Something is in the air. Right now, assorted birds of prey are plying the skies, riding the wind, and destined soon to pass along a lofty mountain crest not so far from where you live. And, while watching hawks effortlessly pinwheel high above the earth is a thrilling sight, there’s a good deal more to winged predators abroad than aerial cartwheels and sunny day soaring. For many, there’s a dead-serious time of year when they must set wing and head south to warmer climes. Now is the time.
From late September to early December an assortment of hawks, owls, eagles, and vultures fly from northeast to southwest along the Appalachian Mountains as they migrate southward, re-tracing a venerable “flyway” that conducts them to winter havens in Mexico and Central and South America.
On any given day during the October peak of hawk migration through Kentucky, an observer may spot scores of migrating raptors, using the thermal updrafts of the mountains to assist them in soaring hundreds of miles per day with scarcely a wing-beat. One never knows for a certainty what may pass overhead from moment to moment, but Broad-winged hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks are the most common. The trick, of course, is to be in the right place at the right time to witness the spectacle. As it happens, I know of such a place.
On the weekend of October 1-3, a grand outdoor adventure will unfold in Kentucky’s mountainous southeast corner. Hawktoberfest and Raptor Rhapsody, a pair of events dedicated to all things birds, will be conducted simultaneously as the result of a cooperative effort of Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
I can think of no better time or place to be immersed in both the changing array of fall foliage and watchable wildlife than during the peak of autumn raptor migration.
The complimentary weekend agendas will feature a wide variety of whole-family activities, programs, and presentations offered concurrently at both Pine Mountain State Resort Park and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (just 10 miles apart) and participation in all activities and programs at both parks is free.
Programs will include observation techniques, raptor identification, morning birding walks, live birds of prey shows, guided hawk observation from atop lofty Pinnacle Overlook, children’s activities, displays, dioramas, visits with famous personages from history and much more. Don’t miss this opportunity for fall fun in the mountains!
For more information on Hawktoberfest, contact Pine Mountain State Resort Park at (800) 325-1712. For additional details about Raptor Rhapsody, contact Cumberland Gap National Historical Park at (606) 248-2817.
With October just around the corner, worldwide fans of rapidly moving water are flocking to Appalachia to run legendary whitewater gems like the Gauley, the Youghiogheny (the “yok”), and eastern Kentucky”s Russell Fork. It’s the fall whitewater season making Elkhorn City a whitewater junkie’s mecca the first four weekends of October.
The Russell Fork cut the great Breaks of the Big Sandy canyon a few years back which now holds one of the most spectacular class IV-V kayaking runs in the world. It runs naturally most of the year, but is enhanced by drawdown releases from the Flanagan Reservoir on the Pound River in October. Thousands of kayakers, canoists and rafters will venture down one or all of three distinct sections this month.
The most famous is the gorge–four and a half miles of class IV-V rapids, averaging 180 feet of elevation drop per mile. Expert boaters from around the world will drop into rapids with names like Tower Falls, Fist, Maze, El Horrendo and the Box. The streambed is a combination of rock choked ledges and sandstone slides. Undercut rocks and seives lurk in every rapid. It is simultaneously terrifying, awe inspiring and naturally magnificent. The Breaks canyon is best viewed from the bottom and looking up at it’s high cliffs. It is a hiker and boater’s paradise. The run is for experts only, but it’s not unusual to see 50 or more onlookers at El Horrendo who have hiked in.
While many run the gorge, even more boaters run the upper and lower sections of the Russell Fork during release season. Upstream of the gorge is 3-4 miles of excellent class II-IV and downstream is 2 miles of class II-III running into Elkhorn City. The upper is great for intermediate solo boaters while the lower is good for those just cutting their teeth. Several commercial raft companies offer runs down the upper and lower sections that would be good for first timers.
Elkhorn City will host several events around the season, beginning with the Russell Fork Free for All, an anything that floats type mass start “race” down the lower section ending in town. This is just one part of our annual whitewater festival, the Russell Fork Rendezvous, which is October 1-3 this year. The annual paddler’s appreciation cookout is October 9 at Carson Island.
