Leafy-green mountain majesty

I remember my sixth-grade teacher telling a story about a college roommate from one of the plains states. When they got to our rolling hills of southwestern Ohio, they were incredulous.

“Are those mountains?” they wondered. Obviously, I have no way of verifying this. But my teacher swore they thought our hills and ridges were mountains because the geography they were used to was flat as a pancake. I wonder what they would have thought the first time they saw actual mountains – like the Great Smoky Mountains. I grew up bouncing up and down hills – carsick half the time – and I was incredulous the first time I saw a real, live mountain.

My first trip to the Smokies was in 1998. My family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandfather – rented a chalet in the mountains for Labor Day weekend. It was the first time we experienced the stop-and-go traffic of the Parkway and the fervor of Tennessee Volunteer fans. I was 13, and when the adults went to bed, my cousins and I had the run of the place. It was fan-freaking-tastic.

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But the mountains – they were the show stopper. The first night there, we got in after dark and had to feel our way through the switchbacks to get to our chalet. We got turned around a couple of times, but we managed to get there without going over the side of the mountain. By the time we arrived, if our ears weren’t popping, we wished they would.  We couldn’t really see anything until dawn broke the next morning. Once everyone started getting up and looking out the windows, they were amazed.

My family visited the Smokies several times before we decided to go West to see the Rocky Mountains. Let me tell you, once we saw those towering, rugged, behemoths, well, the Smokies just didn’t seem all that grand anymore. Poor Smokies. I suppose older mountains are like older people: All the things that make them seem super cool gets worn away until we forget just how spectacular they really are.

It wasn’t until we went down in March, after the fires ravaged the Gatlinburg area, that I got a reminder of just how majestic those smaller, rounder mountains really are. You see, when the fires coursed over the mountains, much of the underbrush burned away exposing the bare rock underneath.

Here on the eastern side of the country, where water is much more plentiful and the elevation is lower, we have dense foliage that grows up between trees. It creates a lush, green curtain shrouding the true majesty of the Smokies. But in the Rockies, the higher elevations and drier climate makes it more difficult for that kind of growth to gain a foothold.

So, while the Rockies display a sort of “in your face!” kind of strength – daring you to try to tame them – the Smokies kept their strength and ruggedness hidden, inviting you in for an adventure. That is, until a fire burned away its shroud and reminded me that just because these mountains do not tower over 14,000 feet, they are no less majestic.

 

Check out my YouTube channel for additional video content of driving through the mountains!

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Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

Going to the Sun Road

Featured image: St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park 

I do a lot of raving about Montana and Glacier National Park on here, but I promise it’s for a good reason. The place really is spectacular. We only got to spend about two days there on our trip, and the only reason we could tear ourselves away from the state was because we knew we were headed to Yellowstone National Park next.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

At Glacier, more than 93 percent of the park is wilderness, so it is totally unspoiled. Hundreds of miles of trails cross the backcountry, and the most beautiful parts of the park can’t be seen from a car. I absolutely will to get back to this park to do some hiking once I’m in a little better pulmonary health. I need to see Avalanche Lake and Grinnell Glacier, just to name two, before I die. If you are interested in more about hiking in Glacier National Park I’ve read Hiking in Glacier backwards and forwards.

But the way most of the park’s visitors see it is from their car. Going to the Sun Road, so named either because of an Indian legend or a story some guy made up about an Indian legend, depending on who you ask, is a marvel of modern engineering. The road is about 50 miles long and east-to-west across the park. It curls around and cuts through mountains and it hugs cliffs and traverses valleys.

It’s a great way to get a slice of what the park has to offer, especially for people who aren’t otherwise able to get out onto some of the trails and experience the park. But, for the love of all that is holy, if you have working legs and lungs, GET OUT AND HIKE THIS PARK. Do it. Do it for me. Do it for yourself.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I'd suggest you lay down in the passenger's seat while someone else drives.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I’d suggest you lay down in the passenger’s seat while someone else drives.

When we – Lacey and I – visited this park we did not hike. It was a travesty. But we didn’t hike because we got robbed of a day’s worth of visiting in the park because of a blown-out tire and incompetent rental car company. We had just enough time for an awesome horseback ride – that I can still feel in my back – and a trip across Going to the Sun Road.

It was enough to whet our appetites. We’ve been dying to go back since then.

