Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 43
the afternoon and evening. Hopping off and re-boarding
requires a two- or three-night layover.
On my trip, the train stopped in the West Virginia
communities of White Sulphur Springs, Alderson, Hinton, Prince, Thurmond and Montgomery. Although my
destination was Charleston, I relished the idea of exploring Hinton and White Sulphur Springs by foot and
catching the shuttle at Thurmond for a myriad of adventures on the gorge through an adventure company by
the same name.
Thurmond, West Virginia. Travelers can pre-arrange with Adventures on the Gorge resort for a pickup
at Thurmond or White Sulphur Springs. Adventures is
known for its world-class whitewater rafting expeditions
as well as rock climbing, ziplining,
COURTESY OF THE GREENBRIER
fishing, kayaking, caving and other
experiences. In the off-season, guests
fill their luxury and rustic cabins for
yoga retreats, murder mystery weekends and food tastings.
"Traveling by train, guests can
immediately begin recharging their
batteries instead of worrying about
traffic," says Dave Arnold, Adventures co-founder and vice president.
"Our guests who arrive by train seem
a little more relaxed at check-in."
"I'm sure my poor trainer thought he
had a young child by his side when I
asked questions, questions, and more
questions," Dunlap says.
She learned that the woven metal
fencing over the tracks is wired to
warn the train of falling rocks as well
as where to look for nesting eagles,
the average age of the route's seven
tunnels (160 years), and who was the
most famous inmate of the trackside
women's prison at Alderson (Martha
As one of seven Collis P. Huntington
Railroad Historical Society narrators,
Dunlap shares such tidbits as the existence of prehistoric rock walls above
Mount Carbon, the 14-year poker
game in Thurmond, and West Virginia's "Silicon Valley" at Alloy, where she
says silicon for half the world's computer chips is produced. She explains
TOWNS TO EXPLORE BY FOOT
Clifton Forge, Virginia. The nation's shortest St. Patrick's Day parade crosses the street in Clifton Forge near
the Amtrak station, from Jack Mason's Tavern to Irish
Inn. The outlandishly dressed marchers-clad in green
derbies, red wigs, kilts and even stilts -give a clue to the
character of this little town set on re-inventing itself.
The former mortuary here is now Red Lantern Inn, a
favorite among those who come in for performances at
the renovated Historic Masonic Theatre. Events have included the Virginia Opera and Virginia Opry as well as a
blues festival, Marian Anderson tribute, Love Canon and
a quilting retreat.
Arts aficionados visit three juried or private galleries within three blocks: Fire & Light Gallery, Alleghany
Highlands Arts & Crafts Center and Clifton Forge School
the five-mile "Dries" below the dam
where the New River is diverted into
a tunnel and points out the surviving
brick coke ovens along the track near
Dunlap narrates for more than three
hours on the eastbound Cardinal, then
climbs off in either White Sulphur
Springs, W.Va. or Clifton Forge, Va.,
depending upon whether she's guiding a tour group in her off hours. If
she's free, Dunlap walks around town,
says hi to her favorite doorman, and
drops in at the shops and galleries.
People who see her eating sweet
potato fries in Jack Mason's Tavern or
walking Clifton Forge's Smith Creek
Trail in her navy pants and badge
think of her as sort of a celebrity.
"There goes the Amtrak narrator,"
they say. "Say hi to her; she can tell
you anything about the history around
here. She's very nice."
The Greenbrier offers
So I did. Dunlap did more than answer a few questions; she gave me my
own private historical narration (narrations aren't done on westbound trips).
As the other passengers heard her,
they started moving in closer. Dunlap
shared treats from her big goodie bag.
We applauded her as the train pulled
Instead of hurrying home when she
disembarked around 9 p.m., Dunlap
checked the paint job she'd done on
the Charleston waiting room earlier.
She put up fall theme decorations and
shined the faucets she'd bought for
the ladies' room.
"I was embarrassed that the way
the station looked wouldn't encourage
rail travelers," Dunlap says. "Maybe
Amtrak passengers will feel welcomed
The folks in my railcar certainly did.
May/June 2018 43