Well known, a least to folks in Hart County, that a kangaroo can outrun a Derby-ready race horse if they all came down the stretch together. The Aussie anomaly can top out at 40mph while escaping a hungry dingo in the dark wilds of Australia (mate).
However, the pouched, long-footed mammal has had a hard time out-hopping clichés.
-Kangaroo Court: (c. 1853) Phrase coined during the California Gold Rush period of 1848 onward to describe the hastily carried out proceedings used to deal with claim jumping miners.
-Boxing Kangaroo: (c. 1891) After coinage becomes the national symbol of the Royal Australian Air Force, and is stenciled on fighter planes during WWII.
-Captain Kangaroo: (c. 1955) Bob Keeshan’s character headlining the popular children’s show that ran for 30 years on CBS.
And, of course, the kangaroo had a guest starring B-list role for much of the Winnie-The-Pooh saga. Poor Roos. Their down-under novelty just won’t let them be.
Two weeks ago I had a dream that I was on a familiar Kentucky road trip. I saw blue skies, a two lane road, and a creek running on my left that was lined with various brush and canebreaks. Between the road and the brush, there was a pasture hemmed in by barbed wire fence. Within the fence, a kangaroo farm (!). Ten or so kangaroos jostling about while I rubbernecked on the highway. Worse yet, such farms aren’t even legal in Kentucky. No more Copper River Grille for me.
I had to dust out my dream catcher, and in the process of analyzation make a trip to Horse Cave.
Kentucky Caverns has been touring guests for nearly 100 years, and when kangaroos were added to the attraction in 1990, Kentucky Down Under was born. Just this month, the park has brand new management, and it’s being renamed Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo. Ambitious future plans over the next few months include a ropes and bridges obstacle course (summer 2013), crocodile exhibits, and a building on tap that will pay tribute to Kentucky’s bourbon heritage. And still, all of the familiar birds, wool weaving, border collies, didgeridoos, boomerangs, and of course, the roos too.
I spent my preseason visit watching a mob of kangaroos hop around, oblivious to the fact they had just made my dreams come true. But then, Horse Cave has that dreamy way about it.
Here’s a town even Andy Griffith could whistle in. A historical district that runs just 2 blocks. Maybe 2.5 next to railroad tracks. Buildings still standing since their stagecoach days. A big honking cave opening right off main street.
If only the bricks in the facades could talk. Oh, but they can! Horse Cave has a walking tour of the city that uses QR codes for your smart phone to tell you in full voice-over what the building’s first purpose was. Maybe an Odd-Fellows Hall. Or a saloon. Or a bank. Or dry goods store. Every town in Kentucky is full of this type of heritage. Horse Cave simply puts a voice to it.
Consider it “Straight from the horse’s mouth.” And that’s hopefully one cliché even a kangaroo can outrun.
For more on Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, visit www.kdu.com.
For more on Hart County, visit www.kygetaway.com.
-Thanks to Candace Forsythe and Sandra Wilson while on site in Hart County.
We posed for a said Mobile Upload, then I noticed he wore a themed shirt to town. Toddlers in the 4T size are notorious for themed shirts that match the day’s activity, or hope thereof. His theme was not his beloved trains on this trip, but rather dinosaurs.
“He must needs go through Cave City.”
The gateway to Kentucky’s fabled national park has seen better decades, no doubt. Amongst the overwhelming mountainous scenery that trumps any on Kentucky’s portion of Interstate 65, historic attractions, storefronts, and property sit overgrown and vacant, waiting and begging for a developer’s dream to deliver itself. If you’re reading and have millions to help this city, please do.Maybe it was all taken over by the dinosaurs fronting the interstate exit. The thankful bright spot downhill from the Guntown Mountain signage. Every car from Chicago to Mobile has a one point rubbernecked at the oversized T-Rex that blesses Barren County.
Dinosaur World. A three year old’s Mecca.Pilgrimage in progress, we spent the next hour and a half looking, pointing, running, and posing for pictures at each new attraction. Walking the rope line to one of a hundred or so life-size dinosaur replicas. Digging for fossils in the sand. Shopping for keepsakes in the gift store. Taking home yet another memory as family. Earning Uncle Points.