Parts of the road are open year-round, so there is always something to see or do at the park, even if it’s snowing at the upper levels. Just but sure to check the vehicle requirements if you are driving an oversized vehicle on the road because there are some restrictions. If you don’t want to drive, there is a shuttle service that operates in the park and it is included in the price of admission.

But enough of the boring details. You can find all of these things out for yourself from the park’s website. For now, I’ll leave you with some meh video of the Crown of the Continent.

Clifty Falls State Park

Clifty Falls State Park near Madison, Ind., is awesome. The park has 10 different trails of various difficulty, plus a campground, amphitheater, pool, playgrounds, playfields, and an Inn with views of the park and the Ohio River.

To get there, you will pass through nearby Madison, Ind. This charming little town is full of shopping, dining and history – including several places that were part of the Underground Railroad.

But for the part we really care about – the hiking. I’ve been to this park twice this year and every time I go I like it better. The first time was earlier in spring; there were still no leaves on the trees. The second time I went everything was in full bloom, and I had a lot more time to explore the park.

One of the things I like about this park is the trail heads are marked clearly; we never had any trouble finding where we were trying to get. I also love that the trail table on the lower left side of the park map actually gives fairly accurate trail descriptions.

Big and Little Clifty Falls

Trail 7 – 1.25 miles

This is your view of Big Clifty Falls from beneath the overlook.

This is your view of Big Clifty Falls from beneath the overlook.

I had to add the

I had to add the “or hound dogs” part; Emme didn’t seem to think these signs applied to her.

We’ve established in previous posts that I love waterfalls. Clifty doesn’t disappoint in this department: there are four that are all relatively easy to access. If you need ADA accessible, there is an overlook at Trail 7 where you can get a good view of Big Clifty Falls. But beyond that, if you can’t do steps, you’re out of luck for all of the trails. The only drawback with this park is that you can’t really get a good view of any of the waterfalls from the trails and there are umpteen billion signs warning you not to veer off the trail under any circumstances.

The trick with most of the trails at this park is getting in and out of the gorges. Everything is situated around the creeks, gorges, caves and waterfalls.

Trail 7 was the first one I hit, and at the beginning it seems like it will be too much. It isn’t.

In a rare moment when Emme's little hound dog nose isn't pressed to the ground, she looks ahead under the rock ledge.

In a rare moment when Emme’s little hound dog nose isn’t pressed to the ground, she looks ahead under the rock ledge.

It starts out ADA accessible, then goes down steps. You do have to come back out, but it’s not as bad as it seems going in. Take a right halfway down the first batch of steps and the trail will take you under a rock ledge to another view of Big Clifty. When you get back to the steps you can either keep going straight or take another right and complete a short loop through the woods.

Cake Rock

Cake Rock

The highlight of this itty bitty trail is seeing Cake Rock, a huge boulder that looks like a piece of cake balancing on its side.

These are the steps getting to Little Clifty Falls. Don't worry - you only have to go down them.

These are the steps getting to Little Clifty Falls. Don’t worry – you only have to go down them.

The loop will bring you to the other side of the steps – so you’ll be left of where you started at the top of the steps. Take a long, narrow set of steps down and you’ll be standing on top of Little Clifty Falls. I love standing there and watching the water go over the falls. But once you’re across, you can go right and walk along the top of the gorge and get more views of the falls. Once you make that right turn, you’re on Trail 6, a half-mile trek which leads out to the Hickory Grove Shelter.

This is a piece of the steps leading back out of the gorge. It actually isn't as bad going out as it seems like it would be when you're staring down all those steps.

This is a piece of the steps leading back out of the gorge. It actually isn’t as bad going out as it seems like it would be when you’re staring up all those steps.

If you opt to keep to Trail 7, you’ll make your ascent. The first time I did this trail, I looked at those five sets of 17 steps, lost all heart, turned around and went back the way I came. It was a mistake.

Once you get up those steps, it’s a mostly level trail along one side of the gorge, across the creek and back up the other side. The trail comes out at the ball fields across from the parking lot at the trailhead.

Tunnel Falls

Trail 5 – .9 mile

The trees and weird angle of this shot of Tunnel Falls isn't helped by my foggy GoPro lens. I'm getting tired of lugging a DSLR around, but I haven't mastered GoPro photography yet.

The trees and weird angle of this shot of Tunnel Falls isn’t helped by my foggy GoPro lens. I’m getting tired of lugging a DSLR around, but I haven’t mastered GoPro photography yet. But this is another example of the difficulty of seeing the waterfalls from the trails on top of the ridge.

