The Museum of Appalachia, Part II

When John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia set about collecting historical items from the Appalachian people, he was able to gather 250,000 artifacts during a 50 year period.   It is astounding that one man could accomplish so much and in the process bring to life the culture and daily life of so many people.   I think he summed it up well when he quoted:  “What better way is there to know a people than to study the everyday things they made, used, mended and cherished…and cared for with loving hands.”    In the last post I focused on some of the buildings he preserved and in this one I want to focus on some of the collections he amassed in three large buildings.    The Appalachian Hall of Fame Building gives tribute to the many accomplishments of these mountain people, some notable or famous and some not so much.    Different than many museums, Mr. Irwin did not make fancy signboards with computerized lettering and flashy titles for his exhibits.   That would have been rather difficult when the museum opened in 1969 and I liked that his original hand lettered signs and descriptions remain here.   It really gives a feel of an older time and place.

Although the many collectibles here are beautiful and very interesting to see, it was the stories of the people that captivated me most.   Stories like Dollie, 86 years old in the photo above who holds a little hand made basket given to her by a friend when they were both children.   She had gathered eggs in this basket for 65 years.   Or the story from Rowe Martin, a bachelor who used this chair to sit in with any women visitors.   In his 80’s he sold the chair to Mr. Irwin because he reported he was too old to be interested.

There were so many stories to read that sometimes I had to move on and skip some for the sake of time.   But some like the “The Thieving Pig Pie Safe” caught my attention.    Once located in a hotel dining room, the owner of the safe kept butter that he bought from local farms.   Back in the day there were no fence laws and cattle and hogs could legally run wild.   A big old sow ran loose in the town looking for scraps and garbage and smelling the fresh butter, learned how to open the front door of the hotel and also the safe, grabbing a pound of butter.   She would get caught with the butter in her mouth and be chased out with a broom.   Each time she got in to the pie safe more latches were added until there were three, but they couldn’t keep her out of the butter.   Problems like this finally led to the County passing a fence law.

Whittling or wood carving was one of the more popular past times for the Appalachian people and the Museum has many displays of this craft.    The wood carvings pictured below were made by a man named Dow Pugh who created many pieces of people, Indians, snakes, fish and birds.   He started this hobby one day after a log he carried in for the fire was too long so he left it on the hearth.   A few days later he got his hatchet out and started “hewing” on it, creating some sort of man.   “From there I just started fooling around with all sorts of things.”   Mr. Pugh was surprised when Mr. Irwin was interested in buying his pieces for the Museum as he didn’t think anyone would be willing to pay money for the things he did “just to be doin.”

Musical instruments were a mainstay in the lives of the mountain people and here you will find large displays of homemade instruments.   The unusual instruments were fun to see like the banjo made out of a bedpan (also called an Ukuweewee, in the lower part of the display case).   Several instruments are made from gourds, like the two on the top of the display and the one on the bottom in the middle.   And then there is the guitar made from the black commode seat, in the center.   They certainly made good use of whatever they had!

When you lived in a Tennessee hollow without a telephone and needed to call someone, what did you use?   Well, Granny Foust used this blowing horn, a very rare signal horn.   If there was an emergency she could call for family who were miles away out in the fields or hunting.   She could also call in the cattle or the hounds.  According to newspaper accounts she lived to be 115.  At one time when President Teddy Roosevelt visited the area she cooked him sweet potatoes, possum and cornbread.

There are many everyday items in the Museum hand made by the mountain people including baskets, quilts, clothes, furnishings, tools and pottery like the large collection of jugs and canning jars in the photo below.

Perhaps the display that surprised me the most was the eyeglass collection.   I would not have thought that eyeglasses would have sentimental value, but for the Appalachians they did.   When you saw a family member wear the same pair of glasses for years, it became part of their identity and something you did not get rid of after they passed.   So the museum has several display cases filled with many types of old eyeglasses.

Here was something a little different, a man who decorated his whole house both inside and out with polka dots.   Mr. Irwin thought that “Cedar Creek Charlie” was one of the more interesting characters he had encountered.   He never learned to read or write and after taking care of his mother until she died, he started painting almost everything in sight with red, white and blue polka dots or stripes.  Below is a photo of his bedroom.

Another unusual exhibit concerns Harrison Mayes, a coal miner who suffered a terrible accident and made a promise to God he would be a faithful servant if he survived.   He found his calling in 1917 as a roadside evangelist by erecting concrete crosses and signs on roadways in 44 states.   He made and installed them for 60 years, hand mixing and pouring concrete into homemade wooden molds in his backyard.   Using his truck, he set out for the highways where he dug holes nearby and set the crosses in place.