Only three of these such “worlds” exist in the world, and Cave City is the headquarters for it all. Consider it a hiking trip to the Mesozoic Era. Your 3 year old will love it. And the three year old at heart will love it, too.
For more on Dinosaur World, click Here.
For more on the vision of Cave City, click Here.
-Special thanks to Nicole Randall while in Cave City.
Every true Kentuckian carries with them that narcissistic blugrassian belief that the entire universe revolves around blessaid Kentucky.
You better believe it absolutely does the first Saturday in May.
But what of the other 364/120? You bet it does. Where else but Kentucky can one launch off in 1750 at the Cumberland Gap leading to a Wilderness Road construction paved with pioneer hearts onward to early Fort Boonesborough and Fort Harrod, then prosperous Lexington spawned from early Transylvania colony with eventual turnpike to Limestone Landing to catch up with the steamboats down the Ohio to Louisville pitched camp at the Falls?
Rivertowns along the Ohio, Green, Barren, Cumberland, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi bursting asunder with progress too quick to reckon. Railroads expanding the reach like spokes on the wagon wheels that carried settlers west in the first dawn of a new Kentucky era.
Tobacco, horses, coal, whiskey. A worldwide economic leader still uncontested in categories 220 years later.
Sports prowess. Naismith invented basketball. Rupp and Diddle perfected it in Kentucky.
Cars invented northward near Detroit. Perfected in Bowling Green.
Soft drinks fashioned first further south. Sweetened, albeit Late, in Winchester.
Eastern seaboard no doubt has the early American history of the 1600s, but Kentucky has that second wind of fresh history like that extra dream one gets after pressing the snooze button. Call it the Bluegrass Bonus.
We got Lincoln.
And the biggest Cave.
It does kick. It kicks the dirt up on Black Mountain, it kicks the coal dust up in Harlan, it kicks the spurs in Lexington, it kicks the tires in Bowling Green, it kicks to country music in Pikeville, it kicks under skyline in Louisville, and it kicks back at days end under a quilt in Paducah.
Kentucky Bred? Why Leave?
Somewhere Else? Get Over Here.
I love Kentucky. And I’ll keep kicking till I hit the bucket with a final swing.
Sometimes a large signboard with maps and a fancy rooftop, park benches nearby, and paved walkways to the trees aligned perfectly with shiny store-bought blazes. Or, more often than not, an obscure plot of dirt in the middle of nowhere for a parking lot, spray painted tree bark here and there as a rough guide through the forest (if you’re lucky). But they all have a start.
Daniel Boone hadn’t a trail blaze at all in 1767. Standing far side of the mountain in Virginia, the laurel and cane breaks were so thick they made finding any passage to Kentucky land holdings nearly impossible, not to mention the big honking mountains smack in the way of things. But Thomas Walker from the east had explored it as early as 1750, built a cabin there, and in speculative terms, reported a near heaven on earth. Boone saw green dollar signs waving in the blue grass. His business was real estate as much as legend has him an explorer. Regardless, he wanted into the expansive Kentucky County of Virginia.With backing from the short-lived Transylvania Land Company, he found a Gap in the wilderness, a loophole in the woods. A buffalo trail that had later been traversed by Indians. We had ourselves a way in. A Wilderness Road. And over the next 50 years, some 200,000 used it to find themselves a new life in America’s first wild west.
* * *
My junction with Boone would come over 200 years later. It started out by staring at a computer screen in early 2009. Facebook was still in its infancy then, but already grappling its hooks into the lives of people worldwide. It would steer fate for me sure as a buffalo trail through a mountain.
A girl interest had deleted me from “friend” status. I sat staring at the blocked off portion of the page I was still privy to. A name, one picture, and bits of common-knowledge information was all that remained accessible. I was shut out. “De-Friended,” a word only recently added to discourse. In short, dejected. What else was I to do? I chose the woods.
