By Mary Caperton Morton
The only thing "new" about West Virginia's New River Gorge is its national park status: In 2021, the New River Gorge became our latest national park, but in geologic terms, the New River is anything but new. Dating back to the days of the supercontinent Pangaea, it is one of the oldest rivers in the world and one of the few waterways in North America that runs north.
New River, Old Course<p>"The New River might be the most inappropriately named river on Earth," said <a href="https://www.usgs.gov/staff-profiles/nathaniel-hitt?qt-staff_profile_science_products=0#qt-staff_profile_science_products" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nathaniel Hitt</a>, a fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Kearneysville, W.Va.</p><p>The New was born when the North American and African plates collided to form the supercontinent Pangaea. The impact uplifted the Appalachian Mountains to Himalayan heights, and a mighty river named the Teays formed to drain the western slopes of the range. From its headwaters in what is now western North Carolina, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/29/science/a-great-lost-river-gets-its-due.html?&pagewanted=all" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Teays flowed</a> north through the Virginias before turning west into the Ohio River Basin, eventually draining into a vast inland sea.</p><p>Today the New River begins in the same headwaters carved by the Teays and follows roughly the same northward path. "These headwaters and this basin have remained in their current configurations for over 300 million years of evolutionary time," Hitt said.</p><p>Around 60 million years ago, the diagonally trending ridges of the Appalachians went through a period of uplift, but the highly erosive Teays kept cutting into the mountains faster than the uplift rate. Thus, the river's south-to-north course runs counter to the west-to-east flow of most Appalachian waterways, carving a formidable 400-meter-deep river canyon directly through the Appalachian Plateau.</p><p>The 580-kilometer-long New River carves the longest and deepest canyon in the Appalachian Mountains; the new 295-square-kilometer national park and preserve is headquartered along an 85-kilometer stretch of the river near Fayetteville, W.Va.</p>
A Speciation Superhighway<p>Downstream—to the north—the New joins the Gauley to form the Kanawha River. Just downstream from this confluence, the wide and turbulent Kanawha Falls present a natural barrier to migration, leading to many aquatic species above and below the falls being genetically distinct from one another.</p><p>For instance, "when you look at the fish of the New River, you're seeing how evolution plays out over long geologic timescales," Hitt said. "The New River highlights the potential of deep evolutionary time to produce uniquely adapted species." The New River Basin is home to seven endemic species of fish—fish that are found nowhere else on Earth. These fish are uniquely adapted to thrive in turbulent white water and have lived through several major extinction events and an ice age that froze the northern reaches of their habitat.</p><p>The New's deep canyons also function as a biogeographical corridor for terrestrial animals, facilitating north–south movement in a landscape where most valleys run east–west. The New River Gorge's unusual orientation "lies at the core of one of the largest intact temperate forests in the world," said <a href="https://ecosystems.psu.edu/directory/dmanning" target="_blank">Douglas Manning</a>, a terrestrial ecologist at the national park. "The gorge has a lot of niche habitats for different organisms to occupy," supporting a diverse assemblage of plants, mammals, birds, and aquatic species.</p><p>Whereas the New River allows for north–south migration, its steep and rugged topography presents a significant barrier to east–west movement. Historically, even humans have found the New a formidable obstacle. The turbulent waters are not safe for most river-based transportation, and steep cliffs can impede navigation on foot or horseback.</p><p>Although people have been living in southern West Virginia for at least 11,000 years, the main travel routes of early Indigenous communities "were not through the gorge, because it's so circuitous and dangerous to travel along the river," said Dave Fuerst, cultural resource program manager for the park. "They were using routes that went around the gorge, following ridges and stream drainages." Communities thrived in the ecologically rich area, however, and today more than 400 archaeological sites are documented along the New, Gauley, and Bluestone Rivers, connected by an elaborate network of footpaths.</p><p>It wasn't until the completion of the <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/piedmont_fossil/16210658540" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railway</a> in 1873 that people were able to travel the length of the gorge efficiently. Even then, east–west travel across the gorge remained harrowing until 1977, when the <a href="https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/nrgbridge.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New River Gorge Bridge</a> was completed just east of Fayetteville, shortening the cross-gorge travel time from over an hour to less than a minute. This impressive 923-meter-long steel arched span soars 267 meters above the New, making it one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world.</p>
