Beckley lies in the heart of coal country. The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine takes visitors inside a mine that is no longer in operation, with retired miners guiding the tours. The Beckley Mine also houses a small museum and a "coal company house"—one of the homes miners used to be forced to lease from their employer. We found both the tour and the house to be an education, helping us to better understand the dangers and hardships faced by miners.
Beckley is a gateway to the New River Gorge National River. This park, which follows 55 mi/90 km of the free-flowing New River, is one of the best-kept secrets in the East. The river—some experts consider it the oldest river in the Western Hemisphere—roils through an impressive canyon and makes for some of the finest white-water rafting in the U.S., with numerous Class III to Class V rapids (on a scale of I to VI). The park encompasses 63,000 acres/25,500 hectares of forest, where visitors can also view wildlife and camp, fish, hike or rock climb. (The rim of the gorge is 1,300 ft/400 m above the river in some places.) The hiking trails in the preserve often go past old mining equipment and abandoned, dilapidated buildings. The park service is working to restore some of these ruins (notably in Thurmond) to offer park visitors a glimpse into West Virginia's past. 50 mi/80 km southeast of Charleston.
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