Monday, June 29, 2015

Kentucky, we hardly knew ya.

On our way from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Mammoth Cave National Park, we passed through a thick part of the Bible belt. Throughout the entire morning I don't think we went a mile without seeing a church or some kind of church-inspired signage.

no, but we can look busy!

We also passed through a lot of dry counties, easily identified by the "last chance for liquor!" stores lining the county border. (These stores usually also sold guns and ammo - neat!)

Southern Kentucky - and most of the south, for that matter - was as foreign to us as anywhere else we'd been on this trip. Everyone was nice, and things were sort of familiar, but we definitely didn't feel at home...

... despite Portland-esque senses of humor ...

... and this pleasant break from the Jesus warnings

And then we got to Daniel Boone National Forest.

a brief but amazing stay

Had we known about this scenic area of southern Kentucky ahead of time, we probably would have planned to spend a LOT more time there.

but probably not during a terrible thunderstorm
(our campsite was dead center of this for a bit)

There are a few camping options in the area where we stopped for the night. Some are more resort-like and family-oriented, others are geared toward fishing enthusiasts. We fit neither of those categories so we chose a quiet, empty state park.

Grove Campground near Cumberland Falls
(site A15 was A-OK)

We waited out the rain and then set up the tent, we waited out the rain some more and reheated leftovers, and then I think it rained some more... Isn't spring camping fun?!

it's no strawberry ale, but it'll do

The weather was more cooperative the next morning so we stopped by Cumberland Falls - at 125 feet wide, it's considered the "Niagara of the south." We knew nothing about it beforehand. We just saw it on the map and decided to check it out. Sometimes that's the best way to travel.

hard to grasp the magnitude with nothing for perspective
but it's LOUD

Cumberland Falls is surrounded by resorts and hotels for people who try to see the moonbow on clear nights when the moon is full. Our timing and the weather were both a bit off for that, so we'll call it our reason to return to Cumberland Falls someday.

not a moonbow

We also stopped by the Natural Arch Scenic Area.

again, hard to grasp the enormity
but it's HUGE

there's a little perspective

All we really did was walk about a mile out to the Natural Arch but in talking with some locals who were hiking around the area, it sounds like there are miles and miles of scenic trails and interesting rock formations all over southern Kentucky. If you find yourself in the National Forest, the ranger stations are apparently really helpful - stop by and see what they recommend. (If you've been, leave a comment with what you recommend!)

Speaking of scenic, the road to Mammoth Caves was not too shabby either.

driving between a rock and a hard place

Before Mammoth Cave we stopped in Glasgow (a "moist" town - a new-to-us term meaning that they serve wine and beer in restaurants but you can't buy it in stores) to inquire about distillery tours. Sadly, we were too far into the Bible belt for any of that debauchery but the nice lady at the visitor center did suggest we check out their free South Central Kentucky Cultural Center. We took a quick look; many of the artifacts would be more meaningful to locals but it was still interesting.

a replica of the olde tyme "general store" -
always fun to see what small towns consider "historical"

hey, I just Freecycled one of those bells!

We may not have toured the distilleries, but no Kentucky visit would be complete without a couple of wild turkeys, right?

90 proof

Our next Kentucky visit will definitely feature a Bourbon Trail tour and a quest to figure out why Louisville thinks it's so weird. For now, though, we'll hold onto our fond memories of the unexpected natural beauty of this unassuming southern state.

Westward bound!


  1. I've only been to Mammoth Cave, which was a hoot because right before we went there were huge storms knocking out power and even though I teased my dad about not needing flashlights... they totally came in handy for the cave tours as the power was still out at first! I had no idea about the waterfall or arch though!

    1. That would've been cool to tour the cave with just a flashlight! Mammoth was pretty amazing, glad you got to see it.

  2. I've never been to Kentucky - glad they have a few liberal signs. :)

  3. I was in Kentucky for work in May and we drove through the Daniel Boone Forest to and from our work site - it was absolutely gorgeous (though flooded from record rains). Unfortunately the work schedule was nutters and I didn't get to do any hiking. I'd go back in a heartbeat though! Glad you got to enjoy it!

    1. Yep, I think we caught the front end of the floods... They followed us to Texas. I hope you do get to go back someday!

  4. I've never been to Kentucky, and I enjoyed seeing it through your photos. The Vote Democratic sign was unexpected, based on what friends have told me about Kentucky ;) I hope to hit the Bourbon trail someday!

    1. Thanks Marlynn! Yep, every place in the world has its pros and cons (which obviously differ depending on your beliefs and values). As for Kentucky and *my* values, in addition to the Bourbon Trail I'd love to go back check out their white water rafting! WVA and KY probably have some of the best on the east coast. :)

  5. this looks gorgeous! never been to this part of the country! need to make a visit sometime... i'm very UN-traveled!

    1. I lived in MD for 20-some years and never made it there either... Definitely put southern Kentucky on your list!