2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: April 20: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Lexington KY April 20

The ninth race at Keeneland on April 20

Thursday was six hours of equine knowledge but it must be only considered an appetizer since Friday’s ten hours was a sumptuous entrée. The great weather Friday was the dessert. Sunny all day, a little cool in the morning but the 60 degree temperature in the afternoon was perfect.

Our morning was a three and a half hour tour of Keeneland race track and horse farms in the Lexington country side. Our tour was with Horse Farm Tours, there are lots of different tour companies, and Ernie Flynn was our guide. Ernie is a former jockey and trainer who was able to add invaluable insights, although his soft voice made you stick close to him when out of the van to hear him.

I will admit we messed up a bit. Of course we arrived early (7:50 AM) to the pick-up point, an Embassy Suites a half hour away. Of course we checked in with the hotel to make sure we were at the right spot and where to wait. But then, for some unknown and unusual reason, we became passive. We waited for the tour people to come in to the hotel and call our names. By the time we realized it was getting late, our van had already left. Luckily, a friendly competitor gave us a ride in his van to Keeneland where we joined Ernie. Most tours start at Keeneland in order to watch the early morning work-outs before going off on their own list of farms to visit.

Keeneland morning top; Keeneland afternoon bottom

Keeneland dates back to 1936 and was built starting as a private track by Jack Keene but the depression ended his dream and a group of local racing people got together and purchased Keene’s property and completed the track. Today it is a closely held for-profit company that seems to distribute its profits in renovations and donations to the local community. No dividends are issued. Keeneland is one of the top tracks in the country, holding a 17 day meet in the spring and a 15 day meet in the fall. It is a beautiful facility, constructed of stone, and immaculately groomed.

Keeneland holds horse auctions that bring in top yearlings from around the country. We did not tour the auction facility but went down to the track and watched the early morning workouts. Trainers are free to bring their horses down anytime between 5:30 and 10:30, no appointments, no scheduling. Ernie indicated most horses work-out about once every five days. There are normally 1700-1800 horses housed here during the racing season; many horses stay here year round to train. The early morning workout time was quiet; a few people, mainly on tours, watched the horses and walked through the building. There is a secondary training track and more stables located on the back side of the main track which we drove through once we left Keeneland.

Just some of the trophies won by Calumet Farms-from display at KY Horse Park

Next we spend time driving the back roads and being introduced, from the road, to some of the most famous and exclusive farms in the area. Calumet Farms, once the most celebrated stable in the country, was founded by the maker of Calumet Baking Powder. Most of the other exclusive farms are owned by Middle East sheikhs or wealthy entrepreneurs. Ernie related stories of many farms and the horses which are now, or were, stabled there.

Part of Calumet Farm

Other details came out during the ride, such as the use of rounded corners on the fencing so horses don’t get hurt when running and so that older horses can not pen a younger horse in a corner to establish dominance over it. Wood fences are used, plastic materials had been tried but rejected. Most fencing is two deep; prevents horses from trying to jump them and protects from errant cars going off the road, breaking a fence, and allowing horses to escape. Some of the farms have extensive stone fences on the road side; expensive to build but beautiful to look at.

Breeding “Shed” at Hill n Dale Farm

We pulled in to Hill n Dale Farm to look from a close distance spot. Seattle Slew, an undefeated Triple Crown winner, is buried there, standing up. The farm has a stallion, Curlin, which we saw out in the paddock, whose breeding fee is $150,000 and brought in over $20,000,000 in fees last year. Thoroughbreds are not artificially inseminated, only the real thing. (The state does collect 6% sales tax on the breeding fees, I asked.) The breeding facility looks like a home of a multi-millionaire. At Gainesway Farm, their campion stallion’s (Tapit) fee is $300,000 and he was bred 160 times last year.

Seattle Slew grave

We made stops at two other farms to see horses up close and personal. This is the season when foals are born, we saw foals ranging from several weeks to two days old. At one farm, we visited the “recuperation” (my word) barn where horses who had surgery were recovering.

Young foal enjoying the sun and attention

At McPeek Racing and Magdalena Farms, we met and talked with the owner, Kenny McPeek. He introduced us to a Brazilian jockey who is here for a race Saturday. This jockey has won 13,000 races. McPeek’s farm goes back to just after the Revolutionary War when a soldier was given land in payment for his service. He selected this land and brought his wife with him. Magdalena was his daughter-in-law and was the matriarch of the farm for decades. She and many descendants are buried on the farm and McPeek keeps the name Magdalena as the name of the farm.

When we were dropped off back at Embassy Suites, the traffic to Keeneland was heavy and we chose to have a good lunch at the hotel rather than concession food at the track. We arrived at Keeneland, missing the first two of ten races. There was still plenty of time and races left to enjoy our seats in the cheap seats in the sun. The temperature may have only been 60 or so but the sun was hot.

The races were an eye-opener for us. It was a social event, with women in dresses and hats, men in ties and suits. I even saw a few seer-sucker suits which fit in here very nicely. Couples on dates, office parties, and gatherings of friends were more numerous than race aficionados or tourists like us. There were very few children. I guess it makes sense; the races only happen twice a year, it involves lots of money, and the races only occupy a few minutes allowing great opportunities to mingle, gamble, chat, and drink. We made six two dollar bets on horses to show and won a total of $15.60. Did not cover our $5 entrance fees but a reasonable showing. Chris made all of the choices so she gets the credit.

Our bench seat in the sun was also occupied a young couple, she was obviously pregnant. Turns out she was a development officer for Berea College so she and Chris shared notes. Chris found out Berea admits about 85% of their students from Kentucky and they must be poverty level. 10% are from abroad and 5% from the rest of the country. If a student graduates and does well financially, their children can not attend because the children will not be from a family with poverty level income. Legacy student admissions are not a big deal at Berea. The husband is a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service stationed at Daniel Boone National Forest located in the Cumberland Falls State Park area. He has attended the fire fighters school in Missoula Montana that we toured several years ago.

The couple informed us that today’s crowd was much larger than they were accustomed to. The comparison between the few people at the morning workouts and the afternoon races was stark. We stayed until the end, being one of the last people to leave. Dinner was picked up a Kroger grocery store. The roast beef wrap was large enough for both of us and combined with a personal size triple berry pie and two side salads, we had a pleasant dinner back at the farm.

