I hate to sound like a broken record, but another fitful night of sleep. Hot and cold all night. Couldn't get comfortable.
As is my custom, I took a snapshot of my campsite in the morning. I have a great appreciation for picnic tables and a lot of my stealth camping techniques involve finding a place with a bench or table.
As I said yesterday, I still hadn't seen the town of Thurmond, so I headed back, though not on the same road as yesterday.
The visitor center was closed due to "No Electricity."
Thurmond is an historic railroad town with a current population of five. In a car that drove by, I think I saw 40% of the residents.
Thurmond was an important stop along the C&O railroad in this coal mining area. The depot still exists, as well as several of the original buildings. Amtrak still runs through the town and until very recently was an official stop on the Amtrak line. Today, it's essentially a ghost town.
The post office was open until 1995, and then apparently locked up and abandoned.
The downtown area is all on the National Register of Historic Places. Officially, there are no roads downtown. The railroad tracks have been the town's main transportation. There were no operating businesses that I saw, and aside from the previously mentioned car which drove past, I didn't see anther person in the hour or so that I lurked around.
A few people do live here. According to the 2000 census, there were five households and seven people.
I headed east out of Thurmond, what's labeled as County Road 25/2. Shortly out of town I ran into a fella with the hood open on his truck. I stopped to see if everything was ok. He said he was just waiting for the truck to cool down. I asked him if the road went through to the highway, and in one of my exceedingly rare experiences of having a local actually know the area, he thought for a moment and said, "Well, if there aren't any trees down you should be able to get through, but it'll take a couple hours." He was dead right. And he told me to watch out for rattlesnakes.
No downed trees, but a lovely road to ride. Kinda like yesterdays one-lane gravel road, but less muddy. And no snakes.
About two hours later, I was back up to the highway. I went to see the big attraction here, the bridge over the New River Gorge. The visitor center was again closed due to power outage. There's a boardwalk which leads down to an observation where you get only an obstructed view.
I found it disappointing the number of people around me who were huffing and puffing from the few flights of stairs. Most didn't take the walk to the lower level where you get the money shot.
The New River Gorge bridge was at one time the longest single-span arch bridge in the world. The arch itself is 1,700 feet long and the bridge totals 3,030 feet in length, with the New River 876 feet below. At the time of its construction in 1977 it was the world's highest vehicular bridge.
And in the other direction.
Wait, what's that? Another bridge down there?
I followed this one-lane and partially one-way road down into the gorge to get to the bridge and found myself virtually alone at the bottom.
This is a reconstruction of the original New River Gorge bridge that the big one replaced 35 years ago.
From here, the view is spectacular.
There's another one-lane road leading up and out of the gorge on the other side.
I stopped to look for another geocache in a small hiking area down the road a bit. There were supposed to be some waterfalls, but they were just a muddy trickle when I was there.
Toward evening I made it to my daily goal, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. This image was taken as I left.
The crown jewel of the observatory is the Green Bank Telescope, a radio telescope located in the middle of the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, an area of 13,000 square miles where radio transmissions are strictly regulated.
Here's a model of the telescope inside the visitor center.
The telescope is the world's largest steerable radio telescope and is more than 400 feet tall. It's huge. I wish I could show you pictures, but the telescope is so senstive that the emissions from a digital camera could cause interference. Electronic devices are strictly prohibited from within a mile and a half of the telescope. I made a mistake and did not purchase a disposable film camera in the gift shop before my tour.
Frank Drake did some of his work here and he is acknowledged in the visitor center. I loves me some Drake equation.
I arrived after 5pm when I thought for sure they'd be closed. To my surprise, the last tour of the day is at 6pm, and I was able to sign up. I was the only one on the tour. A young woman named Vivian was my tour guide. She first gave a presentation in an auditorium--I was the only audience member--where she described the work of the observatory and a bit about the radio-free zone. Then the two of us went outside to this 50-passenger shuttle bus.
It's a diesel, of course. No spark-plug powered vehicles are allowed near the telescope. And the radio has been removed from the dash.
It was a pretty informal tour. I sat right up front and Vivian described the facilities and pointed out numerous deer as we drove the loop. A few times she stopped the bus and we got out for a closer look. Again, can't use my digital camera in this ultra-sensative area.
When we returned to the visitor center, she suggested I go check out this truck:
It's used to locate devices in the area which are causing interfere with the telescope. In one case that Vivian told me, they pin-pointed an electric blanket in a nearby house which was interfering with the telescopes. A blanket!
She also explained how the local school has a microwave oven housed inside a Faraday cage and constructed such that it won't operate unless doors to both the microwave itself *and* the cage are closed.
From the nearby highway, a distant view of the Green Bank Telescope. It's huge. Really.
When I left the observatory I headed north through the Monongahela National Forest and to find a place to stop for the night.
Not long after this picture, a bear and her cub came out of the woods and hesitated before scurrying across the road in front of me. Too quick for a pic. Today was the day for wildlife.
I found a National Forest campground and while making dinner by my tent I could see the sky lighting up and hear sounds of thunder in the distance.