One of his signs was particularly eye-catching as he planned to not only place signs throughout the United States but also in outer space.

In the photo below are some of the memorabilia from Mr. Mayes, including the bike dedicated to outer space that he hoped to ride on the moon and many of the planets to erect his signs.

Thanks for checking in and I hope you enjoyed some of the stories and artifacts of the Appalachian people!

Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee

Visiting the Museum of Appalachia was the perfect ending to our exploring the states in the Appalachian mountains.   Of all the museums we have visited on our travels, this is one of the best.   It is also the place to get the most complete understanding of Appalachian culture and daily life.   So, what is the Museum of Appalachia?   It is a living history museum on 65 acres that includes a recreated pioneer farm village with 35 buildings.   There are cabins, barns, a church, school, gristmill, smokehouse, sawmill and corn crib to name a few.   Many farm animals live here including goats, sheep, chickens, horses, peacocks and donkeys like the friendly little guy in the photo below.

There are three main exhibit buildings, the Appalachian Hall of Fame, Display Barn and People’s Building that house collections of photos, folk art, musical instruments, tools, and items related to the daily lives of the people.   There is so much here to see, that it takes the better part of a day.   And since I liked it so much and have of course so many photos I want to show, I thought I would write two blog posts on the museum.

Before venturing out to look at the exhibits we had an early lunch in the excellent on-site restaurant located in the same building as the gift shop.   The food is homemade country cooking and oh so good that locals come here just to eat on a regular basis.    We couldn’t resist coming back on another day to eat here again before we left the area.   Each day they have different plate lunch specials with a nice variety of sides to choose from.   The desserts are awfully good too.   In the photo below is a plate of chicken and dressing casserole, sweet potatoe casserole, turnip greens and cornbread.

On certain days the museum features live music and we were fortunate to hear the “Tenos” on one of our visits.   This family group of five gathered themselves in the middle of the gift shop and played some amazing bluegrass music while we and others ate lunch and listened.   In between playing, they posed for this picture for Mark.   The young man with his back to us played his mandolin the whole time with the gift shop’s cat on his lap.

The museum is in a beautiful forested setting and this was our view from the dining area looking out at the barn and gristmill in the distance.

The museum is the work of one man, John Rice Irwin, an educator and businessman descended from early pioneers in this part of Tennessee who acquired and moved historic buildings to this property to preserve them.   What is amazing is that he did this over a period of 50 years, traveling backroads and collecting thousands of everyday items that had belonged to the mountain people of Southern Appalachia.   It was important to him that the structures appear authentic, as if the families had just used or lived in them, so many of them are furnished in the period.   The museum began in 1969 with one structure and has since grown to many more.   In this post, I wanted to share about some of the buildings we saw and the interesting stories we learned.

Tom Cassidy was a musician who lived alone in this tiny one room shack for the last few decades of his life.    If he stretched his arms out, he could almost touch both walls of his eight foot by eight foot home.   Although tiny, it was enough for Tom who reported, “I’ve got that little cot in there, a chair, a stove for heat and cooking, a frying pan, a bean pot, an old dresser, my fiddle and my pistol.   What more does a man need?”   When the museum acquired the shack in 2007, it was just as Tom had left it.   Looking at the inside of this tiny dwelling made our small trailer not seem as small any more!

Located here is the cabin of Mark Twain’s parents who lived in “Possum Trot” in Tennessee’s Appalachian Mountains.   The Twain family made this home until moving to Missouri where the younger Twain grew up.   Speculation remains as to whether he actually lived here as a child or if he was born after the move to Missouri.   It was interesting to see his humble origins, especially after Mark and I saw the fancy home he purchased with his wife in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Peters Homestead House was built in 1840.   In 1856, Cordelia Peters, “Aunt Cordie” was born in this log house and lived here her whole life, giving birth to nine children.   She died in 1943 at the age of 87.   The house was donated by an heir and moved from the original location.   Below are two photos of the home.

One of the more unique exhibits is the whiskey still of “Popcorn” Sutton, a lifelong moonshiner who was considered the last living authority on the subject.   He wrote and published his autobiography called, “Me and My Likker.”   He actually built the still here on museum property.   In 2009, at the age of 62, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his moonshine activities, but he took his own life before he went to prison.   His wife discovered his body in his Ford Fairlane and commented, “He called it his 3-jug car because he gave 3 jugs of liquor for it.”

At a young age, General Bunch helped his father build this house where he lived with his eleven siblings in two rooms.   The last time he visited the museum he talked of his early years:   “I was just eight years old, but I drug the logs in from the mountains with a yoke of oxen.   We had to walk twelve miles across the mountains to the nearest store where we could buy a bag of salt.”

