09 May 2013

The Rivah

That would be the James River, Richmond's crowning glory.  Richmond is located at the "falls of the James", the end of the (easily) navigable water, though the Kanawha Canal bypassed the rapids until the railroad came through and made it obsolete. Some of it has been restored along the downtown waterfront. Much of the waterfront is parkland, some of it pretty wild and undeveloped, and some of it easily accessible. It's a pretty nice mix, and a wonderful place to spend time.

 I love the James River. Early in my days in Virginia, I canoed and swam in the Upper James, way west of Richmond, where the river is wide and slow, the fishing is good, and you can make a day or two of leisure travel and camp alongside. I've rafted the 6 or 7 miles of fall line rapids that run through the Richmond region. While it's not the Gauley River at dam release time, it's a lot of fun for a half day trip with kids.

Later, in about 1996, I bought a kayak. Now the rapids took on new meaning. You could play at the Upper or Lower Rapids, showing off to all the lookie-loos sunning themselves on the rocks, or head to the "downtown" stretch and run the Class 3-4 (and in higher water, 4+ to 5) rapids that include the famous "Hollywood Rapid" and the "Pipeline". SOOO much fun (about as much fun as you can have in a river with your clothes on).

Yesterday afternoon, I wandered down to Pony Pasture after work to look at the results of the recent rains out in the western part of Virginia. Rainfall in the east doesn't really affect river levels too much, but let it rain for a week or more in the west, and look out! Here is what the Westham gauge looked like today:
About 5 feet is considered normal, and the kayaking is good up to about 7 feet, maybe 8 if you are really good. Here's the warning you see when you walk up to the riverbank at the Pony Pasture parking lot (don't ask how Pony Pasture got its name, no one really seems to know though there is lots of speculation).
Here was the sign that more closely matches what the gauge levels showed.
Believe me, you do NOT want to be on the river when it is near 15 feet.
I went on a little hike. I'll take you along. Let's go left.
Along the trail, I spotted deer fur. Remember, this is in a very urbanized area.
Here's what the river looked like...that huge tree wasn't there the last time I visited, but it's sure a testament to the power of the river!
Back down at the Lower Rapids, this guy was sitting on a large rock that is normally about 8 feet above the water level, and 6 feet away from the splishy-splashy edge (and the normal take-out for kayaks). Under his feet are steps that lead down to the water's edge.
Here's a panorama of the Lower Rapids area. At normal water levels, there are huge rocks you can clamber over and use for sunning. At low water you can pretty much walk out to the islands in the middle, though they're pretty wet islands. Now, the rocks are under 8 feet of rushing water that will flat drown your butt if you try to play in it.
To give you a bit of perspective, here's a couple of 20 second videos to show you how fast and strongly this wonderful resource if moving.