Tag Archives: Iron Gate

Iron Gate, Virginia, January 2017

The past week’s cold facilitated a rare occurrence — the freezing of the Cowpasture River in Iron Gate.  My friend posted these yesterday.

I think that second shot is really damned cool.  I believe that’s the spot where the protruding rocks make the mini-rapids that they call “riffles.”





Roanoke, Virginia, October 2016

Rainy Roanoke!  It actually is a beautiful small city, even during an overcast October week — and the skies cleared up brightly my last day there.

What I loved most about the city during the daytime is how the surrounding mountain peaks ascended to be obscured by darkening alabaster clouds.  It’s as though some celestial painter was coloring outside the lines, and brushed broad swathes of smoky white to cover the summits, and to turn the slopes the hues of deep, royal blue-gray and dimming charcoal.

This entire region in Southern Virginia rests along a broad valley encircled by mountains — the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west.  (The Alleghenies are where you can find Iron Gate and Clifton Forge.)  It is slightly disorienting for a first-time visitor to see mountains virtually everywhere on the horizon; I think it subtly affects one’s sense of direction.  (Mill Mountain, home of the famed Roanoke Star, is within the city limits.)

There actually is a Long Island, Virginia along the Roanoke River, presumably where all the cool people live.  Just northwest of that is Altavista, Virginia, with its notable cottage industry of obsolete Internet search engines.

My girlfriend calls Roanoke “The Snow Globe City,” and that makes sense when you view downtown from the highway.  It is a quaint looking southern city, its streets are neatly lined with boxlike period buildings, and it has the appearance of a picturesque architectural huddle.

And there are churches everywhere within the city.  It is indeed part of the Bible Belt.













Iron Gate and Clifton Forge, Virginia, July 2016

Here are a couple of more shots of Iron Gate and Clifton Forge, in the Alleghany Highlands of southwestern Virginia.  Words can’t convey the immensity and beauty of the 400-foot-high Rainbow Rock, towering over Rainbow Gorge and the railroad tracks.



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Camping at Iron Gate, Virginia, July 2016 (2)

Here are a few more pictures of our campsite on the Cowpasture River in Iron Gate, in Virginia’s Alleghany County.  The river snakes and winds throughout its 84 miles until it combines with the Jackson River to make the James River.  The Native Americans called it the “Walatoola,” or “Winding River.”  The arriving British renamed it, Wikipedia informs me — there are “Bullpasture” and “Calfpasture” rivers too, and they are all apparently named according to some confusing early American folklore involving stolen cattle.

The water was perfectly clear, and as warm as a mild bath after the late July sun hit it for a little while in the morning.  I remember thinking that my friends and I had an endlessly stretching hot-tub beside the place where we slept.

The riverbed and the hills through which it cuts are composed of jagged, gigantic jigsaw pieces of sedimentary rock — shale, sandstone and limestone — tilted askew.  They’re slippery.  But above those, in most places, are scattered wide beds of perfectly smooth, smaller stones that are comfortable to walk on.

There are often scores of small fish that hug the bank or quietly dart about the ankles of visitors wading in.  These are a staple for the eagles.  Flycasters, too, pursue larger quarry on the western bank, while people swimming and tubing stay to the right — I suppose this is river etiquette?

Upriver from our campsite, there are also “riffles” — miniaturized rapids that offer a bumpy but easy ride to anyone “tubing.”





House Stark’s invading army bivouacs on its way south to King’s Landing.  NOBODY GET MARRIED.



I found the ancient Native American Magic Machete of Legend beneath the river’s clear waters. Because I am strong and pure of heart. (I also found the ancient Native American stone cell phone.)

Wielding the legendary blade allowed me to walk on water, as you can see.  Having thus conquered it, I then claimed the river for New York.


I tried unsuccessfully to prank a friend by placing a Blair Witch stickamajig outside his tent.  Unfortunately, it kinda unraveled.  I even managed to position it outside the wrong tent, actually leaving it for a nice girl who had never seen “The Blair Witch Project.”  I was really off my game.


The quick, shy skink. After nearly two years in Virginia, I finally snapped a pic.  I indeed mean “skink,” and not “skunk.” It’s a lizard. It’s got a glittery blue tail, though you can hardly tell in these pictures.



Camping at Iron Gate, Virginia, July 2016

So the Mary Washington College alums finally shanghaied me into the annual campout at Iron Gate, Virginia (population 388).  It was amazing.

I saw a bear (on the ride home); a bald eagle; cows and horses; huge snorting hogs and friendly little piglets (hoglets?); a bat; a glittering blue-tailed skink; a wrinkly, red-faced turkey buzzard (up close); finger-length iridescent blue dragonflies; and innumerable wildflowers.

We smelled skunks too — several times along the way and once downtown in neighboring Clifton Forge.

This was all in the company of some amazing friends, schoolmates and their families — a couple of whom I haven’t seen in nearly a quarter century.


Approaching Iron Gate via Clifton Forge and the Allegheny Mountains in southwest Virginia.  What you see is not fog — these mountains are high enough so that the road runs parallel with the clouds.


The Cowpasture River and its vicinity.




Camp Nolan.  The bat is for bobcats or The Blair Witch.


The magic bacon-creating creatures of legend!!!