I cheated a bit on this trail. It’s a bit more rugged than Trail 7, but I really wanted to see the falls and the tunnel. There’s no ADA portion to get you started, once you park at the trailhead it’s all downhill. Literally. Back down into the gorge you go, down a long set of steps. Once you get to the bottom, an overlook gives you your first view of Tunnel Falls, a long, lean flow over the rocks.

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Someday I will remember to count the number of steps on a trail. All I can remember about this one was there was a lot of steps, but they were still over before I knew it.

I was a little worried about the difficulty of the trail, but we kept going back to the tunnel and it was pretty easy going to the mouth of the cave. Once you get to the cave, you’ll have to pick your way over rocks to get inside, and if you’re more than five feet tall you’ll be ducking about fifteen feet into the cave. I didn’t get much farther than that because brilliant me left my headlamp in the car and it was a bit dark in there. I didn’t want the only joint I rolled that day to be my ankle.

For a fun bit of history for you, this tunnel is part of what’s known as “Brough’s Folly” because it was part of a failed attempt to build a railroad. The tunnel was started in 1852. When you visit, keep in mind that Trail five and the tunnel are only open in the summer to protect the bats who live in the cave.

Hoffman Falls

Trail 3 – 1 mile

DCIM114GOPRO

On the trail around Hoffman Falls you’ll cross a couple of bridges over pretty little creeks, like this one.

If you feel froggy, you can continue on Trail 5 until it dead ends to trail four, and take that to Hoffman Falls. Or you can wimp out (like I did) and hike back out on Trail 5 and drive to the trailhead for #3 and hike down to Hoffman. Trail four is rated very rugged and I wasn’t sure of my ability to complete it. Spending more time catching my breath than hiking isn’t how I like to spend my outdoors time.

Getting down to Hoffman falls was another trek down steps, but I loved this trail. You’ll cross a couple of creeks and you can use this tail to get down to Trail 2 – my nemesis. But more on that later.

Once you get past the falls, Trail 3 joins with 1 and 2. Following trail 3 will loop you back to the trail head, but I was starting to run low on oxygen so we turned back before completing the loop. Or you can take Trail 2 when they split and hike up the creek bed all the way up to the base of Big Clifty Falls.

Hiking is always better with friends! This is Karli and me (looking all sexy in my Buff, a.k.a. sweat catcher. Because if there is one thing I do well, its sweat.)

Hiking is always better with friends! This is Karli (thebeatkeeper.wordpress.com) and me (looking all sexy in my Buff, a.k.a. sweat catcher. Because if there is one thing I do well, it’s sweat.)

Speaking of Trail 2, this one is a bit of my nemesis. I haven’t been brave enough to try it because to hike it you are climbing along a creek bed. Of course, because you are hiking under the falls this is probably the best way to get a good shot of the falls. This trail is a goal for me – I know I don’t have the strength right now – or the footwear – to climb over rocks and play in the water. But next time. Next time, Trail 2, I’m coming for you.

Things to remember

  • There is more to the trails and more trails than what I discussed here.
  • I haven’t had the chance yet to spend much time in Madison, but it’s a place I plan to go back to. I just don’t think the pretty people enjoying their Sunday want to smell me after I’ve been rolling around in the woods for hours.
  • Wear proper footwear because the trails go up and down steps, over roots and rocks and through the woods.
  • The volume of the waterfalls depend greatly on the rain. If there has been a lot – like so far this summer – they’re going to be more voluminous. But that also means that Trail 2 may not be passable because there will be too much water flowing. So check the weather before you go or else you may be disappointed.
  • There is a charge to get into the park: $7 for state residents, $9 for out-of-state visitors.

Underground Railroad: Fee Villa

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Fee Villa, pictured above, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Moscow, Ohio. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, the residents would signal by placing a candle in the window.

Along the river are a lot of those little blink-and-you-miss-them towns. You know the kind that have a sign saying, “Welcome,” then 10 feet later one saying “Thank you for visiting.” They’re charming, usually hiding some kind of gem – either a great locally-owned shop or restaurant, or someone with a great life story. One thing you can count on is they always have a story to tell.

Moscow, Ohio is a little town like that. If you’re following US-52 – yep, that road again! – you don’t even have to blink to miss it. You’ll see signs for it once you get out of Point Pleasant, Ohio, but you have to turn off the main road to find it.