It had been a slow month. I was in the midst of an early spring voluntary layoff from my auto-industry job as the country itself was in the midst of an ugly recession. Everyone was in money saving mode, living day to day. My ploy had been to simplify while drawing unemployment insurance, staring at the computer screen, surfing the internet. I had also made plans to occupy myself by hiking here and there, terming them “layoff hikes.” I had been on trail a handful of times since the start of the decade, but nothing outstanding, a couple of hikes a year. I was just two trips in on the day I was deleted. Both of them had come at Mammoth Cave National Park.Catalyst moment at the de-friendment. I logged out of Facebook, shut off my computer, walked out my door, and got into my truck. A midst fell in early May on the windshield in front of me as wipers waved to and fro. Grey skies colored a greyer heart. My destination: a meager trail in the thick of a residential area of Bowling Green. Lost River Cave and Valley had seen visitors since the 1700s. The town had literally grown up around it. It was a two mile hike among hedge apple trees and blueholes sapped of their color due to the overcast conditions above. Fitting, perhaps. But thoughts circulating in my head calmed themselves faced with the dosage of ruggedness before me. I was done in less than 30 minutes. I bought a grey logo shirt in the gift shop as a token.
I drove back to my apartment and uploaded the pictures I had taken while I poured a cup of coffee. A feeling of “been there, done that.” A slight smile on my face.
Boone could relate to the heartache mixed co-parts with the exploration of the wilderness. Discovery, yes, but constant loss in his life, both with family and later finances. But he kept going to the woods as if he had no other choice. So did I.The morning after I went to Lost River Cave I drove 20 miles north of town to another known woods: Shanty Hollow. I was first shown this particular waterfall trail in 2006, and had been there just one other time. This would be the first of 75 more to the Hollow, which would forever attach itself to my heart and soul as a personal Walden.
The clouds stayed in the skies for the remainder of that week, but I observed the cloud in my mind lifting as I traveled consecutive days to Lake Malone and Pennyrile Forest. Before layoff’s end that June, I would have been to 20 locations statewide, the finale being the first of seven trips to Cumberland Falls. First trips to Green River Lake and Lake Cumberland. First trips to several state parks, in fact. By year’s end, 47 hiking trips that crossed Kentucky.
The passion grew as blossoms in the spring after a long winter. The next year saw 57 hiking trips, then 58 in 2011. All while laying the foundation to help others hike with the introduction of www.coryramseyoutdoors.com. By the dawn of 2013, I was 4 trips from 200, and had been to all 120 Kentucky counties.
Two-hundred would come on a day of dreamers, January 21, 2013. Dr. King Day. Boone’s Trace the choice at Levi Jackson State Park. The state’s first “trail,” if you will. London, Kentucky had grown up around this once remote outpost in Indian country on the Wilderness Road. The pioneers had some trouble here in a terrible slaughter on an October night in 1786, and the park has remained a steady historical draw for that reason.
I sat out for 200 on a path that now ran in full view of a residential area, cars zooming by every few seconds at a steady pace. A weathered marker mid-trail paid homage to the past of the area, simply reading “The Middle of the Wilderness.” I looked around. Wilderness no more. Twenty yards later, another marker, presumably newer. “Boone’s Trail continued on other side of mini-golf course.” Progress. The wilderness had been overrun with infrastructure. But wasn’t that the idea in the first place? Boone foresaw settlements. He foresaw civilization for the west, for Kentucky. And 200 years later, on his trail, that dream can be seen for reality. And 200 hikes later, my passion can likewise be seen for personal progress. Perhaps motivation for others to cure life’s ills with a short walk in the woods.
Thank you, Mr. Boone for finding a path. And thank you, Kentucky, for letting me play in your woods the past several years. It started with a Gap, both literally and figuratively. A Gap that has since been happily conquered 200 fold.