I hope you enjoyed this peek at the lives of the Southern Appalachian people.   I will close with this photo of a wagon from a former medicine show.   These old time shows featured music and plenty of tonics to cure every known ailment.

Where We Are – November 19, 2018

I wanted to do a blog post in “real time” to give an update on where we are now as well as where we have been in our travels during the last few weeks.    We arrived to Chico, California last Friday and are visiting for a week with my parents, leaving the day after Thanksgiving.   We are looking forward to the holiday with family as our daughter Shannon, son-in-law Jonathan and grandsons Luke and Levi will also be coming to Chico for Thanksgiving.   In my last blog I wrote about exploring Kentucky.   After we left there we went a short distance for a week stay in Tennessee before heading east to our camp along the Mississippi River near the town of West Memphis.   Then we traveled further west for a five night stay in Oklahoma City.    In future blogs I will continue to write about our experiences in those places.    In addition, I still have posts I want to do on our summer travels through the New England states, so lots more to come!    As I write this we have now traveled and stayed in 31 states!   Mark and I like the photo above because in our travels we often have to park near the “big rigs” when stopping for a break or meal since our truck and trailer wouldn’t fit in a regular parking spot.   But parking next to those rigs makes us look so tiny and out of place.

Once we left Oklahoma the push west began, especially to get through Northern New Mexico and Arizona before the cold weather.    A storm front with snow and temperatures in the teens at night was due to hit so we drove more miles each day then we originally had planned as temperatures below freezing play havoc on our water hoses and system.    While passing through the Texas panhandle we had to stop for a late lunch at the Big Texan in Amarillo, a famous steak house with lots of character and great food.   I couldn’t pass up a steak here even though I felt some guilt since I had eaten a steak the night before at Cattlemen’s, the famous steakhouse in Oklahoma City.   No more red meat for me for awhile!    Eating some homemade gelato for dessert in the big chair wasn’t too bad either.

After stopping twice for the night in New Mexico and a two night stop in Kingman, Arizona, we found ourselves back in California after being gone for almost 15 months.   We stopped for several nights at one of our all time favorite camping spots – Orange Grove RV Park outside of Bakersfield.   If you like oranges, you would really like this place as it is set in the middle of an orange orchard with RV sites between the trees.   When the oranges are ripe, usually beginning in December, guests can pick all the oranges they want during their stay.   We always seem to find ourselves here just before they are fully ripe.   But it is still fun to hang around the orange trees admiring the fruit and enjoying the ambience of being in a citrus grove.    They were almost ripe and I couldn’t resist trying one, or maybe several.    Shh, don’t tell anyone, we are loyal customers here (smile).   This park is really large and a great place to walk.   Around the outside of the Park are more orchards and pickers were out there harvesting with their ladders and boxes.

Another great thing about staying here is that the California Fruit Depot is just around the corner and you can stock up on oranges there.    When we visited we watched a number of workers sorting and boxing fruit in the packing shed next door to the store.   This is the most generous place I have seen with their samples.   Not only do they sell varieties of citrus, but they also have lots of dates, dried fruits, nuts and candies, most which can be freely sampled from little containers throughout their very small store.    The place is so easygoing that two years ago when we were here a worker forgot to ring up a bag of oranges I was buying after totaling my purchases and told me I could just have them for free.

Leaving Bakersfield we started our long drive north up Highway 99 through California’s Central Valley, the saddest drive I have done in my beloved state.    During the whole trip the air quality was horrible due to the terrible Camp Fire still burning north in Butte County as well as fires south in the Los Angeles area.   All we saw were brown and grey skies with limited visibility.   It got even worse once we reached the outskirts of Chico (photos above and below).   We drove past burned fields and saw where the fire jumped the highway to the other side.   Most readers are probably aware of the Camp Fire, but for those who are not, it is the worst fire in California’s history and as I write, it is still only about 66 percent contained.   The death toll has continued to rise each day with 77 deaths now reported and close to 1,000 still missing or unaccounted for.   I am sure this will be remembered as one of the greatest tragedies in California’s history as the town of Paradise, population 26,000 was virtually destroyed.   It is unbelievably sad what people have gone through.

