Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Melting in the Valley of Fire

Oasis in the desert along Northshore Road
 Back in early September, Brian and I traveled to parts of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.  You can read about the first part of our vacation spent at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead here, but I wanted to continue with our journey by writing about our time spent outside of Vegas at Valley of Fire State Park.  When I last posted, we we were just about to check into our casino/hotel, the Station Inn, and pig out at the hotel's dinner buffet.  The next morning, in an effort to burn off some of the calories we just consumed, we drove back out to Lake Mead and headed north up Northshore Road to Valley of Fire State Park.  The scenic drive alone was worth the trip- along the road you will encounter beautiful red stone formations and hidden springs surrounded by palms (but don't drink the water!), with sparkling blue Lake Mead as a backdrop.  We encountered several bicyclists, and if it hadn't been hotter  than Hades, then I would have loved to join them.


Rogers Spring

Park entrance to Valley of Fire SP
After approximately an hour's drive, we reach the back entrance to Valley of Fire State Park and realize we don't have enough cash to pay the entrance fee (I believe it was $7) and there's no ranger on duty so we stuff $5 dollars in an envelop along with a note that says, "Sorry- from out of state and didn't have enough cash.  If you find us we can pay the remainder with debit".  I'm sure park officials were amused.  The park itself is full of enormous red rocks, stone beehive formations, and ancient petroglyphs, and we decided on a relatively short trail to hike.  When we get out of the car our faces start to melt (the car's temperature gauge says its something like 107 degrees), and we hit the short trail to Mouse's Tank in order to see petroglyphs and a watering hole where a renegade Indian hidout in the 1890s.  As we trudge through the hot sand with the sun beating down on us, I realize, it is just too damn hot to be out here.  We take a quick look at the less than impressive, but no doubt lifesaving, watering hole and promptly return to our air-conditioned car.  It's really a lovely state park and I would have enjoyed exploring it further had it not felt like the equivalent of standing on the surface of the Sun.  I would suggest going anytime other than Summer, unless you have a hankering for face-melting heat.

Petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock

Trail head to Mouse's Tank

After leaving the park, we drive to Vegas where we've booked two nights at the Mirage and have plans to see friends renew their vows and catch 'O,' the amazing Cirque du Soleil water show.  More on that in a future post...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


After my first visit to Zion National Park in 2000, I left knowing I had visited the most beautiful spot on Earth.  I've been back two more times, including most recently this past September, and I still feel the same way.  There is something very special about this place and you have to be there to truly feel it.  And of course pictures do not do the place justice.

Virgin River
What makes Zion so special to me are two things: 1. You're IN the canyon.  As opposed to Bryce or the Grand Canyon where you're on top, here in Zion you are the bottom of the canyon.  It's awe inspiring being able to look up in Zion and see those towering mammoths of granite high above you.   2. The Virgin River and the oasis in the desert it provides.  Zion is located in a desert environment, and the temperatures can be sweltering there in the summer.  But thanks to the Virgin River you can take a swim and sit under the trees that surround the river.  You can easily see why settlers were attracted to this area.

What To Do

The ascent to Angels Landing
The free shuttle bus is in itself the first attraction at Zion.  For most months of the year, automobiles are barred from entering the main drive in to the park.  The shuttle ride gives you an amazing tour of the canyon with views out either window.  Of course you have to get off the bus and take a walk (especially when the buses become overcrowded and you must escape from either overly talkative tourists and/or the overpowering scent of BO).  Some key hikes are: Weeping Rocks and the Riverside Walk offer two of the easier hikes in the park.  Weeping Rocks takes you up to a rock alcove with a hanging garden and dripping water.

Hiking the Narrows
The Riverside Walk, found at the very last stop in the park, is a paved trail that takes you to the mouth of the Narrows.  The Narrows hike itself can be quite strenuous as you hike across swift moving water and step on slick, uneven rocks.  The Lower and Middle Pools hike gets you off the valley floor allowing you to walk to a series of waterfalls.  And finally, for a strenuous hike with an incredible view, the Angels Landing hike is a MUST. Just be warned - you will climb almost 1500 feet and walk on trails that have steep drop offs.  But the view is well worth the effort.

And there's nothing like ice cream and relaxing on the cool grass at the park's lodge. This is a must reward after a long day of hiking.