Coal Mining in My Mitochondria<p>The rock layers exposed by the New River span over 350 million years. Historically, the most sought-after layers in the gorge were bituminous coal, a relatively soft black coal that burns readily, producing little smoke. These layers date to the <a href="https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/pennsylvanian-period.htm" target="_blank">Pennsylvanian subperiod</a> of the Carboniferous, when vast swamps covered large regions of the globe, producing thick layers of peat that eventually formed coal.</p>
Coal miners pose on an electric-powered mine locomotive at Kaymoor, W.Va., in 1914. National Park Service<p>The downward cutting of the New River did a lot of the work to expose bituminous coal seams along the gorge. After the C&O railroad was finished, dozens of coal mines sprang up along the New. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, miners hacked millions of tons of coal from the walls of the gorge. The work was brutal, and the pay was around <a href="https://www.nps.gov/neri/learn/historyculture/royal.htm" target="_blank">45 cents a ton</a>. Strong miners could earn $2.00 a day.</p><p>For a time, New River coal was one of the most abundant on the market, fueling everything from steel mills to power plants. More than 60 coal towns were built along the New River to support the mines. Some of these towns boasted hundreds of buildings and were home to thousands of people.</p><p>The downward cutting of the New River did a lot of the work to expose bituminous coal seams along the gorge. After the C&O railroad was finished, dozens of coal mines sprang up along the New. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, miners hacked millions of tons of coal from the walls of the gorge. The work was brutal, and the pay was around <a href="https://www.nps.gov/neri/learn/historyculture/royal.htm" target="_blank">45 cents a ton</a>. Strong miners could earn $2.00 a day.</p><p>For a time, New River coal was one of the most abundant on the market, fueling everything from steel mills to power plants. More than 60 coal towns were built along the New River to support the mines. Some of these towns boasted hundreds of buildings and were home to thousands of people.</p>
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, dozens of coal company mining towns were built along the New River. All of the railroad-accessed towns were abandoned by the 1960s. Coalcampusa.com.<p>My family history runs deep in these New River mining towns: The town of Caperton was named for one of my relatives, my maternal great-grandmother was born in Fire Creek, and my paternal grandparents lived and worked in Ames, where New River Gorge Bridge pylons now stand on the east side of the gorge. When my dad was 2 years old, the family moved to Fayetteville, on the west side of the gorge, where my uncle still lives in the family home.</p><p>I spent the summers of my childhood exploring the woods and creeks around the gorge, hunting for salamanders and seashell fossils from a long-gone ocean that predates the Appalachians. Every time I visit the New, I feel like a salmon returning to its home stream; I imagine my great-grandmother's mitochondria in my cells vibrating in tune with one of the world's oldest rivers. I've hiked all over the New River Gorge, visiting the overgrown sites and ruins of Ames, Kaymoor, and Nuttallburg, but I have not yet made it farther upriver to Caperton or Fire Creek. Someday an anadromous upriver backpacking trip awaits (although I have no plans to spawn).</p>
Making the Leap from Coal Mining to BASE Jumping<p>All of the mines and coal towns in the New River Gorge were abandoned by the 1960s, and today the still-inaccessible ghost towns are fading into the rapidly regenerating forest.</p><p><span></span>"The New River Gorge faces a lot of legacy impacts from all sorts of land use history in the gorge," Manning said. Vast areas of forest were stripped of trees to fuel the coal towns' woodstoves and coke ovens, and timber operations in the gorge continued for decades after mining operations ceased.