Although the fire came close, the city of Chico was fortunately spared.   The city mobilized to take in evacuees with shelters opened as well as a tent city next to Walmart.   Most of these evacuees have nothing to return to as their homes and businesses were wiped out.   We arrived to hazardous air quality in Chico with a number of residents wearing special masks with air filters that have been passed out by agencies or sold in certain stores.   My parents acquired masks as well which they have been wearing when venturing out.   The recommendation by authorities is stay inside which we have been doing these past several days.   Not only Chico’s air was hazardous but also the Sacramento area which was noted a few days ago to be the city with the most hazardous air quality in the world,  worse than the big cities in China and India.   Even San Francisco which is some distance away has suffered very poor air quality.    Very unhealthy air has pretty much hit all the Northern California Central Valley cities, including our former residence Modesto.   Luckily, the air here in Chico is starting to improve and today we saw less brown sky and a little more blue.   Below is a picture of me and my parents with their masks.

In spite of the tragedy around us, we are having a really good visit here in Chico.   We have had so much to talk about and catch up on!   Great conversations, special times!    Below, another photo of my parents looking hale and hearty in their hand knit Irish wool sweaters.   Thanks for checking in and reading!

Cumberland Gap National Historic Site

When I was planning our visit to Kentucky, Mark mentioned to me a few times how he hoped we would be visiting Cumberland Gap.   During our travels Mark has had few requests for places he is hoping to see.   He usually leaves that up to me and my “wisdom,” but the Cumberland Gap was different.   I think I missed learning about it in history classes or it didn’t make an impression on me, so it was here that I learned the significance of this place in the Appalachian Mountains.   The Park is situated in three states, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, with the National Park Visitor Center located in Kentucky.   We started there to get the passport book stamped, see the exhibits and watch an interesting film on Daniel Boone.   The mural in photo above is of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap in 1775.

At one time in the history of our country, the rugged Appalachian Mountains (photo above) were seen by easterners as a barrier to exploring and settling the country out west.   In the 1700’s this area was considered the frontier with abundant fertile land that was a draw for pioneers.   The Cumberland Gap was first used by buffalo and other game animals to cross the Appalachians followed by Native Americans who used the route for hunting and trading with other tribes.   It was subsequently discovered by hunters and traders with explorers like Daniel Boone developing the Wilderness Road to pass through the Gap.    Today, you can still walk the Wilderness Road and follow the footsteps of many former pioneers.    But before heading over to the trailhead, we drove up to the Pinnacle Overlook, one of the most popular places to visit in the Park.   From this lofty point, we had views of the Appalachian Mountains as well as views into three states.

From this point we were not only able to see the beautiful, wide vistas but also boundaries of the three states of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky in relation to the Gap.   In the photo below is a rough circle around the Gap.   While standing here it took us a long time to figure out exactly where the Gap was, LOL.

Leaving the overlook, we drove down, passing through a mountain tunnel from Kentucky to Tennessee and the starting point for our trek to the Cumberland Gap.

Between 1775 and 1810, 200,000 to 300,000 people crossed the mountains here on the Wilderness Road into an area they called “Kaintuck,” which became Kentucky.   We learned that they often made the journey during winter time so they could arrive to their new land in time for spring planting.    Below are photos of our walk including a creek crossing on a log bridge.

I liked arriving to find this sign that we had made it to the Gap and who had passed here before.

We found a monument erected here commemorating Daniel Boone as a trail blazer.   Due to his efforts the first settlements in Kentucky were made including the town of Boonesboro where Boone established a fort in 1775.   Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792.

From here I continued on up the Tri-State Peak trail to the top where a monument has been erected for Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.   At this point all three states meet which is kind of cool to find at the end of a trail.   There is a view looking out into Kentucky but not as good or expansive as the ones we saw at the Pinnacle Overlook.   Below is a photo of the three state markers.

I thought I would close this post with some pictures from Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in the town of London, Kentucky about 56 miles north from Cumberland Gap.   At this park you can also walk a portion of the historic Wilderness Road.    We didn’t spend any time walking the trails here, but we did stop to look at one of the more unusual collections I have seen – several dozen historic millstones once used to grind corn and grain.   They are lined up along both sides of the walkways leading to McHargue’s Mill.    We have seen a number of millstones throughout our travels, but never a collection like this, said to be the largest in the U.S.

A sign explained how the millstones were “dressed” and kept in working order.   Another explained where they came from (many from Europe).   As heavy as they look and weigh, it must have been a feat to get them placed and lined up here.   Besides the historic Wilderness Road and millstones, this park has another claim to fame.   In 1786 one of the most tragic events occurred in Kentucky’s history when 14 families traveling through stopped to camp and failed to post a guard for the night.   They were attacked by Indians with twenty-four people killed and only three survivors.

In the next blog I plan a post in real time on where we are now!

