The Kaymoor Mine powder house, now restored, still stands today. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The trees lit up so violently I could’ve sworn I was about to be run over by a truck had I not been running down an abandoned railroad grade scraped from the side of a 1000 foot deep gorge. I looked over my shoulder to see a full, orange moon rising behind me rolling light down to the river below.
As if on cue, a coal train rounded the river bend it’s headlight piercing the shadows like a bramble to skin. It grated past in a metal on metal clatter and reverberated a groan that rolled over the canyon’s wooded folds as it has for over a century past.
It’s a familiar story here in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. Opposing elements, nature and the will of man, engaged in a seemingly endless territorial dispute. They bicker effortlessly and ineffectively, neither one gaining the upper hand, like an old married couple who give and take in maintenance of their peaceful symbiosis. So it is that stone walls cave to roots and trees cave to kudzu. The kudzu brought here by the railroads that rot, and rust as they groan with the sound of the land being towed away.
One of several entrances into the Kaymoor Mine.
I run, only a bystander passing through a borrowed space. Rounding my own corner, sandstone walls of the powder house slide out of the night standing watch over the Kaymoor Mine. Here in the dark with my plastic, LED headlamp and self imposed labor I borrow a kinship that I have not earned. My running shoes fail to fill the footprints pounded in this very earth by those who called the Gorge their home. Those who arose in the dark of morning to descend into the dark of the earth and return by the dark of night. Those who measured their day by the pound hacking a living from these walls as the coal dust hacked the living from their lungs.
I run through this ghost town and through their legacy. It hangs across the trail in a steady, humid chill slipping into the Gorge. It will remain here, long after the path they carved into this earth falls to root and vine. I will return here as often as I can to borrow this space, and this freedom.
Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers are always free.
You can visit the Kaymoor Mine in the New River Gorge of West Virginia via the Kaymoor Trail to witness first hand the remnants of a mining town that thrived from 1900 t0 1962. In that 62 year period minors removed 16,904,321 pounds of coal, cut by hand, hauled by mule to the surface then delivered by conveyor belt to the coke ovens and railroads below on the banks of the New River.