Extreme triathletes drop into town for the annual Baddlun on October 9. This consists of 16 miles on a bike on route 80 over 2 mountains to Bartlick, the upper river put-in, a 9 mile paddle down all 3 sections of the Russell Fork (class II-V) to Carson Island, then strap on their shoes for a 2.5 mile run up the Pine Mountain Trail through Potter Flats to end by swimming across the river to the start/finish line at the Ratliff Hole river access.
Finally, the 15th annual Lord of the Fork downriver race will attract the best extreme downriver racers in the world to try to get through the hardest section of the Russell Fork gorge the fastest. It’s an individually timed race and the best times are around 10 minutes. Watching is best from Triple Drop, El Horrendo or the finish line at Climax. The race is Saturday, October 23.
You can find out more about whitewater in the region and Russell Fork events at www.russellfork.info and www.elkhorncity.org. If you’d like to contact a paddling club in Kentucky, check out the Bluegrass Wildwater Association or the Viking Canoe Club. There are many great streams to paddle in eastern and central Kentucky, from the Big South Fork to the Rockcastle and Red River. All these will run naturally during rainy periods so grab your vessel of choice and do some floating!
Livingston County, KY
Sondra Rankin- September 24th, 2010
It wasn’t until last week when I noticed the new signs posted in my hometown that “Mantle Rock Nature Preserve” was a sight to see, a scenic natural phenomena, and only a 45 minute commute from my home in Paducah, Kentucky! Curious, I began my research and mapped my journey.
“Mantle Rock” is a 30-foot high natural sandstone bridge spanning 188 feet, truly a point of interest for any geography major but it was the archeological history of this “rock” which intrigued me more than it’s extensive bluffs and honeycomb formations. This natural wonder ‘housed’ many of the Cherokee Nation and serves in recognition as an emblem of resistance, survival and spirituality to many returning Cherokee who continue to visit and pay their respect. * “In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the thousand mile march with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes or moccasins. The march began in Red Clay, Tennessee, the location of the last Eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee were given used blankets from a hospital in Tennessee where an epidemic of small pox had broken out. Because of the diseases, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way; many times this meant traveling much farther to go around them. After crossing Tennessee and Kentucky, they arrived in Southern Illinois at Golconda about the 3rd of December, 1838. Here the starving Indians were charged a dollar a head to cross the river on “Berry’s Ferry” which typically charged twelve cents. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under “Mantle Rock,” a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until “Berry had nothing better to do”. Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals. The killers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government through the courthouse in Vienna, suing the government for $35 a head to bury the murdered Cherokee.” *Wikipedia.com
In 2004, the preserve was recognized as a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic and trail and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The newly posted signs around town will easily lead you to a new parking area located in what appears, to be the middle of vast forests and grasslands. A four wheeled drive vehicle would be necessary to drive to the entrance of the trail, but I chose to walk from the parking area to the gate. The short hike to Mantle Rock is relatively simple. Dress comfortably with proper footwear and bring basic hiking supplies. The trek to the stone arch is a half mile jaunt down a gravel/dirt road. For the more enthusiastic hikers, I would suggest packing for the easily rated 2.75 mile loop, a clearly posted trail that begins at the centerpiece of the Mantle Rock and extends around the interior of the preserve. Rock climbing is prohibited and to protect the habitat, hikers are instructed to stay on the path, but the beautiful view from the trail is immeasurable and the history of the Native American Cherokee, tremendous! I plan on returning again in the few coming weeks to admire the trail after autumn brings color to the trees and a much needed, brisk chill to the air. www.sondrarankin.com
From the Western Kentucky Parkway, exit either north on Hwy 642 to Marion then continue southwest on Hwy 60 to Salem, or exit north on Hwy 60 to Salem. From Salem, take Hwy 133 north two miles past Joy. On the south side of Hwy 133 is the historical plaque marking the entrance.
On Labor Day my family and I, along with thousands of other shoppers, visited Luke’s 13 acre Flea Market in the small community of Greenville (Muhlenberg County). We arrived right at daylight, and later in the morning, vehicles continued to fill all of the available parking near the flea market.