Ed and Chris. April 21

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: April 18-19: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Lexington, KY. April 19

Early morning view from our lodging, Lexington KY

This morning (Thursday) arrived cold, windy and overcast. The view from our Airbnb lodging in Lexington helped shake the cold temps as we looked out onto the grounds of a stable and horse farm. We are lodging in a room over the garage of the owners of the working stable. Chris liked the view of a white horse out grazing.

Wednesday we left Pine Mountain State Resort Park. The lodging and food were decent, we would stay there again. The park lodge displays many prints of Ray Harms, an artist credited with developing the limited edition art print process to sell artwork. His work features wildlife and botanicals. While not born in Kentucky, much of his work was created here.

Did I mention Kentucky and Tennessee state parks do not charge admission? I believe I forgot to mention that. The fee-free policy is appreciated.

Our drive north to Lexington included two stops, Renfro Valley and Berea. Once we were past them, we were out of the Cumberland Plateau and the land was more green and flowering. Renfro Valley is home to a bluegrass entertainment theater and to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum opened in 2002 partially utilizing a renovated riding stable owned by the founder of Renfro Valley, John Lair. Lair founded and ran a radio station for decades that focused on uniquely Kentucky artists and bluegrass music, called the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

The museum is not limited to country and bluegrass but has all genres included. Some of the artists had absolutely no name recognition for me, they were local through and through. But the original inductees in 2002 included such artists as Tom T Hall, Rosemary Clooney, Merle Travis, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers, and Bill Monroe among others.

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Renfro Valley KY

The museum traces the development of Kentucky music, starting with the tunes carried over from England and Scotland, often passed on by women singing to children. Instruments like the fiddle and bingo added music; then camp meetings and Bible revivals added their dimensions. Other influences included minstrel shows, riverboat entertainment, and protest songs-frequently about coal mines. The remote locations of many Kentucky communities meant songs and singing were a major social feature of the community.

The museum was well done and did not require a lengthy stay. I would have enjoyed more opportunities to hear specific songs played rather than just displays with narration.

Fifteen miles further up Interstate 75 is the town of Berea, home to Berea College and to the Kentucky Artisan Center. We hoped to find a few mementos at the Artisan Center. The center has for sale works of juried art by Kentucky artists in every field imaginable. Photography, pottery, paintings, sculpture, wood working, food, clothing, candles, glass work, brooms, etc. were all on display. The prices were beyond what we wanted to spend, although not outlandish. I considered the time spent more as visiting a very diversified museum or art gallery.

We went into downtown Berea where the College is located. Berea was established in 1855 and was the first Southern college to be co-educational and racially integrated. It offers its education to students tuition-free, all students have to work for the college for at least ten hours per week. Berea was also in the news recently when Sen. Mitch McConnell of KY exempted Berea from a new federal tax on large endowments of institutions of higher learning.

Historic Boone Tavern, Berea KY

The campus was pleasant but not our main focus. Instead we headed for the historic Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant run by Berea College. The Tavern was an idea of the wife of the Berea College President who in 1909 felt she had to entertain too many official visitors to the college. The Tavern was constructed by students in the college wood-working department utilizing bricks from their own brickyard. The food was excellent.

Man o’War statue and grave, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, KY

Today we spent six hours at the Kentucky Horse Park, a 1200 acre complex that includes two museums, event facilities for horse-jumping, dressage, etc., barns for several Kentucky champion horses, sculptures of famous horses, etc. Besides the museums, we attended an outdoor presentation of six horses representative of different horse breeds and an outdoor presentation of three famous, champion horses. I mention the outdoors to remind you again that the day was windy, cold, and overcast. The temperatures may have helped to hold the attendance down and prompted us to sandwich the outdoor presentations with the indoor museum viewing.

Part of the Parade of Breeds, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington KY

The International Museum of the Horse was outstanding. It traced the development of the horse back to species that originated in North America, migrated over the land bridge to Asia and then to Europe and Africa while dying out here. Re-introduced by the Spanish explorers and settlers, America has become one of the foremost breeding countries in the world. Arabians receive special attention but the development of various breeds is well-covered as are the changes in how horses were used over the last three centuries.

The second museum is the Showplace for Saddlebreds. It was satisfactory; it might have received a more positive response but a major portion of the museum is under renovation.

Our lodging in Lexington KY

Ed and Chris. April 19

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2018 Trip 3: April 17: KY and TN

Pineville, KY. April 16

Tuesday morning view from the dining room at Pine Mountain State Resort Park

Although it was not planned, we had an interesting driving adventure today. Our plan was to visit coal country, east of Pineville KY. And that is how the day began. We headed out on US 119 towards the three cities of Cumberland, Benham,and Lynch. The road was in good shape, with truck lanes on mountain slopes. The rock cliffs along the road were a clear indication of the rock geology of the area. We passed under two coal belt lines that transfer coal from the mountains on the south side of the road to rail lines on the north side. Trucks carrying coal and equipment working in the yard were visible. The two coal belt lines go to mines owned by one family and is the longest running operation in Harlan County.

Coal Mining operations along US Hwy 119 in Harlan County Kentucky

The Portal 31 exhibition mine in Lynch drew us first. We had hoped for some exhibits in addition to the underground mine tour, but only the tour is offered. We have been underground for several mine tours so we passed on that. Just a mile or two up the road was Benham, home to the Kentucky Coal Museum.

The Kentucky Coal Museum is a four-story building that was previously used as the commissary for the International Harvester Company which ran coal mines in this area. Benham, like Lynch, was a company town. Benham started as a farming community but International Harvester purchased the area in the early 1900s and began mining coal. Several rich coal seams are in the mountains on either side of the town, located in the valley between the two mountains.

Benham was built and operated completely by International Harvester’s subsidiary, Wisconsin Steel. IH needed lots of steel for its manufacturing of agricultural equipment and this area provided it. The mines operated until 1980 but even by the 1960s, land and buildings were being sold to locals and eventually their own town incorporated. Benham operated like any company town, outwardly sweet as the company provided for all but with racial tension and lack of individual control. Today it survives but is part of Harlan County, one of the poorer counties in Kentucky.