This teensy town registered 185 citizens in the 2010 census, down from the 244 who registered during the 2000 census. It was in the news about three years ago when tornadoes ripped through the area, taking out about 80 percent of the town and killing three people.

Go back about 150 years and the town was home to a distillery that made fruit brandies, and a glass factory. Today, there are some houses and a church or two. At the end of Water Street is a stately white house standing vigil over a long dock on the Ohio River.

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Check out that eerie fog. That’s the Ohio River blending in with the sky there. Usually, its easy to see the opposite bank.

The house wasn’t hard to find, exactly, I just had a bit of trouble figuring out which street I was on. You would think with just a handful of streets it would be easy, which is what I think the village planner thought too because I didn’t think the streets were marked well.

I finally found the house – but only because I decided to drive down a street that ended in a boat ramp because I wanted to get some photos of the river covered in fog. I chickened out before getting to the ramp – I always feel like I’m going to drive straight into the river, even though I’m at least 200 feet from the shore – and when I turned my head to check my mirrors, I saw the small green sign to designate this house as part of the Clermont County Freedom Trail.

This large white house was once a beacon of freedom for people crossing the river. I stood on the bank of the river below the house and tried to imagine what it would be like to get across that river. Its wide and with the heavy fog the morning I was there, I couldn’t even see the other bank. The river and its swift current dwarfed the dock beneath the home.

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More eerie photos. I can’t help but love the fog!

The place is Fee Villa, formerly inhabited by Thomas Fee, Jr., a noted abolitionist. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, Fee would place a candle in the window of the house. That candle in the window is still used in Moscow’s village logo today.

The Fees would feed, clothe the people they helped, and then transported them along the railroad to Felicity, Ohio.

A few blocks away is an open site where the home of Robert E. Fee once stood.  Fee fought to get back the freedom of a woman and her children who were kidnapped and then sold into slavery. He was unsuccessful, but dedicated his life to helping slaves escape. He was indicted by Pendleton County for slave stealing, but Ohio refused to extradite him to Kentucky to stand trial.

If you want to keep following the Freedom Trail in Clermont County, Ohio, there a many more places to visit. Check out their brochure of Underground Railroad locations, and keep checking back here. I’ll keep visiting them throughout the summer!

TBT: Land of Enchantment?

My beautiful picture

Just one example of the beaut of New Mexico – and this is just the side of the road. These are the kinds of things I missed the first two times through the state.

“The land of enchantment” is New Mexico’s state slogan. It sounds like something from a fairy tale, right? Well, my first experience with New Mexico was more like a nightmare. I was 16 and we were on our way to the Grand Canyon.

We were logging major miles to get from Cincinnati to Arizona in a couple of days, and we rolled into Tucumcari, New Mexico late one night, ready to get a few hours of sleep and then carry on our way. We’d been on the road about 12 hours that day and we were all sick of being in each other’s faces.

My beautiful picture

One of the places we visited was the Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe. There are beautiful sculptures in the prayer garden outside.

We checked into the hotel and immediately began questioning staying there. It looked sketchy, it was dirty outside and had some obvious damage to the building. But we were tired and needed to sleep before driving any more. So we went inside.

The room was dank, it was old and hadn’t been updated since, well, ever. Still, nothing seemed bad enough to warrant trying to find somewhere else in our half-comatose state. The bathroom seemed clean enough – despite the water stain on the ceiling – so I thought taking a shower was a good idea, until I realized I had an audience of the six-legged variety coming out of that water spot in the ceiling.

There was no hair-rinsing, there was only putting on enough clothes to get out of the bathroom and screaming about the bugs. Of course, by the time Mom went into the bathroom, they had all retreated and no one believed me. Just more ravings of a self-confessed bugophobe.

Oh, but I had the last laugh after an abrupt departure at 1 a.m. when Dad woke up and found bugs crawling around the room. I don’t know what kind of bugs they were, and I didn’t care. My stuff was already ready to go. If Dad was good to drive on two hours of sleep, I was fine with sleeping in the backseat. At least then I knew there wouldn’t be things crawling on me in my sleep.

So the only thing I experienced in my first trip to New Mexico was a crappy hotel room and sleep in the back seat of the car. We drove through it again about a year later and the only thing I remember about that drive is a heckuva dust storm scaring the life out of me. I didn’t have high hopes for it during the Gypsy Trip, but that was Amanda’s Mecca of our pilgrimage. She was an anthropology student, and New Mexico is full of history and culture.

