Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 24, 2013

Geology and culture: Like rocks, curiosities also litter state roadways

— A rock slide that closed a portion of Interstate 77 last week — a major East Coast thoroughfare — seemed to underscore Appalachian geology and culture. These age-old mountains and hills are not always as stable as they appear, and when it comes to our roads, who knows what one may find lying on or beside them.

Years ago, our relatives from Baltimore would travel to West Virginia for frequent visits. While many characteristics of the Mountain State impressed them, the one thing that seemed to stand out as unusual were the road-side warnings of potential rock slides.

My cousin was always amazed at the bright yellow “Watch for falling rocks” signs, and would always comment when we saw one. She wondered about the possibility of rocks hitting vehicles, and would look up warily as if there was an imminent threat?

Although a child myself, I was accustomed to seeing the warnings on a daily basis and encouraged her not to worry. “Rocks fall.” I explained. “You drive around them.”

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Last week’s slide onto I-77 left no room for motorists to “drive around.” And this, too, I understood. A couple of years ago, spring freezing and thawing trends left a mess in my own rural, gravel driveway.

I learned of the problem a few minutes after waking when I received a call from my nephew, who had just passed by our house on the way to taking his wife to work. His first words: “Do you know you have a rock in your driveway?”

“There are many rocks in our driveway,” I responded dryly, only a couple of sips into my first cup of coffee. “Rocks of all shapes and sizes.”

“This is a big rock,” he replied. “It’s blocking your road.”

“Big rock” to me indicated throw-pillow size. Or maybe, worst-case scenario, a rock the size of an end table or chair.

After a few more drinks of coffee I started to get ready for work. Then, remembering the tone in the nephew’s voice, I decided to walk down the driveway and check out “the rock” — in case it was as bad as his words implied.

A quarter-mile down the drive and around a curve, I saw it — not a rock but a boulder half the size of my sport utility vehicle. It was perfectly positioned in the middle of the road, ensuring that no one would be driving on or off the mountain.

I called the office to tell them I wouldn’t be in, then emailed a photo of the boulder for emphasis. We live in West Virginia, and sometimes Mother Nature makes her own plans for our day.

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I am often surprised by what I see littering the sides of the roads in southern West Virginia. Sadly, rocks and boulders are the least of the problem.

A certain element of our population seems intent on throwing anything and everything off the backs of trucks and out of side windows. During my daily commute to work on Lorton Lick Road and Route 52, I frequently see bizarre and unusual items lying in ditch lines and marring our beautiful landscapes.

Mattresses, furniture and apparel in all shapes and sizes are among the items that give one pause. Who leaves bedsprings on the shoulder of the road near the beautiful stone sign that serves as an entrance to Bluefield?

Why toss a pair of jeans into the passing lane on Route 52 between Brushfork and the city limits? What is the ulterior motive for throwing clothing items out of car windows anyway?

Perhaps the most head-scratching item to be seen along the roadside is the single shoe, boot or sneaker. One has to wonder about the motivation that spurs the tossing of one piece of footwear out of a vehicle window.

Was the boot uncomfortable? Did the shoe pinch? Was the sneaker smelly? Did the driver or passenger arrive home or at another destination wearing only one piece of footwear and, if so, did this draw curious queries?

Sadly, the arrival of spring — a season that begins with no lush foliage to hide roadside castoffs — seems to highlight the problem of trash and litter.

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The rock slide that blocked I-77 caused a ripple affect that impacted many in Mercer County. Out-of-town travelers dutifully exited the interstate in Bluefield and traveled to Princeton to get back on the interstate. Locals who knew of the detour onto Route 460 begin taking secondary routes, thus leading to increased traffic on Route 52, Route 20 and other roads. Commute times increased. Headaches ensued.

The recent weather pattern — a combination of snow and rain, along with freezing and thawing cycles — was the culprit behind the slide. It caused the rocks to crack and resulted in sandstone, shale and quartz stones tumbling down from a once-stable perch onto the busy interstate.

It was a potentially dangerous event, but fortunately no one was injured. And thousands of inconvenienced motorists kept moving (for the most part) through the detour, albeit at a much slower speed.

In West Virginia rocks fall. You drive around them.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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