The museum seems to be locally funded with numerous pictures and artifacts relating to life in a company coal town. Mining equipment, model home layouts, school pictures, trophies won by locals, etc. Miners who died in coal accidents receive prominent display space. A small section of the museum has a few items from Loretta Lynn, born about 90 miles north of Benham. We spent about 45 minutes here.

Now began our driving adventure. We had identified Kingdom Come State Park as a nearby park with vistas of the mountains and valleys of the region. As we drove to Benham, signs from US 119 had given advance notice that the park was coming near. But we had also seen from the park’s website a google map, which gave no address and no specific driving directions. Google Maps would not recognize the park from the park website that said: “Get Directions”. We looked at Google Maps and identified for ourselves two roads that seemed to lead to the visitors center.

Road option one came out of the town of Cumberland, where we were parked. We drove the few blocks to the road leading to the park, went up the hill, and found the road both blocked off and the road pavement ripped out on the other side of the barricade. Nothing on Google about this; nothing on the park web site.

Road option number two. KY 160 went up the west side of the park and led to another road that led to the visitor center. So we went up KY 160 and turned on the road, Kentucky Highway 1679. Now, we have driven on lots of gravel roads, lots of twisty roads, lots of roads with steep drop-offs, lots of narrow roads, etc. But even I stopped a few hundred feet into the road and backed down to Hwy 160. 1679 was rough, narrow, with steep drop-offs, and no visible means of allowing an oncoming car to pass by. It was miles to the park. It was a good decision, although while backing down I was doubting it. We later discovered 1679, although a state highway, is considered a primitive road, best used by 4 wheeling ATVs or high clearance 4 x 4 vehicles. We approached this 39 mile road from four entrances (more on that later) and only one of the four mentioned the primitive road feature.

Now what? Google was no use. We called the park and the manager said to take US 119 to Whitesburg where signs would direct us. We didn’t. We were well past US 119 and we decided to continue following Hwy 160. At Hwy 931 we would go south and finish the rectangle surrounding the park. This would give us a chance to see more of Kentucky. No hurry, plenty of time, it was only 12:30 or so.

The rectangle was close to being completed as we neared Whitesburg. The drive had taken close to an hour and I was in need of some food. We stopped at a McDonald’s and as we drove in, we saw a sign, Kingdom Come State Park 14 miles. As we left McD’s, we followed the sign. Well, it lead us to the other end of Hwy 1679, 39 miles from where I had backed the car down. One look was enough to tell us this end of the road was not much better and we decided to write off Kingdom Come. (By the way, the park is named after a 1903 best-selling novel written by a Kentucky author, “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”.) Hwy 1679 is also called Little Shepherd Trail.

Kentucky Highway 1679

As we resumed our drive west on US 119 to Pineville, we came across more, and larger, signs directing us to Kingdom Come State Park. We are suckers, we gave it one more try to find the park, and this time it was successful. The park manager chatted with us about the directions and the park. She enlightened us about Hwy 1679, the Little Shepherd Trail. Within the park boundaries, maybe the middle one-third of the 39 mile road, the Hwy is paved, and while not wide, two cars can ease by each other. Once you leave the park boundaries, the road reverts to its primitive status, so much so that adventure drivers come from a distance just to challenge the road. We went on several short hikes to various overlooks but the vistas, while pleasant, were similar to what we have seen already. We left Kingdom Come, never to return.

“Log” arch in Kingdom Come State Park in KY

View of KY Hwy 160 from overlook in Kingdom Come State Park, Kentucky

Kentucky Highways 160 and 931 were generally suitable roads; except for two things. First, I have never previously seen a road sign (that I recall) that read: “Break in Pavement”. On 160 I saw four. The first one probably indicated a location where some rock had fallen close to the shoulder of the road. (The signs are well ahead of the actual situation.) The second one was seen about a 1/4 mile and around a curve in front of a four-foot washout that extended into half of the oncoming driving lane. It did have an orange traffic cone stuck in the middle of the hole. The other two marked similar dangerous pavement subsidence that would have halted your car in its tracks. Now, I ask you: Why go to the bother of putting up a sign and not just fixing the dangerous road condition????

“Break in Pavement” ahead on Hwy 160 in KY

The second complaint really refers to multiple locations around south central Kentucky. First noticed on our way to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, I was not going to comment on it. But now I have seen it in numerous locations. “It” is the quantity of trash lining the shoulders of roads, not usually interstates or major commercial roads but the back roads. It is not just items that show up after snow melts but constant piles scattered along the ditches of roads everywhere. Not that it follows, but we also constantly passed small, rural churches. Would it not be nice if they honored God by beautifying his work and organize trash pick-up around their churches as a start?

I have pontificated enough. I won’t bore you with other complaints, at least not in this blog.

PS. We did make it to Pineville to determine if one can see Chained Rock from the town. With the aid of binoculars and the zoom feature on our camera, one can just make out the chain “holding” the rock so it does not fall on the city.

Ed and Chris. April 18

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2018 Trip 3: April 16: KY and TN

Pineville, KY. April 16

View of the Pine Mountain Narrows, pretty much the end of the Cumberland Gap trail

We followed in history’s footsteps today. The Appalachian Mountains were a formidable barrier to early westward settlement. Cumberland Gap is a notch in the Appalachian Mountains that served as a primary gateway to the west for the years 1780 to 1810. It is estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 settlers used this gap during those years to reach new lands in the Ohio Valley. Today we stood in the gap itself and walked a portion of the Wilderness Road that had been followed by 300,000 people. Other historic roads we have been on include the Natchez Trace, the Oregon/Mormon/California Trail, the Santa Fe Trail-and Route 66.

Cumberland Gap had been known as Warriors Run by Native Americans. Warriors from northern and southern tribes used the route to conduct raids on each other. Bison and other animals used it also as a route to various feeding grounds. The Gap was first mapped by an American of European ancestry in 1750 when Dr. Thomas Walker “discovered” it, mapped it, and wrote about it. Dr. Walker’s initial prognosis was not favorable, he did not follow the opening far enough to understand it led to verdant lands ripe for settlement.

Standing at the Cumberland Gap

Daniel Boone has received credit, rightly so it seems, for making the Cumberland Gap the road to the West for settlers. He made his first trip through the Gap in 1769 and led the efforts to settle the Kentucky lands beyond the Gap. He lost his brother and two sons in the process, killed by Indians protecting their lands from encroachment.

