Pipestem Resort State Park is located is southern West Virginia and overlooks the Bluestone River Gorge. The listed coordinates will bring close to the Bluestone River near the Mountain Creek Lodge. There are two ways to get here, the easiest is to take the Aerial Tramway from the Canyon Rim Center. The second route involves hiking along the River Trail, though if you do take this route be prepared for a water crossing. Both the Aerial Tramway and the River Trail can be accessed from the same parking lot.
Bluestone River is named for the deep blue limestone stream bed of its upper reaches. Here you will find the Bluefield Formation, which consists mostly of marine calcareous shales with minor limestone, siltstone, and sandstone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock often composed of calcium carbonate. It is usually formed in clear, calm, warm shallow waters. Limestone can be divided into two categories, biological and chemical. Biological limestone is made from the shells and skeleton of marine organisms that lithified (turned into) limestone. In contrast, chemical limestone forms by precipitation of calcium carbonate from marine or fresh water. It is like if you have a bucket of salt water and leave it in the sun, the water will evaporate, leaving behind the salt. Siltstone and sandstone are both sedimentary rocks as well. Siltstone is mostly composed of silt and has a gray/red/brown color. Sandstone is composed of sand particles and can also be found in variety of colors including tan, brown, yellow, red, gray and white.
There are several types of fluvial features that are also worth pointing out. The word fluvial indicates that it is formed by water. They can either construct or erode landforms and can be found throughout the park. Examples include meandering river channels, point bars, floodplains, and terraces. The river channels are where the water flows. Water chooses a path of least resistance (gravity) and this can result in features such as waterfalls. They work in conjunction with other erosional process such as slope movement, which I won't go into depth too much here but is basically erosion taking place and the eroded material travelling downhill. This is often how some of the boulders end up in the river, which in turn forms rapids. Probably one of the most interesting features involves the meanders that can be found in rivers. As a river flows around a curve, the greatest velocity (and energy) is found on the outside bend of the curve. This results in the river eroding into the bank on the outside bend, while sediment would be deposited on the inside bend. Then there are point bars which are crescent-shaped ridges of sand, silt, and clay that are deposited on the inside of meander loops where the water’s velocity is slowest. Over time, the outside bend retreats farther, while the inside bend moves laterally, resulting in migrating meanders.
- Observe some of the rocks in the area. Is it predominantly a single type of rock? Identify the rock.
- Next proceed towards the river. Observe some of the limestone near the river. Is it biological or chemical? What led you to that conclusion?
- This area is located near a meander in the river. What are some of the fluvial features that are visible? Are there any boulders in the river? Do you think they originated from bottom or top of the gorge?
- Upload a photo with the Bluestone River. You don't need to be in the photo, though it is strongly encouraged.