A great view in Springdale
Nearby Springdale is the closest town to Zion and offers a handful or so restaurants, outdoor shops for Narrows hiking supplies, a bike shop and several stores to buy (overpriced) gifts.  The Best Western Zion Park Inn is a nice, moderately priced option for lodging.  The back patio offers a nice, commanding view of a nearby granite cliff and witnessing a sunset here is simply the best way to conclude a day at Zion.

When Vacations Attack

So I keep seeing previews for a show on Travel Channel called "When Vacations Attack", which is basically an overly-dramatic name for a show about bad stuff that happens to people while on vacation.  Looking back over the many years and many trips I've been on, I can say I've been pretty blessed with good vacation karma (except for the time my mom stepped on a sting ray and ended up having to go to the hospital...)  Two weeks ago, in a roundabout way, my anniversary vacation to St. Augustine attacked.  

Here's what happened:  After a wonderful weekend of ghost touring and beach lounging in sunny Florida, Brian and I embarked on an approximately 11 hour return trip to Nashville (which includes several hours of driving through what I've deemed "the I-75/Southern Georgia wasteland...unless you REALLY like pecans").  Long story short, we arrived home exhausted and I ended up dumping my suitcase in the middle of the living room floor rather than remove its contents and stow it in the attic.  The next morning, I wake up at 6:45 to the sound of my dad knocking on the door because he's bringing back our dogs after watching them all weekend.  I unhook the chain and suddenly I hear Brian call out, "Remember the alarm..."  So, I turn to unset the alarm, trip over my suitcase, and "OHGOD, OHGOD, OHGOD I'VE BROKEN MY WRIST!!!"  My dad busts through the front door and Brian runs out from the bedroom, look at my clearly broken and twisted wrist, and start running around like chickens with their heads cut off while I alternately bark orders and black out from my position on the floor.  "Take me to the hospital!"  "Get my flip flops!" 

I lay down in the back seat of Brian's car and start breathing like I'm going through labor (it really does help with the pain).  Walk into the ER and am the only patient there so I immediately get pumped with Dilaudid and eventually a morphine drip.  I get X-rays, and learn I'm scheduled for surgery at noon to reset my arm.  I wake up from surgery and "Holy Hell,  my right forearm and wrist is all wrapped up and I have two sets of pins sticking out from under my skin.  What is this contraption?"  I later learn this is called an external fixator and its basically pins screwed into the healthy part of the bone and held externally while my wrist heals.  It also elicits tons of sympathy and an equal amount of horrific stares in public.  Oh, and did I mention I'm right handed and the comp exams I'm required to take for graduation are scheduled in two days?  (Don't worry, I arranged to take them on the scheduled date by typing them out with my left hand using a computer in an empty office...and I passed!)

Surprise!  Hope you have a strong stomach...

Right now I'm in week three of the healing process, and have about three weeks left until the pins are removed and I start physical therapy.  For the most part, I've kept a positive attitude about it- afterall, it could be much worse, but I do get frustrated at things that I can't do on my own right now...open bags of chips, twist off bottle caps, wear long-sleeves, hold up an umbrella, shower without covering my right arm with a Kroger bag and a rubber band, etc.....But it also means I have an excuse not to cook or do dishes (which comes in really handy considering tomorrow is Thanksgiving). 

In conclusion, I leave you with this one piece of advice when traveling:  Always put away your luggage immediately after returning home, no matter how exhausted you are. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

St. Augustine

Actually this is Vilano Beach, near St. Augustine.  Taken from a recent trip to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary.  Vilano Beach is located just across the Halifax River from St. Augustine.  There were grand plans for Vilano, with a city center and other developments planned.  But the recent recession killed all of that.  A Hampton Inn & Suites was built here and I highly recommend staying here, especially if you want to be away from the "hustle & bustle" of St. Augustine.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oasis in the Desert

Each year, Brian and I leave our work behind and spend a week exploring the U.S.  This year, we flew into Las Vegas, rented a car, and made a loop that took us through Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Sunset Crater, and back through the Mojave desert into Las Vegas.  In the last post, Brian talked about our stay in Cliff Dwellers, Arizona, but I'd like to go back to the first day of our vacation, spent in Nevada.
Our first stop on this trip was Hoover Dam.  I've always wanted to see this engineering feat after seeing Chevy Chase get lost on the tour in National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation.  While we didn't do the full tour, we did enjoy walking through the dam's leaky tunnels and viewing the Generator Room.  On top of the Dam, we got to walk around in approximately 110 degree heat as I searched desperately for a water fountain.

