Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jackson River at Low Moor - September 2009

A strong early-fall cold front swept away the warm, humid August airmass a couple of days ago to reveal clear skies, mild temps, and low humidity. Perfect paddling weather. I chose to visit the Jackson River at Low Moor today to explore the available flatwater on this river. Access in this location is several miles west of Clifton Forge, Virginia just off I-64. In fact, the river access is visible from the interstate. A gravel parking is lot is provided with space for several vehicles and short walk-down access to the river. No boat ramp is available. I was the only vehicle in the lot when I arrived, and I used my fat kayak wheels to move my 14' Heritage Sea Dart down to the water. Framed by bluebird skies and leaves with the beginnings of fall color, the river was quiet as I slipped away from the shoreline.

The Jackson River flows down a bit of a gorge in this location, so I was bordered by rock outcrops on both sides as I traveled upstream to the first set of rapids.

Rocks in the area consist of folded slates and sandstones, part of the formation of the Appalachian mountains about 250 million years ago. The slates were mud, basically, when they were being deposited as a sediment on an ancient continental shelf off North America before lithifying into shale, then being folded & faulted and transported onto the North American continent during a phase of the Appalachian mountain building event.

Rounded boulders of sandstone were transported off the continent by rivers as this mud was being deposited, and these sandstone boulders found themselves embedded in the mud. As you can see in the above picture, numerous rounded sandstone boulders are present in the slate along this stretch of the river. Consisting mostly of hard quartz, the boulders weather out of the rock outcrop and eventually fall down, leaving behind an indentation in the rock outcrop. Unfortunately, I don't recall my sedimentology course with enough clarity to remember what these structures are called.

Parts of the river shoreline are so littered with these sandstone boulders that they look like discarded cannonballs.

After exploring the upstream section of the river, I paddled downstream through one small riffle to the next set of downstream rapids. The roundtrip took me about 40 minutes, and that includes plenty of poking around time.

While the Jackson River flows through a pretty part of the state in this region, there are some downsides. The I-64 region through this part of Virginia is quite industrial, and quite a lot of activity is crammed into the valley between Clifton Forge and Covington. As a result, there was an overabundance of noise on the river, from I-64 traffic, to trains and various noises from nearby industrial plants.

The MeadWestVaco paper plant upstream in Covington, Virginia is the second worst polluter in the state, releasing thousands of tons of toxins and carcinogens into the air and the water each year. Indeed, the Jackson River in Low Moor has a bit of brown tinge to it, and the river itself is reportedly relatively lifeless between Covington and Clifton Forge, where the Jackson joins with the Cowpasture River to form the head of the James River. Some of the exposed muds along the shoreline, too, had a rank smell. Respiratory illnesses are the highest in the state here, along with cancer rates. It's not unusual to encounter a smelly 'fog' when driving on I-64 through this valley, courtesy of the paper plant. For this reason, I do not recommend fishing or swimming in this part of the Jackson River, and maybe not even paddling. Money or not, it's unfortunate that blatant pollution on this scale is allowed to continue in this day and age.

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