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Our 10 Favorite New River Gorge Curiosities

April 14, 2024

Who are we? Amy & Shawn, New River Gorge hikers, WV Master Naturalists, and owners of Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals in downtown Fayetteville, WV – the heart of New River Gorge National Park. We are curious people, and these are our favorite New River Gorge curiosities!

A turret shaped building made from pink Nuttall sandstone with a grey shingled roof. The bathroom at Hawks Nest State Park Main Overlook.
The Restrooms at Hawks Nest Main Overlook

Hawks Nest Restrooms

When Amy was a child, she dreamed of living in the Hawks Nest State Park bathroom . . . seriously. In her defense, it looks very much like a castle turret. Amy’s dream home was built around 1935, during the great depression, by the Civilian Conservation Corps. At the same time, they used on-site lumber and cut stone to build the main overlook, gift shop, big picnic shelter, and a museum (now event venue) high on the hill.

A man (Shawn) kneeling beside a large rock on the ground with a very distinct face carved into it.
Shawn with the Rock Face

Face in the Rock

For many decades now, hikers and climbers have known about a mysterious face carved into the sandstone just off Fayette Station Road. But it wasn’t until word of the stone face made its way onto social media that a story began to surface about its origins. It’s believed that a man who resided on the land nearby carved the face in the 1950s. He also carved his family name, Johnson, on another nearby rock. The rock face is on National Park land off Fayette Station Road near the Canyon Rim Visitors Center.

A large, wooden, flat boat known as a batteau sitting in front of the Sandstone Visitors Center.
The Minner at Sandstone Visitors Center

The Minner

The extreme turbulence of the river through the New River Gorge did not allow for easy transport of people or goods by boat, and the steep, narrow cliffs on each side of the river made building canals impossible. But on some of the flat-water sections and especially farther south near Hinton where the river widens, an old form of wooden boat called a batteau was used to move goods prior to the installation of the railroad. A reproduction batteau named the “Minner” sits in front of the Sandstone Visitors Center in the southern section of New River Gorge National Park.

An Alabama state marker sign in the middle of a little outdoor seating area in Oak Hill, WV. It is a tribute to country music star Hank Williams.
Hank Williams: The Last Ride

The Alabama State Marker in Oak Hill, WV

In 2016, the Alabama Tourism Department installed a historical marker in downtown Oak Hill, WV commemorating the legendary Hank Williams, their native son. The 29-year-old Williams died of heart failure while being driven in his Cadillac between shows in Ohio and West Virginia. He was pronounced dead in the Oak Hill Hospital on New Year’s Day 1953. His final tour route remains a sacred pilgrimage for many of the singer-songwriter’s fans.

An interpretive sign in the foreground labeling the bat condo in the background in the Grandview section of New River Gorge National Park.
The Bat Condo at Grandview

Big Bat Condo

When we first saw this very large birdhouse-looking structure from a distance, we thought it was a children’s playhouse. But as we got closer, we realized it was for bats (hence the fly-in access). The Grandview Bat Condo was constructed to give a new home to maternity colonies of little and big brown bats that had previously been living in the nearby amphitheater. It’s quite the bat resort – built by the water (a nearby pond) and boasting a flyway outback (a big field).

Yellowish green lumpy balls - osage oranges - on a tree with green leaves at Fayette Station on the New River.
Osage Oranges

Fayette Station Osage Oranges

If you visit Fayette Station in late September/early October, you may see lots of little brains floating around at the confluence of Wolf Creek and the New River. Don’t be alarmed – they’re only Osage Oranges! Historians believe these ancient, odd-looking tree fruits (that no people or critters eat today) were enjoyed by prehistoric animals like giant land sloths and mastodons. Osage Orange trees are not native to the New River Gorge, so we like to believe they were brought here long ago by these migrating giants.

An old black and white photo of a tunnel about 24' tall under construction at Hawks Nest.
Construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel. Photo from NPS.

Hawks Nest Tunnel

Completed around 1932, the Hawks Nest Tunnel diverts most of the water from the New River near Hawks Nest State Park through Gauley Mountain for three miles and then returns it to the natural flow near Gauley Bridge, WV. Locals call the vacated section of riverbed “the dries.”

Hundreds of men who worked on the tunnel died from silicosis – it’s considered one of the worst industrial tragedies in the history of the United States. The companies responsible for the project knew the workers would be exposed to silica-bearing sandstone but chose to proceed and even enlarge the project for the purpose of extracting and selling the silica.

You can visit both the tunnel intake (accessible from Hawks Nest State Park’s Fisherman’s Trail) and the output (accessible from Hawks Nest Dam Trail in Cotton Hill), as well as the Hawks Nest Workers Memorial and Grave Site off U.S. Rt. 19 in Nicholas County.

Six coke ovens in a row. The openings are arched and made of brick. The tops are grown over with trees and brush.
Red Ash Coke Ovens. Photo from NPS.

Coke Ovens

When coal is baked in an airless furnace, the impurities are burned off leaving behind an almost pure carbon product called coke. Much of the coal in the New River Gorge left by train in the form of coke to run the steel mills up north. The steel industry valued coke over coal because it burned hotter and was virtually smokeless. The remnants of coke ovens can still be found at most of the major coal complex site within New River Gorge National Park.

There are two kinds of coke ovens in the New River Gorge: bread-loaf/vault style on Red Ash Island (accessed on the Southside Trail), and the more common beehive style found throughout the park. Our favorite coke ovens can be found in Nuttallburg.

The Mystery Hole

The Mystery Hole

Spotting the huge gorilla beside the Midland Trail (U.S. Rt. 60) near Ansted, WV has been the delight of many children for decades! The colorful, kitschy shack on which the concrete gorilla is perched has been a siren call for even the most “mature” visitors to the New River Gorge since 1973. It certainly sucked both of us into its gravity-defying wonder!

A girl (Amy) smiling while eating a dipped ice cream cone in front of Hinton Dairy Queen's windows which showcase the New River up close.
Amy enjoying a dipped cone at Hinton Dairy Queen.

Hinton Dairy Queen

You may be thinking, “if you’ve been in one Dairy Queen, you’ve been in them all.” But we assure you, the Hinton Dairy Queen is different. The food is the same but the view from the dining room is unbelievable! Stop by for a frozen treat as see for yourself.

New River Gorge Photo Location Guide

Craving more data for your New River Gorge exploration? Read “New River Gorge Explorer: A 5-Day Itinerary” and “Our 10 Favorite New River Gorge Micro-Season.”

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Fayetteville, WV 25840
(304) 900-3301