Hoover Dam with the new bypass bridge in the background

After the Dam tour, we had some time to kill before driving over to Bootleg Canyon for our flightlines tour, so we went into the town of Boulder for some ice cream and then drove along Lake Mead, where the turquoise blue lake visually pops among its desolate, moon-like desert setting.  After a quick drive, we found our way to the flightlines office where we geared up in paragliding garb and hopped in a van that took us to the top of the mountain so that we could descend via flying through the air at approx. 75 miles per hour.  When we first got hooked up to the line and I looked down to see how far I might possibly fall to my death, I got a little nervous.....but as soon as the guide released the brakes and I went flying, all nervousness was forgotten as I was having the thrill of a lifetime.  There were a series of 4 lines that we got to go down before reaching the bottom, and each one offered a unique perspective of the canyon as the sun began to set.  In all, the tour took about two hours to complete, and after spending all that time flying through the air, we were ready to head back to the casino/hotel and pig out on our first of three (yes, three!) buffets. 

Bootleg Canyon flightlines
Modeling my flightlines gear

Stay tuned for a future post on Vegas and Valley of Fire State Park...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Solar Death Rayed in Vegas

Picture from Trip Advisor.
Death Ray NOT pictured.

Thanks to a fancy, curved design,  the Vdara Resort is causing a "death ray" of focused light that's terrorizing sunbathing guests at the recently opened Las Vegas hotel.  Think of the hotel as an angled magnifying glass and you, the sunbather, as the ant.  You can't make this up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cliff Dwellers

Here's the first of a number of posts on our recent Southwest vacation.  One of the locations we visited was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I had intended for us to stay two nights at the lodge there, but I failed to book a second night.  Thankfully I discovered this before our trip, so I scrambled to find options for the second night thanks to the lodge being sold out.  I did a Google Map search for motels somewhere between the North Rim and Kingman and came up with the Cliff Dwellers Lodge in Cliff Dwellers, AZ.  Actually it's technically Marble Canyon per the US Postal Service, but the actual Marble Canyon is a good 15 minutes away.

Cliff Dwellers Lodge is one of those one-story motor lodges you see on old US highways.  Our room number was 1, and the walls were covered in wood-paneling.  Our AC had the option of turning it on or off, that's it.  The air that came out of it smelled moldy with a hint of ham.  Thankfully though it actually cooled the room down.  In fact it became so cold that my wife slept in jeans and a flannel shirt.  The shower was a stand-up stall that didn't allow for you to bend over to pick up the soap.  The water heater was conveniently in the bathroom just in case you get some sort of comfort from that sort of thing.   It was exactly the kind of place I would normally not spend the night in (although Jessica claimed to love its quaintness and retro-factor).  In some ways we probably should have feared for our lives, however thanks to Trip Advisor we knew a pretty decent number of people had stayed there and no one mentioned being ax murdered to death.

The Vermilion Cliffs frame the Lodge.

The highlight was the restaurant.  The food was delicious and there was a good crowd for dinner.  I love hot food and the waiter brought me a cup of chopped habaneros with my fajitas.  Awesome.  The Lodge is the starting point for a rafting company that runs the Grand Canyon starting in nearby Marble Canyon.  So there were lots of conversations about rafting, waves and such.  Roaming around the grounds was TJ, a 17 year-old dog who knows how to beg for his food.  He was clearly hit by a car (if not a truck or both) at some point in his life as he had a noticeable limp.  And that night the stars were out in full view.

Remaining walls of a cliff dwelling.
Also nearby were a series of ruins and homes built in to the rocks giving the area it's name.  During the day you can find people selling Native American jewelry and other items.  In a future post I'll talk about nearby Marble Canyon and Lee's Ferry.  Both should be visited when you're in the area.  If you need a decent place to spend the night, and want a great place to eat, definitely check out Cliff Dweller's Lodge.

There's literally nothing around you in Cliff Dweller's. 