</p><p>"If you look at photos from around the turn of the century and the Great Depression, [you will see that] the forest here was stripped bare," said <a href="https://www.nps.gov/gari/learn/news/eve-west-named-chief-of-interpretation-at-new-river-gorge-national-river-gauley-river-national-recreation-area-and-bluestone-national-scenic-river.htm" target="_blank">Eve West</a>, chief of interpretation at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. And now, "this is considered to be the most botanically diverse river system in the central and southern Appalachians. There's not a lot of virgin forest here, so that's all come from regrowth in the past 50 years. This place bounces back fast."</p><p>Regrowth and resiliency are proving to be a hallmark of this landscape and for its people. Two generations removed from the dark and dangerous coal mines, I find myself drawn upward, to the New River's second most famous rock: Nuttall sandstone, a hard, quartz-rich variety that erodes into vertical cliffs with thin cracks perfect for rock climbing.</p>
We All Live Downstream<p>The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve encompasses almost 295 square kilometers of land around the river corridor, but the New River's entire watershed is more than 18,000 square kilometers. "One of the ongoing challenges is that we can protect and manage the gorge itself, but we don't own the headwaters upstream," where the river is "undoubtedly" still affected by ongoing mining, Manning said.</p><p>The New River's upstream watershed includes <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaintop_removal_mining" target="_blank">mountaintop removal mining</a>, in which the tops of entire mountains are removed to access buried coal seams, and the overburden is pushed into a neighboring valley, destroying thousands of kilometers of mountain streams. Across southern West Virginia, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2018/07/mapping-mountaintop-coal-mining%E2%80%99s-yearly-spread-appalachia" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1.5 million acres</a> of land have been affected by mountaintop removal mining operations, which have buried more than 3,200 kilometers of streams in rubble, a tactic called valley fill.</p><p>As groundwater trickles through the jumbled subsurface of a valley fill, it picks up minerals, metals, and salts from the debris, increasing the salt and mineral content of the water downstream. A <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676997?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2014 study</a> by Hitt and colleagues in <em>Freshwater Science</em> found "fewer species, lower abundances, and less biomass" downstream from mining operations.</p><p>Trees seem to be the key in kick-starting the healing process. "We've found that restoring trees to the postmining landscape helps restore the hydrologic function" within a matter of years to decades, said <a href="https://nres.ca.uky.edu/person/chris-barton" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chris Barton</a>, a forest hydrologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Trees pull a lot of water out of the groundwater system, keeping it from mobilizing minerals, salts, and pollutants.</p><p>"As the forest regrows, we're seeing a return to the natural hydrology of these sites, along with improvements in the water quality that [are] needed to support aquatic life," Barton said.</p><p>One reforestation project, at a former mountaintop removal mine that was replanted in 2009, went from looking like "the surface of the Moon" to a lush green forest in less than a decade, Barton said. Last year, Barton observed minnows in the stream he and his team created out of the moonscape of rubble.</p>
New, Forever<p>Even with restoration and reforestation, the scars left on the landscape by mountaintop removal mining are permanent, Barton said. "Reforesting helps hide the scars, but they're still there. I do wonder about how erosion over geologic timescales will work on those valleys filled with loose, unconsolidated rock," he said. "It seems likely they will erode much faster than the mountains themselves" and may result in deep gorges and holes in the landscape.</p><p>In terms of pollution, the legacy of mining in Appalachia will linger essentially forever, said <a href="https://palmerlab.umd.edu/" target="_blank">Margaret Palmer,</a> a restoration ecologist at the University of Maryland. "Replanting offers the best hope for restoring stream biodiversity, but no matter what you do, it's crystal clear that mining poisons streams and that mined land will continue to release toxins into the ecosystem in perpetuity."</p>
In Yellowstone National Park, large crowds watch in awe as Old Faithful erupts with a roar, launching a spire of water about 150 feet in the air.
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Delta-8 THC is a cannabis product that has become a bestseller over the past few months, as many consumers find they can legally purchase it from CBD retailers. Its proponents say that Delta-8 THC will give you a nice little buzz, minus some of the more intense feelings (including paranoia) that are sometimes associated with marijuana.