Growing up near the flyway didn’t hurt. Each year thousands of fowl make their way south with a slight rest stop at the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. Bald eagles are no exception. But that wasn’t always the case. A pesticide called DDT got into the food chain in the 1950s and poisoned the fish that the eagles fed on. A genetic change occurred, not really poisoning the adult bird but softening her eggshells. She would lay them per usual, and set on top of them, only to have them bust open, scrambling any chance of future bald eagles being born (that last use of vernacular went “over easy” huh?).
Poor eagles. Luckily, science stepped in, found out what was happening to create the declining population, and eventually stopped production of the pesticide. Some 30 years passed before the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list. Now Kentucky is thick with them. Each year, the Kentucky State Parks and Department of Fish and Wildlife collaborate to give eagle tours on the two lakes that put the L’s in LBL. In 2010, I sat sail aboard a yacht called the CQ Princess on Kentucky Lake and caught sight of 58 eagles on a cold January day that had the bays frozen solid, forcing every bald bird to the main channel and clustered in groups. Some nesting, some flying, all majestic. Only a flock of American flags flapping in the wind could have mustered the same feeling of patriotism. There’s something about seeing an bald eagle that makes you realize it’s a rare moment to be cherished.
I’ve had a few glimpses since. Last month I was near the Barren River north of Bowling Green when a large black bird flew past me, white tail feathers quickly giving its identity away. Now ‘Vette City has an eagle, too. My first hike of 2013 took place New Year’s Day in Greensburg. After a walk in the woods, I drove through the historic district of the town that lines US 68 and then turned around to head back home. Greensburg is close to Green River Lake and the tailwaters that continue the state’s longest river eventually make their way past the city. I looked back towards the tree line that sat on the banks and spotted a white dot in the branches. Score an eagle on New Year’s Day.
But the closest I have yet to come to a symbol of freedom in the wild? Twenty feet. Close. Way close. Talk about it in a newspaper column close. As fate would have it, a day when I didn’t have a camera on me. I was at Reelfoot Lake, near the old Airpark Inn and had a guest along for the ride. At the time, I was dating a young blonde TV journalist, and as one could imagine, I was so captured by the beauty at the moment that I failed to capture the beauty of the moment. Hindsight wishes I had just taken the close-up eagle picture instead. It‘s as if I could have reached out and touched freedom. Perhaps the bird stayed there and didn’t care I was looking at it because he knew no picture would be snapped on this occasion. Maybe next time.
If you get the chance, schedule a boat tour this month or next to see the eagles on our nearby lakes or at Ballard WMA. Information is online at www.parks.ky.gov. Or just keep looking for the white dot in the air, or in the woods.
-Originally published in the Hickman Courier January 10, 2013.
Kentucky County, Virginia.
In 1776, we were still joined hard to the original Commonwealth but at least split off from Fincastle County. Four years later again fractured into three newer counties, Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln (the other Lincoln). These later petitioned to secede and formed the foundation for the State of Kentucky, admitted as the fifteenth in 1792. From then until 1912, some 120 counties were carved out of those first three, usually from locals disagreeing with the existing county government and in order to have a close courthouse to settle disputes. Only Texas and Georgia have more than Kentucky. Luckily, an amendment to the new state constitution in 1891 made it tougher for an additional county to be formed, else we would have a thousand of them by now.
However lain, one county or one-twenty, Kentucky still unfurls itself over a lot of bluegrass. From Stopover eastward in the mountains of Pike County westward to the Madrid Bend cut off from the rest of Fulton County. Curled up top and back by rivers, a whopper jawed border south of LBL supposedly due to drunk surveyors centuries ago. But who really knows? That’s our Kentucky (There’s only one…).
That’s a lot of horses, bourbon, coal, Corvettes, Camrys, lakes, rivers, mountains, woodland, farmland, and fried chicken. And more horses. Blue collars, white collars, coal stained collars, and bib overalls (no collars). Rural heartland and hustle-bustle Louisville. Basketball, football, NASCAR, baseball bats, and the Derby. Over 120 festivals from pecans to Hatfield and McCoy. And the thought of actually seeing every county still seems mystical even in this age of 40mpg. Anyone who has done it is suddenly surrounded by a goldenrod glow and a choir cooing “ahhs.”