To see more photos from our trip in higher resolution, please visit my Flickr page which you can access on the right side of our blog.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wild, Wild West

Brian and I just returned from a week and a half long vacation out West and can't wait to share the details of our trip in upcoming posts.  This evening, however, finds us sitting on the couch trying to decompress from today's three and a half hour flight from Vegas to Nashville.  I was lucky enough to sit next to a woman who decided to bring and devour an oh-so-aromatic (read: stinky) salad on the plane, and Brian was lucky enough to forget his brand new camera on the plane.  Luckily he realized he left it before the plane took off, but he had to get a special pass and go back through security to retrieve it while I was left to wrangle all our baggage.  Good times.  So.....for now, I leave you with this photo taken from the parking garage of the Las Vegas Stratosphere.  Viva Las Vegas!

Don't worry, mom and dad- I didn't heed his message.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lynchburg, Home of the Funky Lemonade

Lynchburg, TN
The small town of Lynchburg, TN has a pretty famous name. There's the famous Lynchburg Lemonade, a drink you certainly wouldn't want to serve to your kids.  Lynchburg is also home to the famous Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House where you can partake in a family-style Southern meal.  But what really makes Lynchburg famous is it's home to the world famous Jack Daniel's Distillery.   The Jack Daniel's Distillery tour is a must visit even if you don't enjoy a drink now and then, but fair warning - the smell of distilling whiskey is, quite simply, pungent.

Jack posing just outside
his man cave.


Computers monitor the dis
The old meets the new at Jack Daniel’s where you'll find the oldest registered distillery in the US with modern, state-of-the-art control rooms monitoring every aspect of the distilling process.  Your tour starts off with a short film about the history of the distillery and is followed up by a nice meandering tour through the hollow Jack Daniel's is nestled in.   It is amazing to think that every drop of whiskey the company sells is made right here.

There are buildings and pipes everywhere, and the usually-humorous tour guides fill you in what role each of them plays in making the famous whiskey.   The smells really kick in to high gear when you step inside the Sour Mash building.  Here you'll witness the stage called sour mash up close and personal. All of the water used in the distilling process is obtained from a nearby cave, and there are dozens of barrel houses all over the hillsides housing the aging whiskey.

The tour also includes a visit to the infamous safe.  The way in which Jack Daniel died should have been more dramatic.  I always imagined it was in a hail of gunfire as he was escaping the police as he ran illegal whiskey to the thirsty masses.  Or that his death involved a particularly intense, and lengthy, bear fight.  In the end the bear won, but he did not leave with all of his limbs intact.  In reality, Jack died by kicking his safe and the ensuing infection led to his death. Actually, this is kind of a manly way to go - taking your anger out on an inanimate object and not heading to the doctor when the pain gets intense.  Jack reportedly uttered, "One last drink, please" before kicking it.  Now that's exactly what I imagined he'd say.  You get to see the safe close-up on the tour.

At the end of the tour there's a chance to buy special editions of the various Jack Daniel's brands.  Sadly, due to the fact that this distillery is located in a dry county, there are no free samples.  But there's plenty of delicious lemonade (though sadly of the non-alcoholic variety as well).

Jack sure has an impressive set of pipes.

For more information about the Jack Daniels Distillery and Lynchburg, check out their official website where you can lie about your age to gain access to the site.

Cummins Falls: Paradise on the Highland Rim

Cummins Falls overlook
Last weekend, Sarah and I continued our summer waterfall tour with a trip to Cummins Falls (which I now believe is the most beautiful place in Tennessee). Located in Jackson County, TN, Cummins Falls is one of those rare gems that is privately owned, but the current owners generously allow access. Sadly, I attended nearby Tennessee Tech University, and in my five years on campus, I never made the trip to Cummins Falls despite it being a favorite destination for college students. Better late than never…..

Getting to the base of the falls, however, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, you must be in great athletic condition since the trek requires both a descent and ascent via rope (that is scarily frayed in some places). Absolutely not a hike for children. You are reminded of the dangers of this hike as you reach the primitive trailhead surrounded by crosses and memorials to folks who have died here. But if you are able to make it to the base of the falls, then a vista unlike any other in Tennessee awaits you.

Memorials at the trailhead remind you to exercise due caution

Sarah's descent down the rope trail

Cummins Falls sits within a natural amphitheatre and drops about 50’, but what’s so spectacular about it is that it cascades over a series of ledges into a deep, turquoise pool. You can launch yourself into the swimming hole and swim right up to the falls or approach it from the side and enjoy exploring the different ledges. You can even make your way behind the falls. I found the perfect spot in the sun to rest my back along one of the ledges while water rushed over my shoulders and legs. There is no greater serenity than being outdoors, listening to the sounds of rushing water in surround sound. Sarah and I literally spent an entire Saturday just lounging around until dusk.