She planned all our explorations for the state, I had no scruples – except avoiding Tucumcari at all costs. The second time around, I wasn’t disappointed. I got to find out why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. We hit several things that day, it was probably one of the most packed days of the trip as far as sightseeing. Here’s the list of places we saw, and I’d recommend visiting them when you go:

  1. Capulin Volcano National Monument: A road circling the volcano takes to you to the vent of an extinct volcano. At the top, you can hike into it’s mouth and take in views of the surrounding volcanic field. Even though they say this is extinct, I still had prickles on my neck while we were up there. “Extinct” volcanoes have erupted before.
  2. Taos Pueblo: These pueblos have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years. There are still about 150 Taos Indians living in the pueblo, according to their website. The historical significance of this location earned it the distinction of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  3. Taos, New Mexico: We only spent a few hours in this city, but you could easily spend days getting lost in the art and culture scene here. It has a great history – and super cool architecture.
  4. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi: Not to be confused with San Francisco de Assisi in Taos, which I just did when trying to remember the name of the place we went. They are both super cool, but I didn’t visit the Mission in Taos. St. Francis however, was full of sculptures and art in the beautiful prayer garden in front of the church.

Exploring on Sunday

Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

I had the itch go to for a drive last weekend, and decided to take another bite out of my ever-growing list of Underground Railroad locations. (I promise, the posts will start rolling out over the next week.)

I love Sunday mornings. I love to sleep in, but even more I love getting up while most people are still tucked in their beds, or having pancake breakfasts, or sleeping off the night before. Traffic is nonexistent, hiking trails are clear, and you can explore small towns without anyone else around. (Which, to me, means I don’t have to small talk when I’m not in the mood to be social, which is most days that end in “Y.”)

Last Sunday, I opted for the small town explorations with Emme the Mutt in tow. She loves a good ride in car, just not for six hours, I eventually learned. But she also likes sniffing things, chasing geese into the river, and barking at bicyclists, so she had a great time.

The morning was very foggy, and while visibility on the roads was fine, the fog was so dense over the river that I couldn’t see the other side. I have to admit, I kind of love fog. It can be annoying, and it wreaks havoc on the focus in my pictures, but I love the surreal feeling it creates.

I took my favorite route along US-52, a scenic byway that runs along the southern border of Ohio on the river. My first destination of the day was to be Moscow, a map dot barely out of the river. I stopped off in New Richmond first to check out some points of interest (to be blogged about later).

About five miles east of New Richmond, I stumbled through a historic district with ties to the Civil War. It wasn’t on my list for the day, and despite driving past it eleventy million times, I forgot it was even there.

A simple white house behind a flagstone sidewalk anchors the district. Of course, district is a generous term because the white house, a well next to it and signage in the yard are about all there is to the space. A stern looking man will be peering at you through one of the front windows, and you’ll know you have the place. Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace is in Point Pleasant, Ohio – not to be confused with the home of the Mothman in West Virginia.

President Grant, in case you aren’t familiar, commanded the Union Army during the Civil War and accepted General Lee’s surrender. While being known for his military strategy and personal integrity, his presidency was marred by scandals.

Good ol’ Unconditional Surrender had his humble beginning along the banks of the Ohio. He lived in that house for less than a year before his family moved about 23 miles away to Georgetown, Ohio.

The thing I like most about places like this is that it reminds me that no matter where you start in life, you never know where you can end up. Grant started life as a tanner’s son along the Ohio River, and went to West Point against his will, according to the information boards outside the house. Even though his grades at West Point were mediocre – one would assume from not applying himself since he didn’t want to be there in the first place – he rose to command the armed forces of the United States, became President and traveled the world.

When you visit, you can tour both his birthplace in Point Pleasant and boyhood home in Georgetown and see the schoolhouse he attended. Fun fact: I lived a few blocks away from Grant’s boyhood home when I was a kid. I walked past it almost every day on my way to school.

For more information about visiting these sites, you can check out the Ohio History website.

TBT: Point Pleasant, W. Va.

Point Pleasant's mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Point Pleasant’s mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Writing about our old camping adventures got me remembering more about one of those trips. The first camping trip was more than just Babcock State Park; we started in Point Pleasant, W. Va., a small town on the Ohio River.