Parkways don’t cross all of Kentucky, and just the typical handful of interstates belt the big dots on the map per usual nationwide. So a good majority of the Commonwealth rests unassuming in uncommonly known locales. My hometown is one. Hickman slinks beneath a bluff against the small portion of the state the Mississippi River routes beside. Its once prominent downtown plagued more than Egypt in the Book of Exodus. One fire so bad in the 1870s it made the New York Times. A few floods, more fires and a whoopsie from engineers in ‘86 took a 100 year old historic district to near complete demolition. Only a handful of steamboat era buildings remain. From that quiet corner came the quest for 120.
It took three decades. And I never really looked into it for the first 2.9. The Jackson Purchase came by default. Louisville and Lexington of course conquered in my youth. A Governor’s Scholars study in Danville. A Boy’s State in Morehead. A VICA conference in Paintsville. A college education and eventual encampment in Bowing Green. But honestly, who sets out to see all 120? And why would one want to? I only knew of two people that had.
Most Kentuckians I know don’t venture too far from their regional hub, that is to say, “City where the Wal-Mart is.” Other than that, they’ll travel to Nashville or Gatlinberg or Gulf Shores before trekking across their own homeland. Tall tales abound of one lane slippery mountain pass roads and toll bridges guarded by hillbillies and trolls (and to all of Lexington eastward, is there really a western Kentucky, or is it a figment?). I remained westward of Somerset for the most part until 2010. That’s when Pineville and the Cumberland Gap were visited, then highway 119 all the way to Kingdom Come and Black Mountain at Cumberland. A year passed. Then 2011 brought a stop in Hazard and highway 15 through Jackon to the Gorge, eastward then to Greenbo and Carter Caves near Grayson. More time passed. 2012 featured US 23 from Pikeville up the gut to Ashland, and a US 60 road trip on Father’s Day from Owensboro to Paducah. I started tallying counties. Only 86. Really? That much travel, and still 34 unbridled jurisdictions to go? Where’s Fincastle when you need it? Summer 2012 became the official quest. I would try to visit them all before year’s end.
First came Monroe County in August. Then Mclean and Hancock (with lunch midway at Moonlight, of course). A nine hour jaunt one Sunday to Taylorsville Lake northward to General Butler and back in a big loop that took me near Cincinnati at one point. In one weekend I saw both the headwaters of the Kentucky River at Beattyville and its mouth at Carrolton. Another Saturday I was looking at what was left post-tornado at West Liberty on my way to Inez in Martin County. Tally: 12 still left. My God.
November 2nd I turned 32. On the 3rd, I set out to finish the job. An early morning drive in the rain to Lexington and the horse corridor of US 27 to Paris. Kentucky’s money clip (you gotta see that stone fence). Then to Cynthiana north to Falmouth and Kincaid Lake, where deer were the only patrons. A lunch and adoration in downtown Maysville, rain pelting me while I looked at the Ohio from Limestone Landing. Followed by a night at Blue Licks Revolutionary War battlefield in the long cast shadow of Daniel Boone.
The next morning, I drove my car across the Johnson Creek covered bridge in Robertson County before heading eastward to Flemingsburg and then Vanceburg, where Meriwether Lewis stood and stared at the river there on his way to rendezvous with Clark for a similar epic. I bet he thought Kentucky was big, too. I still had to return on the AA Highway to Newport for a meal on the levee looking across to the skyline of Cincinnati. Kenton County received a meager exploration via 275 (I’ll be back) and I linked up with Interstate 71 for the final destination. Owen County. Who would have thought?
Perhaps fitting that the quest would start in a small town like Hickman, population 2,400, and finish in a smaller town like Owenton, population 1,300. I pulled off of 71 somewhat emotional as 127 dropped me further to the goal. Till fate threw a curve ball. A set of rail cars stalled on the tracks at Glencoe, stopping me short 2 feet from the county line. Traffic was snarled al la Louisville, but no chopper in sight to alert motorists. Reroute.