Butterflies at dusk

The fate of this natural wonder is currently undecided. The property came up for auction in May 2010, but the Tennessee Parks and Greenways foundation were able to come up with a contingent bid to stave off a developer. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but for now, I feel truly blessed to have been able to visit Cummins Falls in its present, rugged state.

View from the base of the Falls

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Wonder What Happened to Wonder Cave….

Image from travel.nostalgiaville.com
Recently, a coworker and I had to travel to Chattanooga for business. On our way back, we decided to travel a portion of US Highway 41 that parallels Interstate 24. We exited at New Hope and wound our way up Monteagle Mountain. On our descent from the mountain, we entered into the Valley Home Community near Pelham and passed by an old rusty sign beckoning us to visit Wonder Cave. I remember hearing about Wonder Cave as a child, but it’s been closed for several years, which brings me to the question: “I Wonder What Happened to Wonder Cave?”

When I got back home, I did a quick Google search and learned that Wonder Cave was discovered by college students in 1897 by following the Mystic River. Years later, an inn was developed and tourism soon followed. However, I found a Roadside America thread that says it’s been closed for nearly a decade because the family that owns it no longer has anyone willing to operate it. Apparently it reached its tourism hey-day in the mid 1900s when US Highway 41 was the main artery for travel from Miami to Chicago, but the number of tourists dwindled once traffic rerouted to I-24 after its completion in the 1960s. If anyone reading this has memories of visiting Wonder Cave, I’d love to hear them!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Can Someone Text the Park Ranger to Bring Us a Pack Of Smokes?

But apparently if you have a GPS, ignore this sign,
let the kids dangle off the side and taunt bears.
Park Rangers will be by directly to save you.

So, get this: people are bringing more and more tech in to National Parks.  Like smartphones and GPS devices.  And what are some people doing with these devices? They're doing lots of stupid sh*t like texting park rangers to bring them hot chocolate, or video taping animals close up, giving commentary about how this animal might charge at them, and then videotaping that very thing.  Or using the SPOT device that can send out emergency signals via satellite:
Last fall, two men with teenage sons pressed the help button on a device they were carrying as they hiked the challenging backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park. Search and rescue sent a helicopter, but the men declined to board, saying they had activated the device because they were short on water.
The group’s leader had hiked the Grand Canyon once before, but the other man had little backpacking experience. Rangers reported that the leader told them that without the device, “we would have never attempted this hike.”
The group activated the device again the next evening. Darkness prevented a park helicopter from flying in, but the Arizona Department of Public Safety sent in a helicopter whose crew could use night vision equipment.
The hikers were found and again refused rescue. They said they had been afraid of dehydration because the local water “tasted salty.” They were provided with water.
Helicopter trips into the park can cost as much as $3,400 an hour, said Maureen Oltrogge, a spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park.    - From the New York Times
Technology clearly doesn't make us smarter.  It makes folks a whole lot dumber and makes the park rangers and emergency officials' jobs a whole lot harder.

Read the full NY Times article here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

US Highway 70

This weekend, Brian and I drove east to Knoxville to meet our new niece. On our way there we decided to take a short detour on Highway 70 in order to break up the monotony of Interstate driving.  We exited at the Crab Orchard exit just past Crossville, and joined up with Highway 70.  Just a few miles down the twisty road we came to our first roadside stop- Ozone Falls.   Ozone Falls is a 110' waterfall that plunges into a swimming hole and eventually flows underground further up the stream.  Apparently, it was also used as the backdrop for the Disney film, The Jungle Book.  From the parking lot, you walk just a few feet to the top of the falls, but because of the large rock outcroppings, you can't get a good view unless you stand on the edge (which I do not recommend if you have poor balance or are afraid of heights- this is also the reason why I don't have a good picture of the falls).  However, if you choose to walk the 2/3rd of a mile to the base of the falls, then be sure to wear good shoes.  Since we were on a casual road trip, and I was wearing sandals, we opted not to walk down to the base since it appeared that scrambling over boulders was a requirement to get to the bottom.  While we were there, we also noticed this creepy hybrid monkey-baby placed in a tree.  From the bottom of the falls, we heard a child's voice repeatedly yell out, "Daddy!"   I assumed it was just a family enjoying some swim time, but maybe it was the lonely cries of the monkey-baby.