As settlers moved west, they made the road into a two-way thoroughfare as they sent grains, cattle, pigs, and corn whiskey back to the eastern markets. Soon, however, canals and then railroads became the foremost transportation method and the Wilderness Road declined in usage. During the Civil War, both sides tried to control the passage. However, possession switched hands several times, not due to battles but to fatigue from bad weather and low morale. In 1889 a railroad tunnel was completed through the area and in the 1920s, a US highway went over the Gap. Today, the highway runs through a tunnel and the Wilderness Road is back to its conditions during the 1780-1810 period.

View from the Pinnacle Overlook into the KY-TN-Va triangle area

We drove up to Pinnacle Overlook to get a view into this corner spot where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge. The Gap itself rises 300 feet above the valley floor but is 600-900 feet below the ridges surrounding it. Our view from Pinnacle Overlook was limited; when we were there, the temperature was 31 degrees and falling sleet obscured the view.

Walking on the Wilderness Trail at Cumberland Gap National Historical Trail.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park preserves a portion of the Wilderness Road trail. It is about 2 miles long and winds its way along the mountain ridges and through the forest. Given the rain over the last two days, the path was frequently muddy but hiking it gave us a better feel for the trek those early settlers endured. It also humbled us; we took the trail violating our own rules. No water, no map, no remembrance of how long the trail was to give us an indication when we should be completed. Periodic cell phone coverage allowed us to verify the trail was a loop and we made it back to our car without major incident.

An interesting side trail was called the “Object Lesson Road”. In 1908 the U.S. Government completed sample roads around the country to showcase “modern” road-building techniques. The goal was to convince states and cities to improve the rutted, muddy roads still in use. One was built here. For us, the Object Lesson Road was a wide, limestone trail that contrasted sharply with the Wilderness Road.

Our lodging for tonight and tomorrow is at Pine Mountain State Resort Park, similar concept to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park we just left. So far no ants and the heat, while inconsistent, is working enough. The room is more motel like. We are 60 miles from Cumberland Falls, still located within the Cumberland Plateau. Pine Mountain is at an area called “The Narrows” by Boone and the setlers.

Much of the following is from: “The Historic Cumberland Plateau” by Russ Manning. In the forward of the book, Jim Casada writes: “In between is a vast tableland intersected by deep canyons like so many laughter lines on an old man’s face.” The Cumberland Plateau is a strip of land that runs southwest through eastern Kentucky while spilling eastward over the border into Virginia. It then passes through TN, grazes the northwest corner of GA, and extends into Alabama. when it is in the three state area of KY/TN/VA, it is 55 miles wide. When it leaves TN near Chattanooga, it narrows to 38 miles wide.

The Cumberland Plateau is part of the broader Appalachian Plateau’s province. The eastern edge of the plateau is an escarpment (this was an obstacle to western migration in our contry’s early years), at places a steep mountainside over 2,000 feet above sea level. At other places, a long rock cliff standing atop a wooden slope. The western wall of the plateau is not so clearly defined, generally because drainage off the plateau erodes it. The plateau is covered with forests, dotted with waterfalls and sandstone stone arches. Its rivers and streams have carved canyons and caves. The plateau has a series of mountains or ridges with valleys and flat tablelands in between. There are two distinct woodlands: the uplands forest and the ravine forest.

We have found it intriguing and attractive, dotted with hiking, canoeing, and other outdoor activities. It is an area that deserves more time for investigation.

Driving up to Chained Rock in Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Pineville KY

Pine Mountain State Resort Park is only 1500 acres but surrounded by the largest of Kentucky’s state forests, the Kentucky Ridge State Forest. The park was the first in the state park system, created by a donation of land from local citizens. The lodge was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park has a particular tourist attraction; Chained Rock. Chained Rock is a jutting rock formation that looks like a loose boulder. In the 1930s, 50 men plus mules put a 101 foot chain (from a steam shovel in a VA quarry) across a gap in the formation to look like the chain was holding the boulder in place. We hiked up there in the sleet and show showers, and from a close vantage point, it was unremarkable. Supposedly the chain is visible from the town of Pineville; the community protected by the chain from the rock falling and crushing buildings in town. We will have to visit downtown Pineville and take a better look to see if the chain is truly visible.

PS. Very slow Internet here. 30 minutes to upload the few pictures in this blog post.

Ed and Chris. April 16

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 32: Our goal on this trip was to explore KY and TN. We have been on many, many country roads where houses are scattered around and “towns” are few and far between. I grew up in the country-no sidewalks, well water, mailboxes at the end of our street. Some neighborhoods had numerous cars on their property. Dogs were never leashed and we would call for my brother to come home for dinner and he would hear us three houses away. I now live in a city of just under 300,000. I prefer city living to country living.

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2018 Trip 3: April 15: KY and TN

Corbin KY. April 15

The Sanders Cafe-KFC restaurant-Corbin KY

I have a story to tell. You may have heard it before. But we read it, or re-read it, today for the first time. We were in Corbin Kentucky, the place where Colonel Sanders began his Kentucky Fried Chicken empire. Harland Sanders was born in 1890 in Indiana. His father died when he was six. By age 10 he was working numerous jobs outside the farm. During his early years, he worked on a ferry boat, for the railroad, tried to be a lawyer (which ended when he got into a fight with his client in a court room), and ran a gas station. Sanders and a competing service station owner got into arguments over billboards providing directions to their businesses and the other owner shot and killed the national chain rep that was with Sanders that day. Sanders shot back and wounded the other owner.

Chris and Col. Sanders

Sanders added to his service station by selling food from his house, then adding a cafe and a motel. He dreamed up marketing innovations. In those days, the 1940s and 1950s, the wife would go in and inspect motel units before agreeing to the lodging. (Jeez, we should have done that Saturday night.) He set up a model hotel room with the entrance inside the ladies rest room of the cafe so women eating at the restaurant would have to see and be impressed with the quality of the motel.

He was modestly successful but in the 1950s Interstate 75 came through the area but a mile or two from Sanders cafe. Business went downhill and he sold out at age 65 with just enough money to cover his costs. During his cafe times, breakfast meals were his specialty but he kept perfecting his fried chicken recipe. In 1952, a Salt Lake City restaurant that used his recipe convinced him of the recipe’s uniqueness and helped developed the slogan and use of a bucket to sell his chicken.

