It’s been another great week out here on the road, despite Mother Nature trying her best to put a damper on things. The weather has been getting significantly colder, and we’ve gotten quite a bit of rain. Winter weather advisories are starting to kick in which is definitely my sign that it’s time to turn my headlights south for the winter. It was great to be around friends and family for much of the last week, as it was a much needed recharge on my spirit batteries. My last week in Kentucky will be my last week in Kentucky for the moment. I spent most of it in the lovely Kentucky State Parks, and then wound down through Appalachia and Coal Country to the Cumberland Gap where I find it fitting that I will leave Kentucky the way early explorers first entered the area.. Despite the weather closing in, it really has been a wonderful week.
My week started where my last week ended, in Charleston, West Virginia at my dad’s place. It was nice to be off the road for a few days, clean up and fix a few things, get some work done and just spend some time with my family. The weather wasn’t great, but we did get out for dinner one night at a place called Bricks and Barrels. It was amazing and nice to go for a great meal with my dad and his partner, Judy.
On Friday, I took off from Charleston and met my mother and step-father in Huntington and together we headed out to Greenbo Lake State Resort Park for the night. It was such a pretty place with lots of beautiful fall foliage and a comfortable lodge and restaurant. We spent the evening talking and catching up as I haven’t seen them since the summer. We may have even sipped a little Jefferson bourbon while we looked out over the lake.
Early the next morning, after taking a few photos of some of the historic buildings in the area, we headed just down the road to Carter Caves State Resort Park. When we arrived, we signed up for a tour of Cascade Cave, a really wonderful cave to visit. This cave had so many different things going for it, it’s hard to remember everything we saw. There was a creek running through the middle of the cave so there were wet and dry aspects of the cave. There were big chambers and beautiful formations and dozens of bats huddled up and hibernating. Our guide was wonderful and really made sure my folks were well looked after. We had a great time in this cave, followed by a nice lunch at the park’s restaurant.
From there, we headed south and east and made our way out to Butcher Hollow, birthplace of country music stars Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle. This beautiful and remote place was also the inspiration for Lynn’s most famous song, the autobiographical Coal Miner’s Daughter. While they said it was too cold to open the cabin for tours, we enjoyed walking around the property and talking with the fellas at Webb’s Grocery down the road.
Winding our way out of Butcher Hollow, we headed down to Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, named after one of Kentucky’s most infamous pioneer women. Jenny had moved to the area which is now Kentucky back in 1789. She was kidnapped and held captive by Native Americans for almost a year before she escaped and made her way back home. The park is a beautiful one, again perched high over a lake and again with magnificent autumn leaves everywhere we looked. We had a great time at the Dewey Bar and Grill and another good meal at the restaurant on-site.
Sunday we were off to Natural Bridge State Resort Park where we started our exploration with a hike up to the park’s incredible namesake bridge (actually an arch, as it wasn’t formed by running water). The hike up the “Original Trail” took us through beautiful forest scenery to this spectacular geologic feature which is 78 feet long and 65 feet high. It was a beautiful day to be up there and the views out across Kentucky were awesome.
After making our way down the trail, we headed off into Red River Gorge, which I had been to last week, but wanted to share with my folks. We had a great time meandering around the gorge, and I even got my mother to cross the river via the pedestrian suspension bridge, something I’m very proud of her for braving. We hiked out to Skybridge and then headed back to the park for cocktails and conversation, discussing our three day adventure together.
We said our goodbyes in the morning and they headed home and I headed south into coal country. I headed down Route 15 into Hazard where I stopped to see their infamous Mother Goose House. From there, I made my way on to Whitesburg and tucked myself into the library for a few hours. Then I made my way up and over the mountain and dropped down 119 into Cumberland. This drive was absolutely breathtaking, even though it was rainy and foggy. The low clouds hanging in the valleys surrounded by red and brown trees was so pretty. I couldn’t really find anywhere to take photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but it was quite a drive.
I got into Cumberland right around dark and bounced around town for a bit trying to take care of a few things. Then I headed on up to Kingdom Come State Park, a truly magical place, high on the mountain above town. The park was completely empty and densely fogged in. I’ll admit it was a little creepy out there all by myself. Thankfully the roads to get there were too steep to walk, and I would have heard a car pull in, so I put my nerves on relax mode. I did some writing, watched a little TV and drifted peacefully off to sleep.
I woke up Tuesday morning to rain and more fog. I drove down off the mountain, and made my way out to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham. This was a really cool 4 story museum in the old company store in town. There was a lot of mining bric-a-brac, but also some really interesting stories about the miners and their families who had lived and worked in the area. The top floor had some of Loretta Lynn’s dresses and memorabilia, and the basement had a walk through mine exposition. From there, I made my way down the road to Lynch, another old company town. There, I rode down into Portal 31 Exhibition Mine, a now dormant mine open for tourism. The trip down into the mine was fascinating, looking at the history of that particular mine and of mining in Kentucky in general. The tour focused a lot on mine safety and on the good the unions played in improving the safety for all miners. It was really cool.
Leaving the “Tri-Cities” behind, I headed on down to Harlan. I stopped in the Visitor’s Center to see what, if anything, was going on around town that evening. As it turned out, there were two great events which I really enjoyed. The first was a screening of several short documentary films by a group called All Access EKY. These films portrayed the challenges people from the area face in obtaining quality information about birth control and reproductive health. It was fascinating to sit in on this session and listen to the mostly under 20 group’s discussion on the topic. Their conclusions seemed to be they aren’t learning what they need to know, either at home, at school or from their doctors. In an area where “abstinence only” education is the rule, they are getting all of their information either online or on the school bus. After the screening, I made my way over to an open mic night at Harlan Yoga Studio. In a region known for its musical traditions, it was amazing to see some of the young local musicians have a space where they could show off their talent. It was definitely an interesting night in Harlan, and really gave me hope for the future of the region. I plan to write more on this topic soon.
Today I headed down to Pineville and then up through Barbourville to visit Dr. Thomas Walker State Park. Dr. Thomas Walker was the first known non-Native to make his way through the mountains via the Cumberland Gap, a feature he named in 1750. His party faced hard travels and tried to claim this land for Britain, but it would actually be significantly later that the area began to attract settlers. A reproduction of the small cabin they built when they were in the area is in this park, displaying the frontier architecture of the time. From there I dropped down to Middlesboro, where I am writing to you from today.
From here, I’m headed on down to the Cumberland Gap and making my way out of Kentucky the same way the original settlers made their way into the area. I’m on my way quickly across Tennessee and heading for Georgia where I’ll be for the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to a little warmer weather and maybe extending fall for another few weeks. I haven’t really started planning for Georgia yet as I have a lot of things to finish up about Kentucky before I do, but I’m really looking forward to it. If you have any suggestions for Georgia, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Stay warm out there everyone and enjoy the change of seasons. I know some of my readers are in the southern hemisphere and are very much looking forward to summer which is right around the corner. Wherever you are, though, have a great week and I’ll see you right here next week when I’ll be writing to you from Northwest Georgia!