Monkey-baby cries out for Daddy

Next stop was Roosevelt Mountain, a wildlife management area in Rockwood, TN with a great view of the valley below.  I'd always seen the mountain from the interstate- it's hard to miss since its topped with cell phone/TV towers, as well as a now-rotting wooden fire tower that was built by the CCC during the Great Depression.  While the view is certainly impressive, the mountain top is absolutely littered with graffiti; likely put there by bored teens who go there to drink and smoke cigarettes at night.  Definitely not a place where I'd go to seek solitude.

CCC firetower

Hazy view of Rockwood and Watts Bar Lake

And the verdict is....you're a poor excuse of a graffiti artist.

This Sums Up Gatlinburg

One of the indoor mini-golf places in Gatlinburg has this oddity going on outside:

The anamontronic is synced to the song.  The gunshot is awesome!  I wish I recorded more.

Friday, August 20, 2010

But What Will Become of the Wax Statues?

I've lost enough of my face already,
please don't also take my home!

Knox News is reporting that the building that houses a wax museum, seafood restaurant and a distillery in Gatlinburg has been seized by the bank.  I've never been to the wax museum but hope for the sake of all that's good and kitschy in Gatlinburg that it survives.

Read more about it here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Helen, GA

Helen, GA - a Bavarian-Appalachian-American-Georgian Village

Do not be confused - you are not in Germany.  You are in Northern Georgia.  Much like Gatlinburg, Helen is an attempt at a European mountain village, specifically Bavarian. The area was originally populated with miners who were attracted to the discovery of gold.  Roughly 35 years or so ago, the townsfolk got a hankering for all-things Bavarian and decided to dress the entire town up as if it were a German village.  Soon after, as typical with mountain villages, fudge was discovered.

In Helen you'll find a few German-style restaurants, shops (with an emphasis on Christmas and terrible t-shirts), sweet shops (selling fudge and the other required candy of mountain villages - taffy) and, well, that's about it.  There are also an incredible number of horse-drawn carriages in this town.  Unlike Gatlinburg, you won't find tourist traps like go-cart tracks or mini-golf.  There is a water raft and tubing company located just north of the city, and that's it.  The attractions in the area are the mountains, hiking trails and waterfalls (like in nearby Unicoi State Park).  In a future post I'll talk about nearby Brasstown Bald and Anna Ruby Falls, both definitely worth a visit.

High Five, Santa!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Battle at Waterloo Falls

Waterloo Falls

Continuing with my waterfall theme, let me take a few minutes to talk about Waterloo Falls near the Putnam/Overton County line.  I vaguely remember going there once when I was in college at nearby Tennessee Tech, but when someone mentioned it on a friend's facebook page a few months ago, I suddenly had the urge to return after all these years.

I googled it and found some very vague directions, and my pal Sarah and I set off one Sunday in July with her two dogs for a day in the water.  After a couple of turn-arounds and one close call with a boarded up biker bar in the middle of nowhere, we found our way to the falls.  A warning for those interested in going:  the creep factor is extremely high here.  You basically turn down a gravel road surrounded by residences with posted 'No Tresspassing' signs, and there's no indication that the public is welcome here.  There were a couple of dudes in trucks who would randomly drive by multiple times and if we were lucky, a family or two. 

We made our way to the falls and sadly realized that since the falls are surrounded by high cliffs, the only way to the base of the falls was via trespassing on private lands.  It's really a shame, because the swimming hole below looked absolutely perfect and inviting.  (If anyone knows a legal way to the bottom, please let me know!)  Luckily for us, the stream above the falls, Spring Creek, was crystal clear and equally inviting.  We let the dogs splash around and walked through the stream until we came upon a smaller stream of water trickling from the cliffs above, and landing on the most perfect moss-covered throne, just waiting for us to sit down.

Sarah's moss-covered throne

Further up the stream, we found a place to lay down in the bed of the shallow stream as the water flowed over our arms and legs.  The sun was out, the dogs were content, and butterflies were flitting around above us.  Perfection.......until we heard the gun shots.  I don't feel we were in any danger, but someone was definitely using the adjacent property for target practice.  In fact, I went back the next Sunday with my mom and Brian and this time the gun shots were even louder.  It almost sounded like they were actually shooting into the cliffs above.  Not wanting to accidently get shot, we made our way back to my car and moved on to Plan B- swimming in the Caney Fork River.  Maybe next time I should return on a weekday since apparently Sundays after church is shootin' time in Overton County, Tennessee.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kentucky is Cave Country

Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, TN.