When Sanders sold the motel and cafe in 1955, he had no debts but his only asset was his Social Security check and his recipe. He drove around the country signing up franchisees and telling them to pay him 5 cents per chicken piece once they turned a profit. Nine years later with 600 franchisees, he sold the business for $2,000,000 and continued as a spokesperson. He died at age 90. His secret recipe is still a secret, locked up in a vault. The product is made by two different spice companies, neither one has the entire recipe, so the two portions are combined together.

The recreated original Sanders kitchen with many original items and structures

The Sanders story was discovered by us on plaques in a park in downtown Corbin and in a KFC restaurant that replicates many of the features of the original and acts as a memorial museum. (We did know coming to the area that KFC began here.) The model motel room is replicated along with the kitchen used to develop the recipe. The customers today at lunch seemed to be a mix of locals who all knew each other and of curious tourists. Evidently Japan is a major international customer for KFC; we spotted what appeared to be four groups of Japanese tourists happy to visit and eat here.

Before dying at 90, Sanders gave millions to hospitals, schools, charities. “There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery”, he said.

This was actually the high point for our day. We went to church in Corbin before KFC. A visiting, retired priest said Mass; 15 years of his career were spent as a chaplain on cruise ships (tough job). The church had a hand sanitizer, box of facial tissues, and a rosary in each pew.

The rain began coming down hard just as we got out of our car to walk into church. After KFC, since it was still raining and looked likely to continue for several hours, we thought we would drive an hour north to Berea, KY, the site of a large collection of Kentucky artisans selling their own wares. Two thirds of the way there, accidents on the Interstate drove us to use an alternate back road. Then an accident on the alternate road made us give up and return to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and just read. By the time we would have reached Berea, it would have been necessary to return anyway. We will shoot for Berea on Wednesday.

Dinner was back at the lodge. Very quiet tonight, no buffet even, too few clients. The breakfast buffet this morning will generate no complaints from me, the bacon was very good and the milk cold. Everything else was ho-hum but bacon and milk can keep this guy happy.

As the evening wore on, we noticed our room was getting cool. Adjusting the thermostat made no difference so a trip to the front desk brought a maintenance person who, so far at least, managed to make the system work. Dupont Lodge was built in 1942 and last “refreshed” in 2006. The staff has been pleasant and the place basically okay but it is time for another “refreshing”. There have been a few roof leaks, the carpet is getting thin, and the internet, while functional, has been too slow to upload pictures. I have had to spend more dollars to get more data on my personal wi-fi to supplement it and to keep Google Maps happy while driving back roads. I can personally sympathize with non-urban communities that complain about the lack of fast broadband service and how it hurts their economy.

A view of the Cumberland RIver from the patio of the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park’s Dupont Lodge

Ed and Chris. April 15. We hope you have filed your taxes.

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 31: I know for every rags to riches success story there are hundreds of failures. Starting out to develop a business at age 65 with only his $105/month Social Security check-wow. I will never eat at a KFC again without thinking about the Harland Sanders life story.

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2018 Trip 3: April 14, KY and TN

Corbin, KY. April 14

Cumberland Falls on the Cumberland River, south central Kentucky

Winter Storm Xanto is making its way across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and we are caught in its southern rain. We left Gatlinburg behind as the early morning drive was still in warmth and sunlight. Construction on I-40 was at its weekend height but leaving early translated only into a slight delay. First stop Wartburg TN, a two-hour drive from Gatlinburg. Can we make it before the rain moves in?

Wartburg is the headquarters for the Obed Wild and Scenic River, a unit of the National Park Service. We did not expect to spend much time here, the Obed is known for whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. Neither of these are activities meant for us. The National Park Service describes a Wild and Scenic River as: a designation that includes high bluffs, sculpted cliffs, and lush forested slopes that creep to the edge of the river, which can be placid in summer and torrential in winter and spring.

Looking down at Clear Creek in Obed Wild and Scenic River from Lilly Bluff overlook

The headquarters had a video and we watched that after chatting with the ranger on duty, a guy originally from Pottstown PA. We drove another 20 minutes to Lilly Bluff, an overlook offering vistas of the river far below and the cliffs on each side. As we left the overlook area, the rain drops started with a light drizzle. First priority accomplished. The rain allowed us to justify not staying around to go on a hike.

Second stop was lunch, the Preston Steakhouse in Oneida, TN. Oneida is 3,700 people and appeared to be the local shopping area for the region. Lunch was reasonable, back to bar-b-q.

After refueling, our third stop was the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Big South Fork is 125,000 acres, twice the size of Congaree National Park that we visited a week ago. It straddles the Kentucky and Tennessee border with possibly 25% in Kentucky and 75% in Tennessee. The Cumberland Plateau with its hills, forests, and fast flowing streams provide a wild and rugged terrain. The Big South Fork was the first NPS unit with the combined designation of national river and national recreation area. This occurred after private companies stopped the logging, coal mining, timbering, and oil drilling that pretty much left the area a mess.

Views of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

It was raining hard by now and we quickly realized that there was a lot more to do here than we would accomplish in the current weather conditions. We walked down by the river and took some photos and marked this a place to come back to in the future.

Just over the Kentucky line near Corbin Ky is the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. It will be our lodging for the next two nights. Initial impression was not good. We had booked a spacious woodland cabin with fridge, microwave, etc. The numerous ants on the kitchen counter were unexpected and unwelcome. We moved to a smaller room in the main Dupont Lodge without fridge, microwave or ants.

The park was established in 1931 and several of the buildings and trails were constructed by the CCC and WPA. The big attraction here is the 65 foot high falls of the Cumberland River. In addition, each month at full moon (with a clear sky obviously) the falls glow in a manner described as a Moonbow. Supposedly the only other location like this is at Victoria Falls in Africa. We will miss it, it is not full moon and it certainly is not a clear sky tonight.

Ed and Chris April 15

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2018 Trip 3: April 12-13: KY and TN

Gatlinburg, TN April 13

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

I know we have stated it before but I am going to repeat it anyway. I am glad we retired early. Hiking up and down hills is still fun but it gets harder and harder on the body; the knees are creakier, the muscles are more sore. When we started walking and hiking in 2013, it was easier. Flat ground hiking on paved trails is still simple; up and down steep grades with roots and rocks just waiting to trip you up gets more challenging every year.

