Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Episode 577 (5-17-21): Water's at the Heart of Virginia's Western Highlands

 CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:53).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-14-21.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 17, 2021.  This revised episode from July 2017 is part of a series this year of groundwater-related episodes.

SOUND  - ~6 sec -- MUSIC - ~17 sec – instrumental

That’s the James River at Richmond, followed by part of “See What I Have Done,” by the Blacksburg-based group, Sweet Chalybeate.  The group’s named for an Alleghany County, Va., town and the word—chalybeate—for iron-enriched spring water.  Those sounds and music open an episode about a Virginia area known both for its groundwater and as the headwaters of the James, perhaps Virginia’s most famous surface water.  To start, have a listen for about 15 seconds to some mystery sounds, and see if you can guess what groundwater-based resource in the area where the James begins has been a settlement and tourist attraction for centuries.

SOUND - ~17 sec

If you guessed hot or warm springs, you’re right!  You heard sounds from Magnesia Spring and Boiler Spring at the historic Homestead Resort in the Bath County town of Hot Springs.  As the names Hot Springs and Boiler Spring indicate, the area is particularly known for thermal springs, where groundwater emerges on the land surface at warm or hot temperatures.  Springs—both thermal ones and cool-water ones—are a focal point of the past and present of Virginia’s western highlands or Alleghany Highlands, names used for all or parts of the four county area of Alleghany, Bath, Craig, and Highland counties.  The Homestead, for example, began in 1766 around thermal springs that attracted visitors seeking to bathe in warm, mineral-rich water for its perceived healing effects. Bath County seat Warm Springs and other communities similarly developed around this groundwater-generated resource.

On the land’s surface, spring outfalls and streams in Highland County give rise to the Cowpasture River and the Jackson River.  Those two rivers meet to form the James in Botetourt County, just across Alleghany County’s southern border.

Virginia has other highlands, other areas of springs, and other river-headwaters areas.  But none exceed the Western Highlands and the James River headwaters area—from Natural Well in Alleghany County, to Hot Springs and Warm Springs in Bath County, to the community of Head Waters in Highland County—for being influenced by and identified with their water—above and below the surface.

Thanks to Sweet Chalybeate for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 30 more seconds of “See What I Have Done.”

MUSIC - ~29 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 379, 7-31-17.

Sounds from Magnesia Spring and Boiling Spring at the Homestead Hotel and Resort in Hot Springs were recorded by Virginia Water Radio on July 22, 2017.

“See What I Have Done” is copyright by Sweet Chalybeate, used with permission.  More information on Sweet Chalybeate is available online at http://www.sweetchalybeate.com/.

Thanks to Michael Martz for the James River recording, made in Richmond on February 17, 2014.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


The Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia, July 22, 2017.

Magnesia Spring information marker at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.

Boiler Spring information marker at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.

Sign at the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.

View to the east from Warm Springs Mountain overlook on U.S. Route 39 in Bath County, Va., July 22, 2017.

Confluence of the Cowpasture River (right background) and Jackson River (left background) to form the James River in Botetourt County, Va., July 19, 2009.

Road sign for the community of Sweet Chalybeate in Alleghany County, Va., October 28, 2018.


Used in Audio

Alleghany Highlands Blueway, online at http://www.alleghanyhighlandsblueway.com/main/index.php.

Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, online at http://www.ahchamber.com/main/index.php.

Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation, “Facts & Figures,” online at http://www.ahedc.com/facts-figures/.

Stan Cohen, The Homestead and Warm Springs Valley, Virginia: A Pictorial Heritage, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Charleston, W. Va., 1984.

DeLorme Company of Yarmouth, Maine, Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer, 2000.

Merriam-Webster, “Chalybeate,” online at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chalybeate.

Oren F. Morton, Annals of Bath County, Virginia, C.J. Carrier Company, Harrisonburg, Va., 1978.

J.A. Poff, A Homeowner’s Guide to the Development, Maintenance, and Protection of Springs as a Drinking Water Source, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, 1999, online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/55268.

University of Virginia/Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, “Red Sweet Springs (Sweet Chalybeate Springs), Alleghany County, Virginia,” online at http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/springs/redsweet/.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Groundwater Characterization/Springs Database,” online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterSupplyWaterQuantity/GroundwaterCharacterization/SpringDatabase.aspx.  (This source, used for the previous episode version in July 2017, was no longer readily available as of May 2021.)