Tennessee, the state I currently live in, has more caves than any other state in the union. But when people think of Cave Country, they think Kentucky, or more specifically Kentucky's south central region near Bowling Green.  Kentucky gets this distinction due to the fact that it's home to the longest cave system in the world, the Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System.  But it's not just Mammoth Cave that has helped create the name, but many more commercial and wild caves surrounding the park and two nearby towns - Horse Cave and Cave City - that truly sell the name.

Cave gates became vital to protect caves during the Cave Wars.

The Kentucky Cave Wars

A fascinating development occurred in the early 20th Century called The Kentucky Cave Wars. Dozens of caves were opened to the public with their owners vying for the numerous tourists heading for Mammoth Cave.  One common practice was cave owners hiring someone to pretend to be a state trooper, stopping cars full of families on their way to Mammoth Cave.  The actor would tell the family something to the effect of "Well, Mammoth Cave has flooded and is closed.  You should head over to So-and-So Cave instead.  It's a much prettier cave".  There were roadside stands selling onyx and other cave formations.  Often times the people selling these formations were not the true owners of the onyx, but were thefts who broke it off the ceilings of other peoples' caves.

A broken formation.

And a man named Floyd Collins, who's family owned Crystal Cave, was desperately searching for a cave closer to the main highway since Crystal Cave was located just a bit too far away from the main road.  He found one and sadly, it took his life. Today only a few of these commercial caves remain open to the public.

A totem pole and a giant knight are oddly enough the official
symbols of kitsch in Kentucky.

Since tourists have been heading to Kentucky's Cave Country for decades, other attractions have sprouted up.  While not quite the tourist trap mecca that Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge-Sevierville is, the area is still home to a few mini-golf courses, go-cart tracks, a Dinosaur World, an amusement park (specializing in gunfights), and of course competing commercial caves.  This area is literally so rich with caves that they accidentally discovered one building the parking lot for the amusement park.  And in nearby Jellystone Park campgrounds, tourists sleep in their own individual caverns.  Well, not really, but there are probably enough caves "lying" about on the Jellystone property to give every overnighter their own cave.  And if you're not keen on sleeping in your own tent, you can sleep in a giant one - Native American style:

Come to Mammoth Cave, stay in a wigwam. 

Hidden River Cave and the American Cave Museum

Looking up from the Hidden River sinkhole at the
American Cave Museum.
Just up I-65 a bit from Park City and Mammoth Cave is Horse Cave.  The town was built on top of a large cave entrance and the system is named Hidden River Cave thanks to the fast moving stream found inside there.  The town used the cave both for its water supply and to create electricity.  Over time the stream system became polluted.  Today, the cave has been cleaned up and is once again open to tourism.  The tour is short, but certainly worth it since it includes a tour of the American Cave Museum.  The museum houses a number of exhibits about - you guessed it - caves and also further illuminates the visitor on the history of Mammoth Cave and the Great Cave Wars in the area.

What Hidden River Cave looks like from the inside.

Diamond Caverns

Not only does Diamond Caverns have a lot of formations,
they also have an abundance of stairs.

It goes without saying that you have to visit Mammoth Cave.  I highly recommend the Historic Tour if you're short on time, and for a longer trip take the Grand Avenue Tour.  And bring along your bike as the national park has miles of bike paths.  But if you want to hit one of the caves outside of the National Park, check out Diamond Caverns which is located on Mammoth Cave Pkwy just outside the park.  Diamond Caverns has a number of formations (something the main parts of Mammoth Cave don't have) to gawk at, sadly some of which are broken thanks to the Cave Wars.

Flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites await you
at Diamond Caverns.

Sadly, one of my favorite caves in the area is no longer open.  James Cave, located on a nearby resort's property, is currently closed due to a bat colony that lives there.  There is also the ever imposing threat of the White-Nose Syndrome, a syndrome that's striking bats in caves all across the country.  When you go to Mammoth Cave you'll see plenty of signs about this disease and whether or not you could be potentially spreading it to their cave.  So far there haven't been any sightings in Kentucky's caves, and hopefully it'll stay that way.

For Jessica's view on this same trip, check out her blog post (note she ends her post with the exact same picture - completely accidental).

Jessica says goodbye to the official
Kentucky Cave Country monkey.