The weather has continued to be in the 70s and sunny; like much of the eastern two-thirds of the country the weekend is forecast to be wet and stormy. We are using the last two days of our time in the Great Smoky Mountains to hike. Thursday we slept in a bit and then headed for Cades Cove, a well-known area of the park showcasing Appalachian life before the park bought out the lands. The thought was to hike to Abrams Falls. Unfortunately, we spent a good part of the day driving. Cades Cove is a an hour and a half drive, plus you add time for the 15 mph Cades Cove Loop Road (and you are lucky if you go 15 mph), for extra slow-moving vehicles, and people stopping to take pictures, etc.

Hiking along Abrams Falls trail

We arrived at the trailhead about 1 PM, a park volunteer said it would be about a four-hour round-trip hike. It isn’t necessary to hike the full distance, we said, and we have viewed plenty of waterfalls, so we headed out anyway. The trail was not too bad, it reminded us of some of the North Shore trails that parallel rapids that head to Lake Superior. Our trail time amounted to about 90 minutes, recognizing we would be taking the same slow route back (there are no reasonable options).

Cataract Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A quick, short hike to Cataract Falls located by the Sugarlands Visitor Center completed the hiking. Dinner was a salad from the grocery store.

Today, we got up early, planning to hike on three trails along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Only one of them, Grotto Falls, did we think we would hike up to the falls- a three-mile round-trip. Of the others, Rainbow Falls would be five miles round trip. The second, Baskin Creek Trail, would be about three miles round trip. All three, however, involved decent elevation gain and trails that are laced with roots and rocks. The hikes are all popular and have small parking lots. An early start is critical. Since Roaring Fork trail is one-way, and slow, it only makes sense to do the trails in order of appearance along the road.

Charred trees along Rainbow Falls Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Rainbow Falls comes first. It is the longest and rated the most difficult of the three. All three trails are located in the burn area of the November 2016 fire and burnt tree trunks are common along the route. While the trail is within sight of a creek, it was not as picturesque as the others.

Baskin Creek trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Baskin Creek trail was a bit of a surprise. Regrowth from the burn area was most pronounced here and the rocks appeared to be of a different type than otherwise seen. I am sure my brother-in-law in AZ would know the answer, but I will call it a white quartzite and go with that. We turned back after climbing to the peak of the trail, any further would have been a steep downhill which, since this trail is an out and back, translates into a steep uphill on the return trip.

Grotto Falls Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Finally we got to Grotto Falls. Since we had already been hiking, the parking lot was full and we had to find a space along the roadway a good distance past the trailhead and hike back. Heck, we thought, we just added on another half of a hike just parking the car. Well, no, the trail to Grotto Falls is only 1.4 miles but it took us just under an hour to reach it. Slow, careful hiking had to be combined with traversing five streams and waiting at wider spots on the path to allow returnees and faster hikers to pass safely. The route here seemed to be the most rutted with rocks and roots. I would estimate that there was one section of 500 feet that was smooth and level.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The big pitch for Grotto Falls is that one can hike behind the falling water. The falls were a disappointment, relatively short and not all that scenic. Others seemed to be excited, though. We turned around and thought our descent would be quicker than the ascent. Again, though, the rocks and roots and waiting for others made the return take just as long as the ascent. By now, the legs and knees were talking to us: “When is this over?”

We did make it down. Remembering that our lodging, Tree Tops Resort, was just at the end of the motor trail, we passed on eating our third lunch this week of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a picnic and returned to Tree Tops where cold milk awaited us. Lunch was on our patio, listening to Roaring Fork Creek as it flowed past our resort.

Ed and Chris. April 13

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2018 Trip 3: April 11: KY and TN

Gatlinburg, TN April 11

Great Smoky Mountains at dusk from Roaring Fork Motor Trail

Two very different activities have occupied our last 24 hours. After completing yesterday’s blog, we realized it was still sunny and decided to go for a short drive. The Roaring Fork Auto Tour seemed to fit the bill, highly rated and seemingly just minutes from our lodging.

Roaring Fork Motor Trail at dusk, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I say seemingly because it turns out the auto tour is a one-way drive and we were located at the end of the tour. This was discovered after ten minutes of driving around and ten minutes spent at Ely’s Mill, a local, looks like it is 100 years old, weather-beaten arts and craft store at the end of the trail. I think they survive by visitors like us getting lost and stopping in the store for directions. They had a pre-printed map all ready for visitors and plenty of stories. The store even carried T-shirts with pockets; unfortunately for them, I stocked up last Christmas with Duluth Trading Company pocketed T-shirt gifts.

A farm site carved out of the forest along Roaring Fork Motor Trail

The one-way auto trip rises up towards the top of mountains, traversing numerous ecosystems. Portions of the area were within the fire zone of November 2016. Hazy views that symbolize the name and nature of the Great Smoky Mountains are a primary gift of the ride. Hard as it was for us to believe, farming was a major economic factor in this region prior to the creation of the park. “Hardscrabble” life certainly fits the situation here. The isolation of the area created pockets of farming community that lived relying almost entirely on their abilities.

Roaring Fork Creek top; Place of a Thousand Drips bottom; along Roaring Fork Motor Trail Great Smoky Mountains

Mountain streams with clear, fast, cold water rushed down the hillsides. We passed over several creeks and passed by several small waterfalls. Different wildflowers appeared along the roadside than we had observed in the Elkmont region. The one way route meant no need to worry about oncoming cars but translated into waiting behind cars that had stopped on the roadway to take a picture. One of them later turned out to be a Knoxville woman who had grown up in the St. Paul suburbs. The trip turned out to be a very pleasant end to an already nice day.