First of all, I kind of loved this place. I consisted of little more than a Main Street, Bennigan’s and a riverwalk. The town’s claim to fame stems from tragic bridge collapse in 1967. Before the Silver Bridge fell in, some of the locals reported seeing a red-eyed “Mothman” outside town. Some believe this apparition was a warning of a coming disaster. (Side note: I’ve been waiting for Mothman sightings to start around the Brent Spence Bridge. None so far.)

The Mothman, bridge collapse and subsequent movie, “The Mothman Prophecies” are their claims to fame. We visited the Mothman Museum and stayed in the Historic Lowe Hotel, which had a nice, welcoming staff, but a kinda creepy feel. It was awesome. The entire place looked like it was stuck in time, right down to the old, metal room keys.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a weekday and I swear the only person we saw until dinnertime was the hotel concierge – except for this one girl, who almost literally fell at our feet.

We were all walking around before dinner, you know taking in the town, checking out the Mothman exhibits, when we paused to sit on Main Street and discuss dinner plans. A car came to a sudden stop right in front of us and a girl tumbled out, screaming at her boyfriend. Ah, to be young and in love.

So she starts crying and walking up the street and sees me – the nut magnet – sitting there, holding my cell phone.

“Hey,” she calls out, sniffing. “Can I use your phone? I need to call someone to come get me. My boyfriend left me here.”

Oh, is that what happened? And here I thought you were just playing a twisted version of hide-and-seek.

It is impossible for me to tell someone no, even when common sense is telling – no screaming – at me to deny her request. So I handed her my phone, and she started walking down the street with it. It’s also not in me to confront people, so I just watched, with a stupid look on my face, I’m sure, while she walked away with my phone.

Fortunately, her boyfriend was crazy jealous and she came back a minute later, giving me my phone back – so I could tell her boyfriend that I’ve never met her before, I’m just some random stranger who let another random stranger use my phone. Because, yes, I’m that stupid.

I don’t know if he believed me or not, but he got off the phone, I got my phone back and he came back for his girlfriend. We had dinner at the local restaurant, dessert at Benigan’s and continued on our camping adventure at Babcock State Park.

Washington, Ky.: Take a walk through time

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Historic Washington Village, Ky., just south of Maysville, offers a bundle of history, shopping and entertainment. Visitors can schedule a guided walking tour calling 606-759-7411, or take in the town at their own pace, using signs posted throughout the town. Washington features  log cabins dating from the 1790s and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The more I explore Kentucky, the more surprised I am by how many very interesting and beautiful things lurk in the next holler. Even though I moved to Kentucky with the intention of only staying long enough to finish my degree, I don’t really ever plan to leave. You know, unless I happen to find a Montana cowboy. I suppose then I could be persuaded to leave my rolling hills for more wide open spaces.

Maybe.

Historic Washington isn't the kind of town you'll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago,  but the imperfections only add to its charm.

Historic Washington isn’t the kind of town you’ll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago, but the imperfections only add to its charm.

One of the places that inspired me recently was a small village just south of Maysville, Ky. Its store-lined Main Street looks like something from a painting, the sight helped along by the number of period buildings still standing. Washington isn’t the kind of place you go to see something restored in pristine condition – it isn’t that kind of tourist attraction. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap at all. Many of the old homes are private residences, and are opened to the public only for certain events. Of the places that are open to the public, they are accessible only on a walking tour through the town.

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A long stretch of flagstone sidewalks stretch from Mefford’s Fort to the Visitor’s Center.

We visited in late spring, when the town was still waking up from winter. There were some vendors on the sidewalk in front of the Old Courthouse Lawn (more on that location later), and more traffic through the various shops than I expected. I can’t say the buildings were in pristine shape, but they weren’t ramshackle, either. You will see some minor wear and tear, maybe a missing or damaged shutter here and there, but all of these things add to the charm of the town. I’ve been to fully-restored historic towns, forced to keep to a certain code so they always look just-so, and they do not have the charm and personality of Washington.

When I walk on flagstone sidewalks along Main Street, it’s easy to imagine hearing the clop of hooves on the road. What is harder to imagine is the impact the people of this blip on the map have had on the world.

In the beginning, there was an explorer.

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Many of the first settlers of the village  were Revolutionary War veterans.