If you could judge by the patrons’ arm loads of goods, it looked like the vendors were moving a good amount of merchandise. Not only was there a vast amount of goods being offered, there was an array of items for sale. At one vendor I saw iron slave shackles, an antique Daisy double barrel BB gun and Civil War Cannon wheels, while at another, I could have purchased jewelry, fossils, and socks. So, flea markets are true to the old adage, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
Flea markets in Kentucky are all adventures. And I think if you looked up the definition of “adventure” in the dictionary, you’d see that all of its four definitions relate to flea markets:
#1. A financial Speculation or business venture. Spend $20.00 on collectibles and resell on EBay for $100.00
#2. An undertaking or enterprise of a hazardous nature. Spend $20.00 on collectibles and find out when you get home that you actually bought $20.00 worth of junk.
#3. An unusual and exciting experience. At any Kentucky flea market you’ll see everything made or grown in Kentucky. You’ll be bartering with the best of the best, including professionals, Amish and the Mennonites.
#4. Participate in hazardous or exciting experiences. At Luke’s Flea Market, I was competing with 8,000 other people looking through 200 vendors and all are unfortunately looking for bargains.
Ok, why am I writing about an enticing adventurous event that is already over . . . because I want to let you know of an adventure that will soon be taking place throughout Western Kentucky! It’s called the “Highway 60 Yard Sale”, and it’s become known as the ultimate adventure in Flea Markets. Beginning the weekend on October 1-3, you can shop a 200-mile stretch of Highway 60 through the following 8 counties: Livingston, Crittenden, Union, Henderson, Daviess, Breckenridge, and Meade.
This isn’t a one-stop-shop deal, but a 200-mile-travelling road show – all on Highway 60 through Western Kentucky! Vendors will be selling antiques, food, clothing, cars, and even land. Items that once sat in another’s closet, garage, or barn are now just what you’ve been looking for! It’s a buyer’s paradise! Just imagine knocking out your Christmas shopping in one visit. Or, even better still, picture your finding the perfect gift for no other reason than you just wanted it!
The adventure starts at the Highway 60 Yard sale when you pull up and ask, “How much ya askin’ for that (you fill in the blank)?”!
September brings the hint of a coming fall in the eastern hills, warm days that cool quickly when the sun drops below the ridges. The deep greens of the mountains go dusty and a few leaves here and there change to yellow and brown. This is the start of my favorite time of year and the return of the best hiking of the year.
Whether it’s an overnighter or a day trip, there’s nothing quite like a good hike somewhere along the Pine Mountain as the air gets crisp and the trees redress in bright oranges and reds. I have a couple of favorite hikes to share.
The first is in my back yard, of course, in and around the Breaks Interstate Park. The array of 1-4 hour hikes along the Breaks Canyon are spectacular and rugged. There’s an other-worldliness about the huge boulders and cliffs decorated in a year round growth of rhododendron that is both fascinating and breathtaking.
The northern end of the Pine Mountain Trail runs through the Breaks Park in Kentucky, out of Elkhorn City and is a wonderful gateway to long day hikes around the canyon or overnighters heading south along the ridge. These hikes are strenuous, but offer incredible vistas looking west across the state, not to mention the spectacles of the Tower and Chimney Rock formations within Break park boundaries.
One of my other favorite hiking locations is getting away from the Breaks and southward along the Pine ridge. The Bad Branch Nature Preserve, on the south side of the mountain from Whitesburg, features Bad Branch Falls, a 60 foot plunge of the creek over a cliff at the top of a secluded box canyon. The round-trip falls hike is mildly strenuous and will take a couple of hours.
If you’re up for something more robust, the same starting point can get you to High Rock, an incredible geological formation at the top of the Pine ridge. You can make it a long day hike or an overnighter along the Pine Mountain Trail.
There are countless miles of hiking opportunities along the Pine Mountain ridge, from Elkhorn City to Pineville. The time of year to see them at their best is here! Follow the links to get more information about the Breaks Interstate Park, Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail, and Bad Branch Falls Nature Preserve.
