Living in Geologic Time: The New River Gorge: Ancient River, Old Mines, New National Park

The New River from the Endless Wall Trail

Last year, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.

My latest column features a place very near and dear to my heart: West Virginia’s New River Gorge, which just became our country’s 63rd national park!

My family history runs deep in these New River coal 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.

Karmoor Mine was closed and the town was abandoned by the 1960’s

I spent the summers of my childhood exploring the woods and creeks around the New River Gorge, hunting for salamanders and seashell fossils from a long-gone ocean that predates the ancient 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).

The New River Gorge Bridge

To read the rest of the story, visit

My cousin Elizabeth at Long Point

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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