Finally reaching Owen County, there was no fanfare south of Sparta. No parade, no confetti, no tickertape. Just a picture of the county sign and realization of accomplishment while onlookers wondered what in the world I was doing.
It was the end of a 30 year journey, yet the beginning of true love. Leaving Owenton, 127 would take me into Frankfort. Some 220 years of a Commonwealth bound by historic signatures on paper. Thoughts of a land utilized to the core (literally). Thoughts of towns that both rose and died. Thoughts of families, generations worth, reared, toiled, and buried on its soil. Thoughts of wars fought and passions sought. Dreams that were both released, and sometimes captured.
As I drove home to Bowling Green the sun set quietly in my Kentucky. I had seen all that it was, and it was good. My Home.
Obvious that we had at least been successful in the woods that particular morning. Squirrel hunting had been an August pastime for as long as I can remember. Longer than I was able to even carry a gun into the woods. I can recall one such humid morning in the mid 80s when I was five or six. Dad and I had pulled up in my Grandaddy’s yard in Hickman and proceeded with the preparations. Honey Buns, check. Mountain Dews, check. Skeeter Dope, check. The spray down of the dope is a memory of the senses. The hiss of the spray and smell of the repellant as it fell sticky on the face. The weird taste as some of it went in my mouth. The buzz of a mosquito wanting to indulge but repelled by the very substance I was now covered in. A heck of a tradeoff.
Matching camo outfits complete down to the boots, we headed off into the thick green late summer’s growth of the woods. Dew sticking to our pants legs along side cacaburs and enough pollen to turn the green fabric yellow. Spider webs every three feet or so, the disgruntled spider now crawling around on one of us, much to my dismay. We would head back, half silently, to trees Dad had hunted for years, still producing the same oak and hickory and pecan treats they had for decades of squirrels. I say half silently because I always managed to step on every stick God had lain in the woods. Apparently there was a trick to this sort of walk, one that was opposite of how I had learned just four years earlier. Back then, it was “heel first, toe last.” But hunters walk was “toe first, heel last.” Right. No matter what part of the foot I used, a loud “crack” would send wiggly tails hopping branches high above us into the holes of the trees and a look from the hunter in front of me.
Eventually, we’d settle in underneath a big tree where a few squirrels were having a field day with the bounty. You could hear them cutting on the nuts and see them jump branch to branch. After they would get the good out of the it, they would hurl the shell down to the ground, knocking leaves and braches and just making a bunch of noise on the way down, a loud “thump” as it hit the ground (or one of us!). Somehow I wondered why the animals would run at my little twig breaking, but not at World War III going on here.After a minute or two of watching this nonsense, it was time for Dad to slip around to the base of the tree for a shot. I followed in tow. Gun up. Aim. “Boom.” Smoke and a larger fall as the squirrel fell from the limb above. A thud as it hit the ground. I got excited and screamed for joy at this wonderful event! I think it shocked everybody. The little squirrel’s beady eyes got as big as marbles and he ran off into a hole in the ground next to us! At least I hadn’t scared him to death, I guess. Dad jerked his head at me. “Why’d you do that?” I was still thinking about the eyes of that thing. Dad was undeterred, and went off after this sandwich worth of meat, sticking his arm elbow deep in the hole. After about ten seconds, the efforts were fruitless (meatless) as no squirrel was found. No more screaming in the forest, check.
We probably got our limit that day, and have gotten our limit since, Dad still making the yearly trip into the woods and me going with him when I get the chance. But nothing replaces those early moments in the woods, the memories, and God help, the taste of squirrels.
-Originally published in The Hickman Courier, August 9, 2012.
Some cities are just lucky enough to have a National Park in the backyard. Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Estes Park, Colorado. Gatlinburg, Tennessee. And then, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Sometimes I don’t realize just how lucky I am to live near the longest cave system in the world. A cave system that’s been hosting guided tours for a couple hundred years.
Or how easy it is to fit such a guided tour into an afternoon.