Delta-8 THC is being marketed as a legal option for consumers who either don't live in a state with legal cannabis, or are a little apprehensive about how traditional psychoactive THC products will affect them. But is it all it's cracked up to be? Let's take a closer look, exploring what Delta-8 THC is, how it differs from other THC products, and whether it's actually legal for use.
nuleafnaturals.com<p><a href="https://nuleafnaturals.com/product/full-spectrum-delta-8-thc-oil-30mg-ml/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NuLeaf Naturals Full Spectrum Delta 8 THC Oil</a> is made from organic hemp and organic virgin hemp seed extract. It's available in a 150 mg bottle and a 450 mg bottle, which both provide 15 mg of Delta 8 THC per serving. This formula is also available in a soft gel.</p>
botanyfarms.com<p>The <a href="https://www.botanyfarms.com/product/delta-10-thc-vape-cartridge/?aff=14" target="_blank">Botany Farms Delta-10 THC Vape Cartridge</a> actually contains both Delta-10 and Delta-8 THC.This is designed to provide the desired effects of Delta-8 THC but without the drowsiness. They also offer a vape cartridge with a 1:1 concentration of <a href="https://www.botanyfarms.com/product/delta-10-delta-8-thc-vape-cartridge/?aff=14" target="_blank">Delta-8 THC</a> and Delta-10 THC. Note that while vape products can be used to aid in smoking cessation, we do not recommend vaping or smoking because of the negative health effects they can cause.</p>
There are very few places that capture the essence of American beauty better than Yosemite National Park. Millions of people visit each year to explore its mountainous terrain, or to experience Yosemite's unique natural wonders such as the giant sequoia groves or the hundreds of waterfalls that nourish the protected landscape.
heyengel / iStock / Getty Images Plus<p>The expected viewing dates begin February 13th and end February 25th. Due to the short timeframe that the Firefall is visible, reservations are expected to book quickly.</p> <p>For those unfamiliar with the Firefall, it is a bizarre and beautiful natural phenomenon that can only occur for two weeks out of the year. At sunset, the waterfall transforms from an icy shower to a glowing flame that appears to flow like lava from the heights of El Capitan. This occurs due to the unique angle of the waterfall against the sunset during mid-February. </p> <p>Despite its massive appeal, the Firefall is actually quite elusive. In order for the illusion to occur, Horsetail Falls must be experiencing a clear Western sky, have enough snowfall the night before, and experience warm temperatures to melt the snow and sustain the waterfall. Due to the angle of the sunset against the waterfall, it can only occur for approximately two weeks in February, but a cloudy day or freezing temperatures can get in the way of the incredible display. </p> <p>Not only are the Firefalls rare, but they're also short-lived. The sunset will only be at the right angle for five to ten minutes, giving visitors a very short window to observe. However, those who have witnessed the Firefall believe it is always worth the effort.</p>
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The U.S. is beginning the new year with a new national park.
Rafters enjoy a scenic stretch of the New River Gorge National River. National Park Service
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By Brett Wilkins
Indigenous and wilderness conservation groups were among those on Wednesday responding with outrage to video of a National Park Service ranger tasering an unarmed Indigenous man after he walked off a trail in Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico on Sunday and then refused to comply with the ranger's orders.
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By Emily Lin
Editor's note: As wildfires came dangerously close to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in September 2020, the curator of the archives there worked with Emily Lin, librarian and head of digital curation at the University of California Merced, to evacuate the archives to keep them safe. In this interview, Lin explains how they evacuated the records, what's in them and why they're worth preserving.
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By Jessica Corbett
A coalition of Indigenous groups, businesses, and conservation organizations on Wednesday sued the Trump administration over its "arbitrary and reckless" removal of roadless protections for the nearly 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska, warning that the rollback could devastate local communities, wildlife, and the climate.
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For bears and the people that love them, it's the most wonderful time of the year.
<div id="b2c7f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6a66711f5acee75ef45787edb3f12cc7"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1313660315893141504" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Match 11: Lardaceous Leviathan Levels Chunky Challenger The votes are in! You’ve crowned the Earl of Avoirdupois,… https://t.co/4SlXOpVBcH</div> — Katmai National Park (@Katmai National Park)<a href="https://twitter.com/KatmaiNPS/statuses/1313660315893141504">1602036000.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="bc390" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7ec387bc0962cc207aae4e2fa0a5488b"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1313513386878152705" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Today’s the day we will crown 2020’s Fat Bear Week Champion. Where 747’s sedulous quest for salmon secured him a st… https://t.co/tBnlt5eyCS</div> — Katmai National Park (@Katmai National Park)<a href="https://twitter.com/KatmaiNPS/statuses/1313513386878152705">1602000969.0</a></blockquote></div>
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America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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