There’s something about watching elk that stirs my soul. They’re wholly magnificent creatures that embody strength and freedom in the form of antlers, hide, and hooves. Though I’ve been viewing them in detail for over 5 years now, the excitement of observing them is somehow always more than I expect. If you’re given to occasional urges to participate in the natural world around you, this is something you’ve got to see. But, we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Kentucky’s elk are a great restoration story. Having disappeared from Kentucky landscapes over a century and a half ago owing to unregulated hunting and habitat loss, they’re now back and free-ranging the mountains. Some are giants, averaging 15% larger than their counterparts in the West, this owing to a notable lack of large predators, greater food availability, more moderate terrain, and milder winters.
It’s virtually impossible to describe a bull elk’s bugling sound in print, but its one of the most beautifully wild sounds to be heard in the outdoors. It’s neither a whistle, whinny, nor a scream, but rather a haunting sound; a cry of the wild, somehow plaintive and challenging at the same time. I’m at a loss to describe it, I only know that hearing it elevates my spirit and reminds me that there remain a few truly wonderfully wild phenomena that are beyond the reach of man to corrupt.
Elk are sexy animals. With chocolate faces and manes that blend into caramel bodies with tawny-ivory rumps and near-black legs, an elk is a lovely sight to behold. Add in the graceful arc of a bull’s massive antlers with all their swords and daggers, and you’re looking at the most seductive animal on the continent. At times, I’m almost convinced that they purposefully assume stoic poses, silhouetting their sleek lines against the skyline to thrill onlookers. After all, elk know they’re cool.
If you want to see them, there are places to go that can get you up close and personal and provide an experience you won’t soon forget. One such place is the jewel of the southeastern region, Pine Mountain State Resort Park. Guided sunrise tours are offered there on select Saturdays of fall and winter. For a surprisingly affordable fee, you’re treated to a natural history program about elk on Friday evening, then whisked into elk country aboard comfy tour vans to see antlered rock stars. The whole affair is a top-tier brush with nature and you’ll bring home photos to prove it.
In our time, it’s refreshing to know that there remain a few things that possess the power to renew hope and restore joy – viewing these majestic mountain beasts is presently among Kentucky’s high-end outdoor experiences. What are you waiting for?
For more details on Pine Mountain’s guided elk tours, visit the website’s Events listing to see schedules and times.
The fickle skies of southeastern Kentucky conspired with ample sunshine to allow a good-weather occasion for Pine Mountain’s first-ever Women’s Adventure Weekend. An ambitious agenda was equally matched by an assortment of hearty women looking for a departure from everyday life and a full measure of fun in the mountains; they weren’t disappointed.
The weekend began with a brief exploration of Leave No Trace principles followed by a campfire experience that included S’mores, personal sharing, and general camaraderie. The evening was topped off with a bit of music that left the distinct after-taste of Appalachia.
Saturday began with a Wilderness Survival Seminar that explored the importance of planning for unexpected eventualities that might befall anyone in the outdoors, what to do when lost in the wilderness, the use of packed gear in emergency situations and firebuilding.
A guided tour of the cool and cavernous underground passages of Gap Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park came in the afternoon. That welcomed break from the sweltering heat and humidity was followed by a viewing of Daniel Boone and the Western Movement in the park’s auditorium and a breathtaking view of the tri-state area from the lofty Pinnacle Overlook.
After dinner, the ladies were treated to up-close-and-personal encounters with hawks and owls in a Live Birds of Prey presentation provided by the Southwestern High School Raptor Center of Pulaski County. The presentation was unique in that students are core to the operations of the center as well as the care and display of the birds. Enthusiastic youth surprisingly mature beyond their years made for a solid program that exceeded all expectations and a quality nightcap for a long and adventurous day.
Sunday wrapped up with a mid-morning review of Fitness in the Outdoors provided by a personal trainer and gym owner. The program sought to inform the ladies of practical ways to set up an outdoor fitness routine without the aid or use of a gym and equipment.
In the end, we were pleased with the results of our first Women’s Adventure Weekend and the parting remarks of our participants confirmed that we had indeed provided a weekend experience they wouldn’t soon forget. Keep posted for future Adventure Weekends.
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601