I was at Walmart picking up a few things on a routine Saturday off the trail. In the parking lot back out to the car I decided I would make an unplanned trip north on 31W and stop in at Mammoth Cave National Park. Why not? A half hour later I was in Park City and turning left into the canopy and a slower speed limit. Two tours remained for the day. The New Entrance, and the Historic. I took the New Entrance, though it hadn’t been “new” since the 1920s.
A man by the name of Morrison was looking for oil prospects back then, and instead of finding Texas T, he found ol’ MC. Mammoth Cave, that is. Big Cave, Move Stars. Well, not quite, though you had to be wealthy at the time to see what was off in the deep. You arrived by stagecoach in those days and stayed in the cave some 18 hours. Women wore the long dresses and men donned their fancy tailed coats with dress shoes and ventured on hands and knees over boulders and through tight squeezes, without LED lighting or handrails. We must have been a tougher America back then. On this day, I would ride an air-conditioned bus to the glass door at the entrance and descend a million steps compete with handrails and the electric lighting.
I had been in the cave before, though I have yet to see all 392 miles. I’ll admit, in the past, I was a little let down by this dry cave, because most of it lacks the formations of a wet cave. Diamond Caverns was always a salve for that setback. But on this tour of the new entrance, I was impressed. The endless depths of the cave are on display in a couple of places here that would make a person scared if they didn’t like heights. And God help the person that drops an Iphone off the staircase.
The crown of this tour is the Frozen Niagara named after the New York original, since all of the early visitors to Mammoth Cave were the wealthy from up north. Morrison was able to sell this feature for $300,000 during the depression era, so another sight I shouldn’t take for granted.
Once back up top I settled in for a meal at the Travertine Restaurant on site next to the motel. Rainbow Trout and biscuits with black cherry preserves helped me to realize once again what a treat it is to have a National Park in the backyard.
Till next trip…
Casually consuming coffee and posting pictures to Facebook. That’s why I hike. To achieve that since of “been there, done that (what’s next!).” I sip my coffee from a WKU mug, usually in flannel pajamas and a two day beard. This is why I hike. So I can reflect from my breakfast table in Bowling Green. Tis’ good to have such a great outdoors city to return from the wild. But what if I had the chance to enjoy my coffee elsewhere in Kentucky? Where would those places be? I’ve pondered a possible top five as another cup is poured.
#5 Louisville. Biggest city, and I’m not really a big city guy. But man, that skyline is the best in the bluegrass! And biggest city equals biggest park system. Jefferson Forest has a 10 mile trail alone. Plus close drive to Otter Creek, Tioga Falls, Bernheim Forest, Tom Sawyer State Park, and Taylorsville Lake. It certainly doesn’t lack the opportunity for a nightlife once back from the trail, either. I’d love to drink coffee from a downtown studio apartment, plus, this is Kentucky’s answer to Denver (without the Rockies, of course).
#4 Ashland. A wild card here. There’s a skyline in Ashland, too, although it’s just one building. You’ve got to give them credit for ambition. You are at the far eastern edge of opportunity here. West Virginia at your doorstep. Greenbo Lake, Grayson Lake, Yatesville Lake, and Carter Caves all within minutes. Plus, US 23 and a slough of mountain driving if you have a hankering. I like the gritty working class feel of this area as well. Biggest city in that part of the state. Similar wild card would be Middlesboro.
#3 Murray. For years, touted as a prime place to retire. I worked in this city for a while as a DJ on Froggy 103. Gotta love the quaint town square district and typical college town feel. But the real outdoors draw are the two big honking lakes 20 minutes away. Kentucky Lake, Lake Barkley, and all the Land In Between! Combine that with four nearby state parks, and I’d call Murray the jewel of the Jackson Purchase.