Cumberland Falls and a Moonbow

Before researching our visit to Kentucky, I had never heard of a moonbow.  There are only two places in the world where a moonbow can be seen.   Cumberland Falls in southeast Kentucky is the only one in the Western Hemisphere.   The other location is famous Victoria Falls in Africa.   I had been wanting to visit Cumberland Falls for some years as it is noted to be the “Niagara of the South.”   It just so happened that we were visiting in this area at a time when a moonbow is possible, during a full moon.

Cumberland Falls State Park has a website with dates of the full moon and times when a moonbow can best be seen.   A moonbow is possible a few days before the moon is at its fullest up to a few days after.   The times for best viewing vary, but usually begin about two hours after sunset.    This phenomenon occurs when the moon’s light is reflected and refracted off water droplets in the air.   Besides a full moon, several other factors must happen including good weather, water temperature, sufficient rising mist, wind speed and direction, water clarity and water volume.    I watched the weather forecast carefully as to which evenings would be cloudy or clear and on October 23, the night before the moon was at its fullest, the sky was showing clear.   We arrived at the State Park before 8:30 p.m. and joined a number of other people at the top overlook of the Falls, the best vantage point to see the moonbow.  Above is a photo I took with my phone which shows how dark it was but also shows how an iPhone can’t capture the setting of the Falls and moonbow.

Mark had brought a tripod for our Nikon camera because taking photos of the moonbow can be a little tricky.   It involves a timed exposure of about 45 seconds.   With a little trial and error he was able to get some shots of the bow next to the Falls, although not a photo of the complete bow.   What is so remarkable about photographing the moonbow is that the eye only sees the white line and not the colors.   But the camera with the right exposure time can capture what the eye cannot clearly see, the colors of a rainbow.   In addition, the camera captures the blue sky and landscape as if it is not in the dark.

What a wonderful sight it was to see the moonbow stretch from a point on the river below the Falls and arc to the top of the Falls before dropping down to the base.   As it got later and the moon rose higher in the sky, the moonbow became larger and more pronounced.   I was not expecting the moonbow to be as large and grand a sight as it was.    Cumberland Falls is powerful at 125 feet wide and 60 feet high and standing before the plunging river and observing this rare appearance was quite magical, a one of a kind experience.   We enjoyed the spectacle for a few hours until the moonbow started to wane and drop lower into the canyon.

I went back the next day as I wanted to see it in the daylight as well.   There are a number of overlooks you can access by way of stairs which give different viewpoints of the Falls.   I didn’t come during the best time of day for lighting and the huge amount of mist makes taking photos a challenge.   In some ways, the Falls did remind me of Niagara with their large width and powerful spray.   Below is a photo from the top overlook.

And here is a view from the lowest overlook next to the base of the Falls.

At this overlook I looked over the railing to the rocks below and saw a large pile of trash.   The amount of it was shocking to me.   Most of it seemed to be plastic – soda bottles, large laundry detergent jugs, gallon water jugs, cups, bags, etc.   The garbage was nestled among logs and branches that floated over the Falls and became stuck against the sides of the cliff.   There were several areas like this.  An older looking sign at one of the overlooks explained that litter was a real problem and that it was not generated here but the result of trash from communities and homes upstream ending up in the Cumberland River.

The sign further explained that the State Park did have regular clean up days each year to remove the trash.   Since this was my first visit I had no idea what the “normal” level of trash looked like, but it appeared to not have been cleaned in some time.   Areas along walkways that would not have been reached by the river also had discarded bottles, cups and wrappers.   I walked a path to the beach below the Falls.   Here there were a great number of washed up logs and branches but also litter.   People had come to enjoy a day by the water and just left some of what they brought on the beach.   It was very disheartening and the thought that came to my mind was that this was the trashiest state or national park I had ever visited.   A very beautiful park and falls, but a serious litter problem.   Below is a photo downriver from the Falls and near the beach area.

Here is a photo of lovely Gatliff Bridge over the Cumberland River above the Falls.

Cumberland Falls State Park is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, a rugged area of steep forested slopes, sandstone cliffs and natural bridges.   I thought I would close this article with a few photos of the Natural Arch area.   The photo below was taken from a viewpoint with the arch on the right.   Stay tuned for my next post on our visit to Cumberland Gap, Kentucky.