Then we came to today, Wednesday. Our goal was to visit Oak Ridge TN, about 90 minutes away. Oak Ridge is home to the NPS Manhattan Project, one of the three national sites secretly created to develop the atomic bomb used to end WWII. We had not purchased tickets in advance; 16 tickets are available for advance purchase and 16 tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Chris wisely called them Tuesday and they explained most tours sell out quickly. She recommended getting to Oak Ridge before 9 AM to get in line for the last 16 tickets. We did.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was established in 2015 to preserve portions of WWII-era sites where the United States developed the first atomic weapons. The other two sites are Los Alamos NM (which we have visited) and Hanaford WA. The project was top-secret; so much so that Vice-President Harry Truman knew nothing about the project until after the death of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Local Knoxville paper after atomic bomb dropped and veil of secrecy lifted

Oak Ridge’s secrecy was stunning. Some examples of the scope include that a town of 70,000 people was constructed along with research and manufacturing facilities. Schools, hospitals, grocery stores were built. Oak Ridge had the seventh largest transit system in the country at the tine. At Oak Ridge, 13% of the nation’s electrical output was consumed here but no one knew why. 300 miles of road were built or improved, 55 miles of railroad track. The community knew it had some WWII effort behind it, but nothing more.

So what was here? Well, that was what we tried to find out today. A 40,000 square foot museum is open to all, but the three-hour bus tour which left at 11:30 AM is only open to 32 people. I am not a scientist and I may not be well able to describe Oak Ridge but I will give it my best effort.

Oak Ridge had three primary facilities; X-10 Graphite Reactor, K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Process Building, and the Y-12 Beta-3 Racetrack. The identifiers (X-10, K-25, and Y-12) are completely random to not provide any hint as to the purpose of each during the war years. The X-10 graphite reactor was a pilot plant to convert Uranium 238 into plutonium 239. The plutonium was eventually sent to Hanford which was the world’s first large-scale plutonium processing reactor. The building where this was conducted is still standing and we visited it during the bus tour.

Graphite Reactor

X-10 has evolved into Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a scientific research facility under the Department of Energy. Basic scientific research is conducted here with facilities open to researchers from around the country. One of the largest supercomputers in the world is located here.

The K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Process was a huge building, half a mile by 1,000 feet, larger than the Pentagon. It was used to produce weapons grade U-238 from natural supplies of Uranium 235. The process here produced uranium 238 on the principle of that molecules of a lighter isotope would pass through a porous barrier more easily than molecules of a heavier one-U-238 being the heavier one. This plant alone employed 12,000 workers during WWII. Gaseous diffusion was the only uranium enrichment process used during the Cold War. The huge structure has been taken down and site clean-up and environmental remediation are underway to allow the land to be used for development by private business.

Y-12 was the facility producing uranium 238 under the third process. Here charged uranium particles are sent via a calutrons, essentially a mass spectrometer used to separate isotopes of uranium, through a series of huge electromagnets. Because copper was in such demand for military needs during the Second World War, Y-12 borrowed $300 million of silver from the U.S. Treasury to run the electromagnets. (I asked-the silver was returned by 1976.) Both the K-25 process and the Y-12 process were new technology and the buildings were constructed not necessarily knowing how, or if, the entire process would work out.

Moon box built at Y-12

Y-12 has evolved through the years to maintain a presence utilizing new technology. Y-12’s unique emphasis is the processing and storage of uranium and development of related technologies. Y-12 thus is responsible for maintaining the security and effectiveness of the U.S.nuclear weapons stockpile; for securing vulnerable nuclear weapons around the world and making that weapons marterial available for peaceful uses; and to provide fuel for the U.S. nuclear navy. Y-12 also has unique production capabilities so it undertakes special assignments like designing and making the two air-tight “Moon Boxes” that went on each of the Apollo missions to the moon to bring back soil and rock samples.

Y-12 employes 4700 people today in the Oak Ridge area. Security is tight, and admittance to the Y-12 (or Oak Ridge National Laboratory) is restricted. We passed through security checkpoints and had to provide proof of identification before being allowed to sign up and again before boarding the tour bus.

Our thoughts? The history was fascinating. The experience less great. The auto tour was overlong, the tour guides not offering much enlightenment in lay terms. We were told this was a not to miss experience, but in our opinion, the museum would have been sufficient. Learning how the government came in and removed the 3,000 people living here in less than a month was eye-opening. So was the massive construction crews efficiency, such as the fact that during one period a house was being completed every 30 minutes, while maintaining a veil of secrecy. As one might expect, African-Americans played a major role in the effort but segregation was still a reality. Young female high school graduates were a majority of the workers in the Y-12 process, tending to gauges and dials in the complex process while not understanding why the gauges and dials were important.

Evidently, this museum is being down-sized but up-graded technically in the next few months. The upgrade is needed, a number of exhibits spoke of history in the sciences that last occurred in the early 2000s. While this is a National Park Service site, we saw no rangers. The site is managed by the American Museum of Science and Energy. Supposedly the rangers were being relocated to the nearby Children’s Museum, why we could not fathom. Our visit there to obtain a NPS passport book stamp did not discover any rangers either. The Manhattan Project Historical Park is termed a partnership park with split responsibilities with other agencies. I have seen that partnership work much better at other park units.

We finished the day with dinner at home and listening to an entertainer sponsored by the resort. He played guitar and fiddle while telling stories and cornball jokes.

Ed and Chris April 12

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: April 10: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Gatlinburg, TN. April 10

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While Congaree National Park may have had us hiking Sunday till we were ready to drop, Great Smoky Mountains Park today had us strolling along the river, basking in the sunshine, listening to the relaxing hum of rushing water, and delighting in wildflowers. We purposely made this a day to just enjoy nature.

Tunnel Vision mural in Spartanburg SC

Columbia SC was left behind us on Monday as we left the Palmetto State for the Volunteer State. On our way out of town, we made a slight detour to observe a well-known mural. Tunnel vision was painted forty years ago and still looks great. The artist was paid $3,000 and it took him a year to complete it. Even on a gloomy, rainy morning it was impressive.

The drive from Columbia to Gatlinburg is only about 240 miles but we decided to break it up with lunch in Spartanburg, SC. We chose Wade’s, a restaurant in business since 1947. It is known across the South, earning the award Best in the South by Southern Living magazine in 2008 (besting Paula Deen’s restaurant in the process) and last year won six top awards in Spartanburg. The place is busy, each day they bake 3500 yeast rolls.

Lunch at Wade’s in Spartanburg SC

Wade’s advertising used to feature a humorous take on vegetables (Bean Me Up Scottie, Tweet Potato, Collared Greens, Beananza, Hollywades, etc.). They have advertised heavily around vegetables; Have you had your Veggies Today, and menu choices are meat plus one veggie, meat plus two veggies, or meat plus three veggies. We did it different, we chose the lunch buffet where you select your one meat and then fill your plate with as many veggies as you want. Chris had five veggies, I had six, choosing from 12-15 options. (Chris wants you to know that the creamed corn was great.)

