Entrenched meander near Beckley, W.Va., a geologic curiosity

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Just east of Beckley, in southern West Virginia, Piney Creek descends into a gorge that wanders the tablelands south of the New River Gorge. Near its upper end, the stream winds through what’s known geologically as an “entrenched meander,” the bending course of which has been trapped or entrenched by mountains that have been uplifted around it.

Meanders in streams are perhaps more famously associated with great rivers such as the Mississippi, which changefully twists and turns as it wanders across a wide plain. In the case of the Piney Creek, the stream, millions of years ago, apparently also twisted similarly in its course toward the ancient New River, and both streams became trapped in mountains that were uplifted around them.

Meanders in Piney Creek Gorge near Beckley, West Virginia, in Raleigh County
Meanders in Piney Creek Gorge

Entrenched meanders on this scale are sometimes known as “necks,” and the more exaggerated necks are sometimes known as “stretcher neck.” One of the most famous Stretcher Necks in the world is created by an entrenched meander in the New River coincidentally near the mouth of the Piney Creek. The stretcher became famous when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was built through the valley of the New River in the late 1800s and a tunnel was blasted through the neck.

Stretcher’s Neck Tunnel continues to provide an abbreviated route through the gorge for Amtrak and trains running between the Atlantic seaboard and Ohio Valley.