Back to Kentucky

Most states that we have visited on this trip are new to us, or at least one of us.   Kentucky was an exception as 41 years ago we actually lived in the southwest part of the state for six months while stationed at Fort Campbell.   Since the Fort sits on the Kentucky Tennessee border between the towns of Clarksville, TN and Hopkinsville, KY, we had a choice about which town we wanted to live in.   We chose Hopkinsville and so our short time in Kentucky began.   Prior to our arrival at Fort Campbell, we had been trained (I use that term loosely) to be Arabic linguists for the Army Security Agency and ended up assigned to this base.   Our time there was less than exciting as we were part of a backup unit with little to do but wait for an overseas crisis.   When I first got there they were unable to process my security clearance for a month, so I remember spending time outside under a tree reading magazines since there was nothing I could do.   Although once I got my clearance work didn’t pick up much either, but at least I could enter the building and participate in activities like a normal “soldier.”   At the time I was the only woman in the unit and Mark and I have had a few laughs over the years over our commander assigning me to carry a grenade launcher around.   Carrying it around was all I ever did with it which is probably best, since marksmanship was not my strong point.   Although I thought Kentucky was a beautiful state, what I remember most was the awful humidity.   We have lived in some hot places such as Tucson, Arizona and California’s Central Valley, but that Kentucky summer heat seemed the worst!

One of the great things about being retired and traveling full time, is that one has the opportunity to pick the best times to visit each state.   So, when we visited Kentucky this time, we came in the middle of fall when it was nice and cool.    We stayed in the southeast part of the state at Laurel Lake Camping Resort next to the Daniel Boone National Forest.    It is named for the nearby very large reservoir created by damming the Laurel River.   I chose this campground because it was reasonably close to two places we wanted to visit, Cumberland Gap National Historic Site and Cumberland Falls State Park.   Below is a photo of the lake which is popular for boating and fishing.

My favorite part of this campground was the many birds that visited our feeders.   I am always hopeful that we will get some visitors, but here it was a bonanza.    We had eleven different varieties coming all throughout the day like Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Purple Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco and American Goldfinch.   It was so fun to sit outside and watch them and they were less timid than most other places we had been.  In the first photo below are two titmice and the second photo is a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Before arriving on a Thursday in October, we received a call from the campground office reminding us of trick or treating that Saturday.   The campground hosts two Halloween celebrations the last two Saturdays of October, inviting families not only from the campground but towns around the area.   Some RV’s put out fun decorations and lights and there were a good amount of children with parents walking around collecting candy.   There was also a “haunted forest” set up in the trees as well as pumpkin carving.   I sat outside with our bowl of candy to greet all the cute visitors.

The family in the photo below all dressed up together like characters from the Toy Story movie.

The city closest to where we were staying was Corbin, an unassuming town that is spread out into three counties.  Since Kentucky has a state law prohibiting cities from being in more than two counties, one part of Corbin is not incorporated into the city limits.   As someone who once worked as a County employee, I wondered how services were provided with several counties involved, but I was too lazy to find out.    At the state visitor center Mark and I were surprised to find out there are 120 counties in this state.   California is quite a bit bigger than Kentucky and has 58.   As we drove around we frequently saw signs that we had entered another county.

Corbin has a former citizen whose face is famous the world over.   It was here on July 4, 1940 that “Colonel” Harland Sanders opened his motel and restaurant business.   It became successful and he was known for his country ham, biscuits, pies and other homemade southern dishes.   Back then you could get a breakfast of country ham, two eggs, red gravy and biscuits for $1.70.   The menu stated, “Not worth it – But mighty good.”   By 1952, he had perfected his secret recipe for fried chicken and that dish became the main feature of his menu.   The bronze bust of the Colonel in photo below was made by his daughter Margaret in 1954.

When Interstate 75 opened and took traffic away from his downtown business, he decided to close the motel and restaurant in 1956 at the age of 65.   Having little money other than his social security check of $105 per month, he began developing the concept of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) .  Traveling the country he promoted his secret recipe fried chicken to those interested in having a franchise.   At the end of seven years his fried chicken had made him a millionaire and the owner of the Nation’s largest food specialty franchise business with over 1,000 restaurants in all 50 states.   I can count on one hand how many times I have eaten at a KFC in the past five years.   I have eaten at them a few times while on this trip (because of Mark – he loves the green beans and instant mashed potatoes), but in my pre RV life, I never thought about eating at one.   I am not a fan of most fast food places, but I like history and seeing where and how things began, so it was fun to visit this original location.

The original Corbin site still operates as a KFC, but also has a small museum with memorabilia including articles, pictures, photos, dishes, kitchen equipment and novelty items with the Colonel’s likeness.   Although his face is famous throughout the world, his signature white suit is easily recognized without his face and one of them is also displayed here.

In the photo above is the large kitchen where he perfected his secret recipe with eleven herbs and spices and developed a system for pressure cooking chicken.   By using a pressure cooker, he was able to reduce the cooking time from thirty minutes to nine.   The most unexpected exhibit here is a motel room that Sanders kept in the restaurant area so that women coming to eat could see what one of his well appointed rooms looked like before they agreed to let their families stay there.

