By Mack Samples|
Some of the residents of the environs where I live are new to central West Virginia. Many of them are retired and have moved to the hills to escape the madness that has become urban America. As they begin to explore the wonders of the natural environment
of our beautiful state, I wouldn’t want them to miss Elk River’s End of the World Bend.
About seventy miles north of Charleston, actually between Ivydale and Duck, the Elk River makes a sweeping turn to the right as it makes its way to the Great Kanawha. The semi-circle turn extends for almost a mile. If you are driving down Route 4, and you have a compass in your car, you will witness the abrupt change in directions. If you are coming down the river in a boat, you see a jumble of rocks protruding skyward and you get the feeling that you are going to hit the proverbial “brick wall.” The Elk River raftsmen of old got the impression that they were headed for an impassable barrier as they looked ahead. Those old pioneer river travelers dubbed the place “The End of the World Bend.” The name has stuck until this day.
The interesting rock formation that seemingly blocks the flow of the river is nearly unnoticed during the summer months. Those not familiar with the history of the river drive right on by, thinking they are just going around another curve. But when the foliage retreats during the autumn, the rocks become very visible. Many believe that the Elk might have taken another course had those huge rocks not fallen down over the ages and blocked its way.
Interestingly enough the river makes a less freakish turn to the left after its broad sweep to the right indicating that it wanted to go that way in the first place. The best way to appreciate the behavior of the Elk at that point is to traverse the river by boat. You will then understand why the pioneers thought they had reached the end of the world.
W.E.B. “Bill” Byrne, who wrote the definitive history of the Elk River in a book published in 1940 entitled Tale of the Elk was fascinated by that particular curve in the river. Byrne, a Charleston attorney, was an avid fisherman. He explored the Elk from its headwaters at Slaty Fork to its collision with the Kanawha at Charleston. He chose the End of the World Bend as the place to build his fishing camp down at the lower end of the sweeping curve.
Byrne’s book is one of the best reads that you will find about West Virginia. It was out of print for many years but was reprinted in 2007 by Quarrier Press in Charleston. It is now available in bookstores.
He concluded his book with verse, lauding his campsite:
And the river which gladdened that celestial home with its waters
that Eddied and purled
Was the stream that flows by—neath the mild azure sky—
By the Camp at The End of the World