by dark. We even stopped for dinner in Roanoke on the way back.

Natural Bridge Caverns are nice. Worth the visit. There’s a lot to see overhead and they’ve made good use of lighting inside to showcase the fissures.

Word to the wise, here’s a typical conversation after returning from the caverns:

Me: I went to see the Natural Bridge caverns.

Neighbor: Is that the one with the big pond and the lights … (and a lot more descriptions that mean nothing if you haven’t been to Lurray Caverns).

Neighbor’s wife: No, you are thinking of Lurray Caverns.

Neighbor then regales us with stories of Lurray Caverns.

But Natural Bridge caverns is fun. I haven’t seen Lurray so I can’t tell you if one is definitely better than the other. It’s enough of a constant in conversation that I’m going to have to go see Lurray soon.

Natural Bridge has the stalagtites and stalagmites that you’d expect. One of our preteens noticed this formation that looks like a frog.

Ribbit

There is a pond (very small pond) with a boardwalk going around it. At the right time of year, you can see salamanders here. We were not there at the right time of year.

But the big thing in Natural Bridge is the fissures. The highlight of the tour is when the guide takes the group through one of the narrow fissures.

Inside the fissure that you are passing through, and directly overhead, is a massive boulder that fell into the fissure and got stuck. After everyone has passed under the boulder, we gathered in a room with a relatively level floor and hand rails. The guide then extinguished all of the lights so that we could experience “cave dark”.

Needless to say, the caverns may not be the best activity for anyone with a fear of the dark or of being deep underground. It is pretty cool though. And I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Take a jacket. Even on a hot day, the caverns are around 50 degrees.

After you have toured the caverns, you have to drive a short distance to get on the trail to see the Natural Bridge and Lace Falls at the end of the Cedar Creek Trail. “Karst” was a new word for me and I still couldn’t use it in a sentence.

I probably shouldn’t take pictures of placards that no one can actually read after the photo has been scaled and posted to the Internet, but I can’t help it. I have transcribed the sign below and put in bold the parts I found interesting:

It says:

The arch is composed of solid grey limestone. It is 215 feet high (55 feet higher than Niagara Falls) 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide and spans 90 feet between the massive walls. The span contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock. If man had scales to weigh it, the mass would balance about 72,000,000 pounds, or 36,000 tons. The rocks that compose the rocks, that fold and break in the layers, were imposed on them during the Appalachian Mountain building process toward the end of the Paleozoic Era, more than 200 million years ago. At it’s highest point, the bridge is approximately 1160 feet above sea level.

This was Nature’s working material. Her tool, Cedar Creek. A simple mountain stream flowing towards the seas. With these, Nature achieved her miracle. She pained her masterpiece with dull red and ochre, soft shades of yellow and cream, delicate tracings of blueish-grey.

Before white men came to our shores, the Monacan Indians considered this ancient wonder a sacred site, and called it “The Bridge of God”.

According to legend, in 1750, the youthful George Washington, engaged by Lord Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia, surveyed the surrounding acreage of Natural Bridge. During his visit, he scaled some 23 feet up the left wall of the bridge, and carved his initials “G.W.”, which may still be seen today.

On July 5th, 1774, Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III of England for the “sum of twenty shillings of good and lawful money.” (about ($2.40). Jefferson visited the bridge often, surveyed the area and even drew a map in his own hand. In 1803 two years after becoming the President of the United States, he constructed a two room cabin on the grounds.

From the literary classic, Moby Dick, to such paintings as The Peaceable Kingdom, Natural Bridge has been used to portray the ultimate natural wonder. Edward Hicks, one of America’s foremost folk artists, used the Natural Bridge in his oil painting of about 1825-30. Amongst many famous artists to paint or sketch an image of the bridge was Frederick Edwin Church of the Hudson River School, who came to paint the bridge in 1852, followed in 1860 by David Johnson, a second generation Hudson River School artist.

The Lee Highway, U.S. Route 11, crosses over the Natural Bridge, even today.

First thing, I’m kicking myself for not reading this whole placard while I was actually there. It was “TLDR” (too long didn’t read), in modern parlance. I would have liked to have known to look for George Washington’s initials.

Secondly, did I seriously just read that there’s a state highway on the top of this thing? I’m a little stunned at first. My next thought is, “do the people up there know what they are crossing?”. Seems like there should be some kind of disclaimer. Then I’m thinking about litterbugs tossing trash or debris over the side either intentionally or unintentionally. This just can’t be. I must have read that wrong.

If the students were here, I could ask one of them. I am really going to enjoy becoming a little a old lady and harassing college-aged kids just trying to get through their day. I’ve still got a good two to three decades before I get there but I’m making good time.

But there were no students. The replica Monacan Indian Village was closed while we were there. I believe that it is closed for the duration of the Covid pandemic so it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will reopen.

One of my companions who had been here before said that it was not a village but situated for educating groups on different topics. It looks like fun. And shady. It would be nice to at least read the placards.

After the village, the creek is the star of the show as you make your way to the falls. It’s shallow but beautiful and the rock formations are really intriguing. They seem to be evidence of the highly technical geological term “smushing”. 🙂

There are small fish throughout. Small. A lot of the older men here have told me how they used to come here and fish. I’m not disbelieving anybody but between water flow, visible fish size, and access, I’m not understanding how anyone would have been able to fish here.

Lace Falls – End of the Trail

Too be honest, the waterfall is a little underwhelming. the trail ends a good distance away from the falls. You can see them. If you have a decent zoom, you can snap a picture. Our preteens felt a little duped by the marketing lingo for the falls. “30 Foot cascade” sounded a little … more.

Be that as it may, everyone snapped a photo and sat and rested a while before turning back and heading back out. Don’t oversell Lace Falls to any in your party that are on the grouchy side and you’ll do fine. It is a beautiful walk and a nice thing to do outdoors.

Shortly after I got back and before I started drafting this post, Facebook advertised the Dixie Caverns in Roanoke to me. Then Facebook asked if I would like my targeted advertising to be more like that. I said “yes”. There was no way to respond how creepy that was in the first place though.