Virginia Mountains, online at http://www.visitvamountains.com/.

Virginia Places, “Thermal Springs in Virginia,” online at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/watersheds/hotsprings.html. 

Virginia Tourism Corporation, “The Omni Homestead Resort,” online at https://www.virginia.org/listings/placestostay/theomnihomesteadresort/.

Virginia’s Western Highlands Travel Council, online at http://vawesternhighlands.com/.

For More Information about Western Virginia or Groundwater

Michael Abraham, The Spine of the Virginias: Journeys Along the Border Between Virginia and West Virginia, Pocahontas Press, Blacksburg, Va., 2010.

Marshall Fishwick, Springlore in Virginia, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ky., 1978.

Philip LaMoreaux and Judy Tanner, eds., Springs and Bottled Waters of the World:  Ancient History, Source, Occurrence, Quality, and Use, Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg Germany, 2001; information available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321613235_Springs_and_Bottled_Waters_of_the_World_Ancient_History_Source_Occurence_Quality_and_Use (subscription may be required).

National Speleological Society, online at http://www.caves.org/. 

J.A. Poff, A Guide to Virginia’s Groundwater, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, Va., 1997; online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/55247.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Ground Water and Drinking Water,” online at https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water.

George Veni et al., “Living with Karst,” American Geological Institute Environmental Awareness Series, 2001; available online at http://www.agiweb.org/environment/publications/karst.pdf.

Virginia Places, “Caves and Springs in Virginia,” online at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/cave/.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia Natural Heritage Karst Program,” online at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/karsthome; see particularly “Introduction to Virginia’s Karst,” online (as a PDF) at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/document/introvakarst.pdf.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Commonwealth of Virginia State Water Resources Plan,” April 2015, available online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/water/water-quantity/water-supply-planning/virginia-water-resources-plan.

Virginia Museum of History and Culture, “The Regions of Virginia,” online at https://virginiahistory.org/learn/regions-virginia.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).

Following are links to other groundwater-related episodes.  Note that some of these episodes are being re-done in May-June 2021, following posting of this episode.  If that has occurred at the time you are viewing this post, the links below will redirect you to the updated episodes. 

Caves, caverns, and other karst features – Episode 527, 6-1-20 (featuring Luray Caverns’ Great Stalacpipe Organ).
Eastern Virginia groundwater and the SWIFT project –
Episode 534, 7-20-20.
Groundwater introduction –
Episode 575, 5-3-21.
Information sources on Virginia’s water resources generally, including groundwater –
Episode 546, 10-12-20.
Springs –
Episode 576, 5-10-21.
Testing water from wells and other household sources –
Episode 361, 3-27-17.
Well construction –
Episode 219, 6-23-14.
Winter precipitation and water supplies, including the role of groundwater replenishment –
Episode 567, 3-8-21.

Following are links to some other episodes related to the James River.

Abraham Lincoln and the James – Episode 459, 2-11-19.
Cowpasture and Bullpasture rivers introduction – Episode 469, 4-22-19.
Falls of the James at Richmond and the city’s connections to the river – Episode 87, 11-7-11.
Great Road/Colonial Parkway on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York rivers – Episode 273, 7-6-15.
Jackson River introduction – Episode 428, 7-9-19.
James River Batteau Festival – Episode 373, 6-19-17.
Nonesuch and the settlement of Richmond on the James – Episode 458, 2-4-19.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs 

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs 

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
3.7 – There is a water cycle and water is important to life on Earth.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
K.11 – Humans use resources.
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Grade 6
6.4 – There are basic sources of energy and that energy can be transformed.
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems.
6.9 – Humans impact the environment and individuals can influence public policy decisions related to energy and the environment. 

Life Science
LS.5 – Biotic and abiotic factors affect an ecosystem.
LS.9 – Relationships exist between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science
ES.8 – Freshwater resources influence and are influenced by geologic processes and human activity.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 History Theme
1.2 – Virginia history and life in present-day Virginia.

Grades K-3 Geography Theme
1.6 – Virginia climate, seasons, and landforms.

Grades K-3 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural, human, and capital resources.
3.8 – understanding of cultures and of how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.2 – physical geography and native peoples of Virginia past and present.
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – major land and water features of North America, including their importance in history.
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 – how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.4 – types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15
– on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16
– on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16
– on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18
– on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18
– on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18
– on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18
– on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20
– on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20
– on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20
– on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.