During our visit I got such a kick out of a young couple visiting from Asia who were delighted with the museum.   They spent time posing outside in front of the building and then the woman walked around the exhibits several times snapping picture after picture.   Another diner offered to take photos of them and they posed happily and excitedly while eating their chicken.   It was a reminder of how popular the Colonel and his KFC restaurants have been historically, not just in the U.S. but also around the world.

Thanks for checking in!   In the next post I write about our visit to Cumberland Falls State Park where we see a phenomenon occurring only here in the Western Hemisphere!

Exploring Smoky Mountains National Park – Part II


I commented in my last post that I was a little concerned about traveling through Smoky Mountains National Park because of crowds that would result in delays along the roads and parking issues.   It ended up not being that bad and coming in through the North Carolina side made much of the drive less busy.   When we got to the Tennessee side, it did become busier especially at popular hiking spots.   There were still places though to pull off the road and enjoy some serenity and scenery.   The photo below was at one of those places, a beautiful creek that was a very short walk from the road.   I met a family there and the wife told me that this is their favorite spot in the Park, a place they return to during each Smoky Mountain visit.

Moving on, we came upon a line of cars parked for perhaps a half a mile or more in each direction, overflow from a crowded parking lot at a favorite trail head.   This can be common in other National Parks, so no surprise here either.

The Park has set up “Quiet Walkways,” shorter trails off some of the roads where one can walk with less crowds to areas of scenic interest.    Periodically, we would see a sign for one of those.    We stopped at one that led to this delightful rushing stream in the photo below.   I had the trail and stream to myself until walking a little further when I came upon a young man fly fishing in the middle of the stream.

After my “quiet walk” we headed back the way we came on Newfound Gap Road, stopping at the Newfound Gap Scenic Overlook.   When we had driven past earlier in the day, the parking lot was very crowded and after some attempts and still not finding a parking spot we drove on.   When we stopped on the way back we were able to get one.   The overlook is noteworthy for several reasons.   it is here that the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee meet.

The Rockefeller Monument made from stone is located next to the parking lot and can be seen in the left hand side of the photo above.   Completed in September 1939, it was on this spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountain National Park in September 1940.   A plaque on the monument states that the park was given by the states of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as donations in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by her husband John.

This is also the only place in the Park where the Appalachian Trail passes across a road.   During our travels, we have run into the trail in several different states.   In the photo above, you might notice on the smaller sign that it is 1,972 miles to Katahdin Maine, the ending point for the trail and a long trek ahead for the weary hiker!   I read that the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 71 miles through the Park and the highest point on the whole trail is reached here in the Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome which is 6,625 feet.

The road to Clingmans Dome leaves from Newfound Gap and in seven miles you reach a parking lot and can walk to an overlook at the highest point in Tennessee.   We contemplated driving up to this very popular spot, but I read reviews where people talked about waiting for an hour along the road to get a parking spot, so we decided to move on.   Above is a view from the Newfound Gap Overlook.

When people come to the park, they really hope to see wildlife, especially elk and black bear.   We didn’t see any bear during our visit, but upon arriving back at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center area in North Carolina we did see a herd of elk in the large meadow.   They tend to gather here in the late afternoon/early evenings and I counted almost 30 of them.   Fall is the rutting or mating season when the males make bugling calls to challenge other males and attract females.   Dominant males gather a harem of up to 20 females.   In the photo below, I watched a mother tending her baby.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains as well as other areas in the Eastern U.S. but due to over hunting and loss of habitat they started disappearing.   I read that the last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700’s and in Tennessee in the mid 1800’s.   By 1900, there was concern that they could be headed for extinction.   The National Park Service began reintroducing elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border.   In 2002, another 27 animals were brought into the Park.

During our stop there was a line of people standing along the edge of the meadow.   The National Park Service has strict rules about observing elk.   Visitors have to remain by the roadside while viewing and cannot enter the fields where elk are located.   The Park website states it is illegal to approach within 50 yards and violation can result in fines and arrest.   I noted that there were some park employees along the road when the elk were in the meadow.   I have seen elk before in my travels, but this was the largest gathering I have ever seen.    It was neat to see them, especially when they are now making a comeback after being absent from this area for so many years.

Thanks for reading!   In the next post we move on to Kentucky!