I made friends with these adorable bacon beans!  After I called them, they decided they liked me and tried to follow me out! I wanted to adopt one and name him “Delicious.”


Accidental overhead abstract mountain shot is creepy as f#%k.  I’m pretty sure this is the last thing a murder victim sees …


The first fireworks photos I’ve ever taken that have actually turned out.  I am 43 years old.







The Haul!

I am a nine-year-old boy when it comes to fireworks, especially after having resided for so long in New York, where they are illegal.  So you can imagine my zeal when I started seeing those massive, bright yellow, carnivalesque, quintessentially Southern seasonal fireworks stands erected sporadically along the highways.  (Picture a college kid turning 21 and then wanting to hit every bar in town.)

I embarrassed myself last week when I accosted the kids unpacking the wares for one outside Walmart, smiling from ear to ear as they first began lining the shelves.  “When are you going to open?!”  They were polite and were pleased with my interest, but they definitely thought I was odd.

Turns out that the laws governing the sale of fireworks are pretty particular, even here in Virginia, where they’re not prohibited.  The stand where I arrived early was waiting for approval from the local fire marshal, which I suppose makes sense.

The laws also affect which fireworks can be sold — there are none of the simple “bottlerockets” that I grew up with, for example.  (In New York, we usually managed to lay hands on at least some simple ones, whether the law allowed them or not.)  The woman at the stand where I stopped today explained that they can’t sell anything that can travel more than a certain number of feet in the air.  This is why there are no airborne fireworks such as those you see at shows, but there is a cornucopia of small, freestanding “shower” -type standalone units that shoot colored sparks just a couple of feet high.

In a way it makes sense, and in a way it doesn’t.  The allowed units can’t be fired at a target, for example, the way bottlerockets can.  (Some of the more enterprising boys in my old neighborhood actually sawed off their hollow plastic Wiffle bats to make handheld launchers for them.  It made “playing army” even more interesting.)  But the ones I was able to buy to actually still could be considered fire hazards in that they … kinda produce fire.  (The product’s only function is to launch colored bursts of sparks upward.)

There were no plain firecrackers, like “Black Cats,” “Lady Fingers,” or “TNT’s,” for reasons I can’t figure out.  Predictably, there were also no “jumping jacks.”  Those were the delightfully, frighteningly unpredictable little bastards that screeched and flared and zipped and ricocheted in every direction after they were lit.  Hell, we figured out that those damn things were dangerous (and were a little in awe of them) when we were kids.  And that says a lot.

I remember one year, a pal of mine lit off a jumping jack in the wide open, ostensibly safe space in front of his house’s front steps.  The wicked thing had an incendiary little mind of its own, though, and promptly shot beyond his yard, all the way across the street, and into the bushes of his neighbors’ house there.  One of those bushes ignited at once, burning as fearsomely as the one that confronted Moses.  It was scary.  As an pre-teen, I remember being unnerved at discovering how quickly something very dry could burst into flames.

Anyway, the good natured Virginian lady who sold me my wares today remembered my face from my purchase yesterday and greeted me sweetly when I returned.  (Everyone is so amazingly friendly here.)  I inwardly opined that she was herself a fire hazard; she was hot enough to light off every fuse in that place.  (I kept that joke to myself, though.)

Below is the day’s haul.  I wanted to buy more, and maybe just stock up.  I hit upon a brilliant idea … why not make it a tradition to shoot off fireworks EVERY holiday?!  But I didn’t.  These things are sold plentifully, but that doesn’t make them exactly dirt cheap.

Those two bags you see are hopefully destined for that annual campout at Iron Gate, later this summer, with the Mary Wash alums.  (Will I finally make it this year?)  The others, I hope, I might use to entertain some local munchkins I know.  (Those “Lightning Flashes” are utterly harmless and safe for kids; they’re really just a variation of the “Snaps” we used to buy at the corner drugstore.)

I’m just going to pretend that they’re all still against the law.  It’s more fun that way.



A spooky story for my friends who are camping at Iron Gate!

So … once again, the cool and rugged Mary Wash kids kindly invited this New York nerd along for their annual 5-day camping excursion at Iron Gate, Virginia.  And, once again, I bailed like a weenie.

I’m speaking specifically about Russ, Janet, Paula and Paul.  (No, the latter two are neither spouses nor siblings, even though that would be totally awesome.)  I WANTED to go!!  Seriously!!  And I know that you guys went to great lengths to assiduously counsel me about the availability of wifi, coffee, cell phone reception and convenience stores.  I appreciate your encouragement.

I WILL be there in spirit.  If you DO have any access to the Internet (you guys totally equivocated when I asked that), then here is evidence that I am thinking of you.

It’s a story I wrote about a disappearance in the thick forests surrounding a small, rural town.  Just switch out Willibee, Massachusetts for Iron Gate, Virginia, and it could be your little getaway.  It’s called “The Disappearance of Little Tommy Drummond,” and it was first published in Dead Beats Literary Blog in November 2013.

Party like the old days, but beware of strange messages carved into trees.  And don’t walk too far alone at dusk.



Photo credit:  “View southeast, general view, barn at left – Woods Homestead, County Route 12 on north side of North Fork of Hughes River, 2.2 miles north and east of Goose Run Road intersection, Harrisville, Ritchie County, WV,”  1933, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, via Wikimedia Commons.