Thursday, November 23, 2023

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Gauley River National Recreation Area

My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is from my undergraduate years when we traveled the national parks during spring break.  

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


The first couple of national parks that my future wife and I visited were in West Virginia, hence the reason I don't have many geologically themed photographs. Gauley River National Recreation Area is located within the Appalachian Mountains, much like Shenandoah National Park to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the south, so the geological formation of the region would follow a similar path.

Looking downstream the Gauley River from the Summersville dam

The Gauley River flows from east to west across West Virginia until it eventually meets up with the New River. Within the Gauley River NRA, the river cuts through Lower Pennsylvanian (~320 million years old) New River Formation rocks, specifically the Upper Nuttall Sandstone and some undifferentiated deposits below the Upper Nuttall and above the Upper Raleigh Sandstone. 

Bedrock Geologic Map of the Gauley River NRA. Image courtesy of the NPS

The Upper Nuttall Sandstone, along with the rest of the New River Formation, was deposited along the western coastal edge of the Iapetus Ocean as Pangea was slowing being formed and North America and Africa were barreling towards each other. The sandstone deposits themselves represent the beach/barrier island complex of the region. The sandstone layers are mixed with shale layers that are intermingled with several coal seams. These coal seams represent areas where lagoons formed when the barrier islands were located further to the east, allowing abundant live to thrive in a swamp-like environment. The New River Formation is the final gasp of coastal deposits in the area as the ocean fully closed up shortly after this.   

Summersville Dam

The Summersville Dam, seen here, is actually located just upstream of the National Park boundary along the Gauley River, however because of that it has a tremendous impact on the water flow through the park. Dam's have historically not been the best for the environment, completely disrupting the traditional flow of water, sediment, and wildlife that thrives in such an environment. However the construction of such dams also provide a much needed service for the people that live in the region. The construction of the Summersville Dam helps control flooding that was destroying nearby communities as well as provide a renewable source of energy through their hydroelectric plant.  

Also, interesting item of note, dams are typically named after the nearest town, however the nearest town was called "Gad" and it was agreed upon that the second closest town's name would be used instead. 


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