Exploring Smoky Mountains National Park

It is always neat to add another National Park to the list of those seen.   I believe the National Parks are a must do as they provide a special experience unlike so many other places.   Smoky Mountains National Park made the 6th National Park we have seen during this trip.    I had some concerns about exploring this park, mainly because it is the most visited National Park in America and crowds are high in the summer and fall seasons.    Over nine million people visit the park each year.   One of the reasons is because unlike some National Parks that are more isolated, this park is closer to population centers and therefore easier to get to.    I was envisioning traffic jams with difficulty parking and manuevering through the park.   For those that don’t know, Smoky Mountains National Park is shared by North Carolina and Tennessee and has three different entrances, two in Tennessee and one in North Carolina.   I thought we were fortunate to be staying near the North Carolina side of the park because that is the “quiet side” with less tourist traffic.   On the Tennessee side is the most popular entrance near the busy town of Gatlinburg with the Dollywood theme park.   In this post I will share part of a day exploring the Smokies and finish up that day with the next blog post.

After entering the park and stopping at a few viewpoints I was struck by the amount and variety of vegetation.   I felt like I had landed in Central or South America with all the lush greenery around us.   This was an unexpected delight.    After the visit I read that the park is known for many species of plants, shrubs and trees and on the park website I noted this statement:   “If allowed only one word to justify the Smokies worthiness as a National Park, that word would be plants.  Vegetation is to Great Smoky Mountains National Park what granite domes and waterfalls are to Yosemite and geysers are to Yellowstone.”   As we traveled through I could tell that it is indeed a special place and a very appealing destination for many visitors.

We stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center which had some interesting exhibits and photographs of the families that once lived in this area.   Living in the mountains was not an easy life and these people were tough and self reliant.   In order to create the park more than 1,200 families were removed from their homes and their communities were dissolved.   As can be expected, there were mixed feelings about leaving their homeland.   Some were happy to take the money and settle elsewhere, but many never got over their loss.   Some sold their land and paid rent to stay temporarily.   A few, mostly the elderly, were given lifetime leases.    We also learned of a similar situation when we visited Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.   Many families that lived in the valleys and hills that were proposed lands for the park were asked to leave so the park could be established.   Some left willingly, but others were not happy to do so.

Smoky Mountains National Park is known for having historical structures that can be found throughout.   At the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the Mountain Farm Museum featuring a nice collection of log farm buildings mostly built in the late 19th century.   They were gathered from different areas of the Smoky Mountains and moved here in the 1950’s to give visitors an opportunity to see how families may have lived 100 years ago.   Buildings include a farmhouse, barn, applehouse, smokehouse and spring house.   And of course I cannot forget the ever present blacksmith shop.   The photo above is a picture of the Davis Farmhouse, a rarity because it is made from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut trees here in the 1930’s and 40’s.

I really enjoyed seeing this meadow view with the barn on the right from the Mountain Farm Museum.   The National Park Service put a much needed sign on the barn which is one of the best I have seen.   It is tragic that people deface historic structures with their signatures and artwork.   It is such a frequent occurrence that it no longer surprises me but still so hard to understand why people feel compelled to disfigure priceless buildings.

Oconaluftee River flows next to the Visitor Center and is a beautiful and serene place to walk.   For those that have the time, there is a trail you can take along the river that goes to the town of Cherokee.   The valley where the river flows once had a Cherokee settlement and although the Cherokee people roamed throughout the Smoky Mountains area, this is the only known permanent settlement within the park boundaries.

After spending some time at the Visitor Center we drove to Mingus Mill, an 1886 grist mill that uses a water powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power machinery in the building.   The mill is located at its original site and at times there are demonstrations of grinding corn into cornmeal.  The mill was the largest in the Smoky Mountains and served over 200 families.   Some families would bring corn and wheat from 15 miles or more to have it ground at the mill.

Water is channeled from Mingus Creek into the elevated flume and carried through a series of mechanisms into the turbine next to the building.   This turns an attached metal rod that leads into the mill and turns the grinding stone to process the grains.   My favorite part of the mill was the flume with its old mossy boards, rushing water and small waterfall from a loose board like you can see above.

Leaving Mingus we continued on Newfound Gap Road which is the main road that crosses through the park, allowing visitors to access overlooks, pull-offs and trails.   You can start the 33 mile drive from either Cherokee or Gatlinburg.   Below is a photo of the road that I took from an overlook.

The Cherokee described these mountains as “shaconage” meaning “blue, like smoke” since they appear to have a smoke-like natural bluish haze.   Large quantities of moisture and organic compounds are emitted from the lush vegetation, forming the natural haze which is thickest on calm, sunny and humid days.   Before visiting the park, I was wondering if I would notice that smokiness but when I saw the mountains, especially in the distance, I could understand how they got their name.

I will close with a shot coming out from one of the tunnels.   Just like on the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are a number of them on Newfound Gap Road as well.   In my next blog post I will continue writing about exploring the park.