Washington Village, now part of Maysville, Ky., is older than the state in which it resides. It was one of the first towns established in modern-day Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, and the first town named after George Washington. It’s a whole lot of firsts. Washington was founded in 1786 by Revolutionary War Veteran William Wood and many of the original settlers were Revolutionary War soldiers, and are buried at the Old Baptist Cemetery just outside town.

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Fun story: This log cabin used to be a flatboat. And then 13 people lived in it. Its the only known remaining flatboat cabin left in the country.

One of the most memorable things about Washington is the number of log cabins still standing that date to the town’s founding in the late 1700s. One of these, Mefford’s Fort, is the last known flatboat cabin still standing. Mefford was in on the whole repurposing trend about 300 years before it was cool. He floated his wife and children down the Ohio River, then hauled the boat about five miles uphill from the river and made a log cabin out of his boat. His wife and 13 children shared this house. All I can say is it’s a good thing they didn’t have indoor plumbing. There would have been bloodshed in that house over the bathroom.

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The log cabin post office is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

As one of the first settlements, it’s post office became the first established west of the Appalachian Mountains and served the entire Northwest Territory, which encompassed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The original post office was torn down in 1848, but the existing building is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

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The area used to be filled with cane brakes like this one behind the Bluegrass Artisan Center.

Other cabins in the town include the Cane Brake Visitor’s Center and the Simon Kenton Shrine. The town’s Visitor Center now occupies the Paxton House on the opposite end of Main Street, and the Cane Brake cabin has become the Bluegrass Artisan Center. Simon Kenton never lived in the cabin named for him, but he did once own a store in the town and sold the land for the town to its original settlers. The town still honors its earliest explorer the third weekend in September with the Simon Kenton Festival.

A town divided over slavery

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The Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and didn’t reunite until over 100 years later.

Much of the advertised history of Washington relates to the Civil War and Underground Railroad. As a border state, Kentucky tried to stay neutral and act as a liaison between the two sides. But just as this approach didn’t work for the state, staying neutral didn’t work at the town level, either. The debate trickled into a church congregation and ripped it apart. In 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington split over the issue of slavery.

The congregation in Washington became the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had a separate slave gallery that was removed in the 1970s, according to the inscription outside the building. The Methodist Episcopal Church North relocated to Third Street in Maysville. More than 100 years later, the congregations reunited as the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Dueling generals

This house sheltered two men who both attended the same Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then opposite sides of the Civil War.

This house sheltered two men who both attended Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then fought on opposite sides of the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War.

Nowhere is there a better example of the divide in Kentucky than the Albert Sydney Johnston House on Court Street.

This quiet, white dwelling housed two men who eventually faced each other on opposite sides of the Civil War.

Johnston, the home’s namesake, spent time in the United States Army before retiring to join the Texas Army. He then returned to the U.S. Army only to again retire to join the Confederacy. He became a general in the Confederate Army, taking a mortal wound early at the Battle of Shiloh.

Also fighting at the Battle of Shiloh was Union General William “Bull” Nelson. His family took up residence in this house after Johnston’s father died. Both men attended the same Presbyterian Church in Washington, both men attended West Point and both men fought at the Battle of Shiloh. But where Johnston’s story ends there, Nelson’s continues until his murder in 1862.

Nelson was known for publicly disciplining his officers. One of them, General Jefferson C. Davis – not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis – gunned him down in a hotel after one of these public disciplinary sessions by Nelson some time before.  Davis admitted to the murder, but was not charged or arrested and went back to duty about two weeks after the incident.

Inspiring “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

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Events on this bright green lawn inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

One of the things Washington is best known for isn’t a resident, but a famous visitor. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the town before she was married. At the time she was teaching in Cincinnati, and came to the small town to visit one of her students. While in Washington, she witnessed a slave auction on the Old Courthouse Lawn.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key home, where she visited Washington.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key house, where Stowe stayed while she visited.

The sight stayed with her and was one of the experiences that influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The courthouse burned down in 1909 after being struck by lightning. Today, the only thing to mark the dark history of the spot is the sign  commemorating the Old Courthouse.

While she was visiting, Stowe stayed at the Marshall Key house. Key was nephew to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.  Today, the home has been converted to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum and is available to tour.

All aboard the Underground Railroad

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The Paxton Inn (right) has a secret stairwell that was used in the Underground Railroad.

