Roadtrip Mountaineer Expressway — Hawks Nest State Park

West Virginia/Virginia

July 2011 & July 2014

Lisa and I make a road trip on the Mountaineer Expressway and beyond.  This is one of eleven columns from that trip.


Our first intended stop on this journey is a place called Mystery Hole, but our hunger is more important at the moment.  Before we get to Mystery Hole, we turn off US-19 onto US-60, and pull into the picnic area of Hawks Nest State Park.  Before claiming our picnic table we walk out to the top of the bluff to take in the surprising landscape panorama of the New River.

This bluff has a reputation for more than just the view.  There are legends of romance-inspired suicides by young couples who, for reasons that make for wonderful, tearful passion and devotion stories, cannot be together in this world.  Over they go.  Tumbling five hundred eighty-five feet down into the New River Gorge where they remain romantically entwined for all eternity.  Lovers Leap.

I would not think to name a park after a nest, especially that of a raptor.  On a hike one time, we scrambled up some rocks to the top of a cliff for the excellent view.  Once at the top, we were assaulted by a powerful putrescent stench.  Reminded me of some mausoleum-quality asparagus I unearthed in my vegetable bin.  We got down on our bellies to peer over the edge.  There, tucked under a rock overhang, was a gigantic nest.  Y’know how bird nests are neat, circular, well-designed and symmetrically built?  This was nothing like that, more like a bad hair day at the static electricity factory with sticks poking out willy nilly, no rhyme or reason to the design.  The bird used not just sticks, twigs, bits of bark and evergreen needles but there were pieces of cloth material, plastic and rubber parts, not to mention the source of the smell:  scraps of decaying animals.  Would you name your park after this thing?

Originally the park name came from a large kettle of osprey that once nested on these cliffs.  However, the hawks left in the 1870s due to blasting for construction of the railroad.  Most of them never came back.

Currently we spot a few hawks from this lookout:  vultures, eagles, falcons, osprey.  Somewhere in the gorge, I’m certain, are stinky remains.

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