The drive through the mountains to Gatlinburg started in rain but ended just in cloudy weather. We chose the option of driving through the park rather than the Interstates. The views were just so-so, but still it was trip down memory lane as we had been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in October 2015. That year we stayed at a Westgate timeshare, this year we are staying at Tree Tops Resort, another timeshare. As this is being written, I am looking out the window watching and listening to a mountain creek.

You may not recall but Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the neighboring towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were the scene of a tremendous fire in November 2016. The fire, caused by two juveniles, burnt 11,000 acres within the park boundaries, much of it east of Highway 441, the road we took over the mountain. We could see scorched tree trunks on our drive.

Even worse for this area, drought and wind conditions spread the fire into Gatlinburg and a bit of Pigeon Forge. The resort we stayed at in 2015, Westgate, suffered heavy damage. Some photos of Westgate buildings showed only the concrete stairways still standing afterward. Our current resort, Tree Tops Resort, also suffered several buildings destroyed. We are staying in one that was spared and construction is underway on replacing the destroyed buildings. Fire damage is haphazard, completely destroying some buildings and skipping over others. On the road to Tree Tops, concrete foundations and driveways exist as lonely markers to what had been someone’s home. 14 people died and over 1700 structures destroyed or damaged.

Little River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Today our park visit focused on the Elkmont area. Elkmont had been a resort area in the early 1900s, some of the cabins remain and have been preserved. Other cabins are still here but need further funding before restoration can occur. Little River and several creeks are in this portion of the park and here we went to listen and enjoy the solitude of the park. Last week was spring break and it was extremely busy. The last week of April is their wildflower festival and hordes are expected.

To see wildflowers today, we had to focus on the small and sporadic early bloomers. I could not tell you the names, you will see several in the photos. It is too early for dogwood, Mountain laurel, and rhododendrons. I guess we might have to return once more in May or June to see those blooming. My hopes are high that by the time we leave Saturday morning, the improved weather that is forecast will bring more petals into focus.

Great Blue Heron In Little River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Little River with its clear water, rapids, and mesmerizing sound was the highlight of the two hikes. We did spot a Great Blue Heron and a badger. No bears yet. We have been eating in the timeshare, stocking up at the local grocery. A different adventure awaits tomorrow.

Ed and Chris. April 11

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 26: As I sit writing this snippet, I can hear a babbling creek outside our open window. It is a relaxing sound. I can sit on the beach for hours and just look across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The crashing waves of Lake Superior on the North Shore are a reminder of water’s potential fury.

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: April 8- 9: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Gatlinburg, TN April 9, 2018

Congaree National Park, SC, on the boardwalk with bald cypress kness

Yesterday, Sunday, was primarily spent at a national park, Congaree National Park. Three years ago I am not sure I had heard of Congaree. As we looked over our map of the 417 U.S. National Park Service sites and checked out unvisited sites, this Congaree National Park stuck out. Then we combined that fact with our desire to spend more time in Kentucky and Tennessee, a desire that was on our list prepared in 2012 of U.S. destinations to visit. Congaree is not in KY or TN, but is on a reasonable line from Miami Beach to Tennessee and Kentucky and then on to Minnesota. Finally, we read more about national parks and Congaree was frequently cited as a park with significant environmental resources.

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

So what is Congaree? Congaree is 26,000 acres, 57% of which is wilderness area. Much of the park is bottomland forest, subject to frequent flooding. Congaree is an oasis of old-growth hardwood trees, uncut when much of southeastern U.S. was being de-forested starting in the late 1800s to provide wood for the booming population and economy of the new industrial United States. This area of forest was owned primarily by a lumber company led by a Francis Beidler. The company stopped timbering due to the difficulty of harvesting and transporting the lumber out of this wet and remote area. However by the 1960s, the company was starting to log the area.

Tall trees at Congaree National Park

Congaree, due to being ignored, is believed to be home to the largest contiguous area of 130 to 160 foot tall trees in the eastern United States. The park has 15 champion trees, the largest known of their species. It was protected from further logging in 1976 by designation as the Congaree Swamp National Monument. In 2003, the National monument designation was broadened to that of a national park by an act of Congress.

When a tall tree falls, does anyone in the forest hear it?

Congaree offers canoe excursions which we skipped since they require each person to know how to swim (I can’t). We focused on hiking, taking 3 hours to tramp 9-10 miles through the woods. A portion of the hike was on a 2.5 mile boardwalk that exhibits the relationship between flooding and the specific trees that can grow in those circumstances, bald cypress, water tupleo, American beech, loblolly pine, among others. The bald cypress is an interesting tree, with wood that is resistant to rot and water. The tree has “knees” that protrude from the water. The function of the “knees” is still unknown.

Hiking at Congaree National Park

The rest of the hike was through a variety of woods on paths a bit muddy after it rained here on Saturday. We were fortunate that the weather was dry today and slightly cool. The amount of water and swamp can produce vast numbers of mosquitoes. The “mosquito meter” on the wall at the park remained at a very low level.

Congaree is home to a unique biological feature. Each spring, fireflies congregate here and as part of their mating ritual, they light up on a synchronized basis. Thus, in the evening, you would look out over the swamp area and “boom” all of the fireflies would be glowing and then “boom” all of the fireflies would not be glowing. The timing varies but is currently expected to happen around May 11-22. Obviously, we will miss it. If you plan to come, make sure to get here early and check out the park’s website for timing updates and tips on courteous behavior.

Riverbanks Botanical Garden Columbia South Carolina

After the three-hour hike, we drove to Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden. We were hoping to see a profusion of blooming flowers. The sun had come out and this idea seemed a pleasant way to end the day. Riverbanks is a very nice combined zoo and gardens with rides for kids also. It comes across as a great place to spend the day for families. We devoted our time to the gardens which were colorful but were too small to present an overwhelming presence by themselves.

After an Italian dinner, we spent the evening with our Evergreen hosts. Another amazing couple with a plethora of interesting anecdotes, people they have met, and places they have visited.

Ed and Chris. April 10

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