#2 Bowling Green. Mammoth Cave National Park in the backyard. Plus an underground boat tour and a bunch of other caves. Easy drive to Barren River Lake and Nolin Lake State Parks. Plus nearby Shanty Hollow Lake. There’s a waterfront park being built downtown on the Barren River that will soon feature bike trails and a (future) whitewater course. Zip Lines, canoe trips and horseback opportunity abound. Combine that with a ton of restaurants and a brand new performing arts hall, and you’ve got yourself a cool place to call home. Plus, they build the Corvette here, just sayin…
#1 Somerset. Oh baby. Pick your afternoon adventure here. You can see Lake Cumberland from US 27! Burnside Island, Lake Cumberland, and Dale Hollow Lake State Park all nearby. Cumberland Falls, Natural Arch, Big South Fork, and the Daniel Boone National Forest all within a quarter tank of gas. Lots of good eating here too, though a little dry if you get my draft, er, drift. It is Kentucky, after all. But if I could best my own city, it would probably be here.
Honorable Mentions: Lexington is kind of close to the Red River Gorge, and I’ll give the Palisades a shout. Pineville and Hazard are just cool. And for some reason, tiny Liberty in Casey County reminds me of towns out west. I need to sell everything but that coffee mug and try them all.
Still sippin’ and dreamin’ till next trip…
Boating season will soon be in full splash, and in fact, it has come a month early this year. With the dusting off of the pfd’s comes a story to mind that I really shouldn’t share because it’s so embarrassing. But why not? It happened two years ago, and is still one of the most bizarre things to happen on safari.
Originally published in SOKY Happenings Magazine, September 2010.
I grew up on a river. A big river. In fact, I guess the Mississippi is considered to be one of the biggest in the world. So boats were a common site around my hometown of Hickman, Kentucky. I can remember being caught in a thunderstorm while blocking for catfish on the river one weekend afternoon. As my Grandaddy and Dad nervously piloted the boat over white-capping water back to the harbor, I could have cared less at five years old if we made it or not.
I’ve spent a lot of time in john boats and canoes, paddleboats and whitewater rafts. But it was a buddy of mine that provided the greatest excitement I’ve ever seen in a boating trip. Me and my friend Randell were putting our boats in the Barren River underneath the old railroad bridge at Mitch McConnell Riverwalk Park in Bowling Green. I had left my truck at the boat landing on Richardsville road some distance away, and we were to paddle down the Barren to the pull out point. He had a nice Pelican kayak. Me, an inflatable raft I had bought for cheap online. Yeah, don’t laugh. Randell did when he saw it too. After pumping up my raft, we put in and began to sail down river. Of course, the slender kayak eased through the water at a brisk pace. I was left far behind with my fat raft trudging along. Several times, my buddy would have to stop and wait as I caught up. We sailed along past limestone cliffs and Beech Bend Park, waving to onlookers and noticing picnic tables left in tree tops from the recent May flooding. I was just commenting how great the trip was going when I heard a snap. My paddle had broken! I had two, but now I was left with one to paddle one side then the other, the little raft now going left to right and left with every stroke. Not a good predicament. Not long after the first paddle snapped, the second did as well. I was now left with an end of a paddle to use that was no more than a foot long. I had to lay down belly first in the raft with my head facing the front and looked like something out of a Delta Force movie making my way down river. I did this for a solid hour before we got back to the boat landing. As soon as we did, the paddles went in the trash! The raft was deflated as well as my spirit, and we put Randell’s kayak in my truck with the top over the cab, tie down straps connected to the boat handles.
We made our way onto highway 185 traveling north at 45 miles an hour. We were just commenting on how good the trip finally went when the unthinkable happened. Looking at my rear view mirror, I saw the kayak suddenly fly out of the back of my truck! I cursed like a sailor. I hit the brakes and started to pull into the emergency lane. The handle had broken on one side, causing the boat to fly out. But still connected to the other handle, it flew back around into the tailgate of my shiny F-150, putting a huge dent in the truck. As I hit the brakes, the kayak tore loose of the remaining handle and began sliding north on highway 185! The boat passed us as we watched in horror. Then all I could do was bust out laughing. Randell was not pleased at my show of humor. We got out of the truck and located his paddle some 300 yards back. The boat survived with just a few scuffs, and luckily no one else was on the highway with us when this happened. I’ve since learned to not use a raft in a slow river, and to buckle down a kayak in a truck.
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601