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!