Summer is quickly coming to a close, and as Ned Stark would remind you that means winter is coming. So, let’s take a minute and squeeze every last drop out of summer that we possibly can! And what better way to milk the waning summer in Outside Magazine’s BEST RIVER TOWN than to get out on the James?!
Our trip begins at Pony Pasture Rapids, perhaps the biggest jewel in the James River Park System. Why is it called Pony Pasture? That is a great question, and I do not have an answer for you. Try as I might, I cannot find a single resource explaining how the various different access points to the river were named. Presumably, there were, at some point, ponies that were pastured in this area. Who pastured them? Could you ride them? Were they nice ponies? The world may never know. I can report with 99.99% accuracy that there are currently no ponies at Pony Pasture. There is, however, a place to put in your kayak or canoe. (Or tube, or pool toy, or pretty much anything that floats presumably.) The ramp itself was paid for entirely with money from recycling aluminum. Now if the river-goers would follow this model and collect their PBR cans maybe we could fix some of our roads!
Be forewarned though, the adventure we are about to embark upon goes through some rapids. They are normally right around Class II, and the trip is recommended for experienced paddlers. You will be going through the following rapids in order: Pony Pasture, Powhite Ledges, Choo Choo, Cooper’s Riffle, and Mitchell’s Gut. A great map can be found here. (Though still no explanation of those rapid names.)
Pony Pasture itself is a wonderful place to come and hang out on the rocks, have a picnic, or just take a quick dip while the warm weather still allows it. The area provides a variety of swimming options, from calm shallow pools, to faster moving water. It’s really the perfect place to bring your kids/dogs/self and just have a relaxing day. The parking area fits about 80 cars and it does tend to get crowded on weekends, so get there early.
On to the river!
One of the most impressive things that you will see on the trip, is the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Bridge. This giant concrete bridge was constructed in 1919 to replace the smaller steel bridge that used to exist. All traffic from CSX travelling south crosses over this bridge. If you look closely, you will also notice that there are trees and grass growing on the bridge, confirming (as always) Jurassic Park and that life finds a way.
As we keep rolling down the river, you will start to hit some rapids. I find that it is best to just grit your teeth, paddle furiously, and in the end just go wherever it is that the water is taking you.
Honestly, the trip was probably just one notch over my comfort level, but it was nice to push it. It was definitely a lot of fun and a great way to spend a late afternoon.
Taking pictures from a kayak can be a tricky thing. Numerous times I found myself slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) drifting down the James while I had my eye glued to the little eye piece trying to get the perfect shot. It’s really easy to lose yourself inside a camera. Occasionally, move the camera away from your face and remind yourself to paddle.
The trip came to an end for me at the Reedy Creek entrance/exit. Reedy Creek is helpfully marked by a giant white sign, so it is impossible to miss. If you are super adventurous, have the experience to handle Class III and IV rapids, and have enough daylight left you can continue on to the 17th Street take out. (Oooh! I know how that one got it’s name!) This would take you through First Break, Approach Rapids, Hollywood, Vepco Levee, Second Break (creative!), Southside, and my favorite: Pipeline.
It’s nice to be back in RVA after a brief hiatus. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore and share with you.
Are there other late summer explorations in RVA YOU want to see and learn more about? Leave a comment or email me at s: firstname.lastname@example.org! Or send a tweet to me @PhotoRVA. I’m always up for exploring our area, even when it makes me question my mortality! (I’m being a bit dramatic.)