Northern Kentucky’s position along the Ohio River lent itself to several stops for the Underground Railroad. At least one of these stops was in Washington in the Paxton Inn. This Inn also served as an important community center where meetings were held to discuss important issues, including slavery. There is a secret stairway between the first and second floors where people could be hidden until they were moved across the Ohio River. I wonder if Underground Railroad passengers ever overheard one of these debates while they were in hiding?

Influencing international law

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One of my favorite Washington characters didn’t make the cut for the sign.

Even though Washington was host to some impressive visitors in its heyday, one of my favorite characters of the town would have been overlooked by most of the citizens. His story didn’t even make it to the inscription outside the home.

Thornton Blackburn was a slave who served in the Murphy-Lashbrooke house on Main Street. He was sold, eventually ending up in Louisville, where he escaped with his wife and fled along the Underground Railroad to Detroit. They lived there for about two years before being discovered and arrested in 1834. Detroit’s first race riot broke out while they were incarcerated, giving the Blackburn’s enough cover to escape from the city into Canada.

Once in Canada, slave hunters again located the couple and tried to arrest them and have them extradited to the States. But Canada refused to release the couple to United States custody, determining a person cannot steal himself, and establishing case law that determined once a slave set foot on Canadian soil he or she became a free man or woman.

The Blackburn’s earned a very American ending to their Canadian story. In Toronto, the Blackburns helped many slaves reach freedom in Canada, thanks to the law they helped create. They built a prosperous, influential life for themselves in Toronto. Blackburn became a successful businessman when he established the city’s first cab service. He chose yellow and red for his cab’s color scheme, and Toronto kept this when they adopted city transportation.

Washington’s worldwide influence

At the beginning of this story I promised that Washington residents had a worldwide impact.  So far, we’ve talked about the Civil War and slavery issues stretching into Canada. Now, I’m going to shift focus a bit – to Pakistan.

I’m told there are ruins of a house on a golf course in Washington, but I haven’t found them. These ruins are what’s left of the former residence of Charles William Forman, a hemp farmer turned missionary to India. Forman tried to establish a mission to the slaves in Washington before leaving to attend the Centre College in Kentucky and then the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Forman settled in Lahore, India (now part of Pakistan). There, he established an English-speaking school, Rang Mahal School. The school added a college in 1865, and Forman continued helping develop the education system in the area.

The college in Lahore, now known as the Forman Christian College, has produced many notable alumni, including former Prime Ministers of both Pakistan and India, Pakistani and Indian senate members and presidents, diplomats, judiciary members, athletes, artists, military officers, journalists and business people.

Now, who among you would have thought that a hemp farmer from Kentucky would have helped create an education system half a world away? Be honest, now.

Visiting historic Washington Village

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The Washington Presbyterian Church was the second one established in the city.

I know there is much and more I missed in my self-guided tour of Washington. If anyone reading has a place, story or anecdote to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear more about the town.

Some of the information in this post came from the washingtonky.com website, but this site is not sponsored by Historic Washington or Maysville and does not appear to have been updated in quite some time. According to the women working in the Visitor’s Center the day I was there, this site was put together by one of the residents of the town. It lists several community events – including a Chocolate Festival – which the village no longer offers. My hosts explained that they had too many events and it was too much for the town and the shop owners to keep up with. The two events that the town still hosts include the Simon Kenton Festival the third weekend in September and the historic Christmas walk the first weekend in December. Plus, historic tours are offered from April through the first week in December.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

But for the weekends when there aren’t events, there are still several shops to check out in Washington.

Phyllis’s Antiques, David’s Brass Works and Elaine’s Gallery and Framing sits at the corner of Main and S. Court Street and carries a wide selection of Fenton glass, and everything you see in the picture to the right.

The 1790 Rowhouse Mall also contains some retail shopping, and was having a sort-of sidewalk sale the day I visited.

My favorite shop was the Strawberry Patch Country Store. It was a store-of-all-sorts with all kind of antique books, keys, tools, baseball cards, electronics, dishes … you name it. Don’t miss the upstairs or the basement.

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The Strawberry Patch Country Store was loaded with antiques. It was my favorite shop in the town.

I did not venture into The Grey Wolf with my backpack full of oxygen; it appeared to have some beautiful items but it was packed wall-to-wall with people. The Iron Gate is next door to The Grey Wolf, but was not open the day I visited.

I would encourage a visit to the nearby Baptist Cemetery when you visit the village. It is just south of main street off US 68. There was no sign for the cemetery, but there is the telltale log cabin standing vigil. Honestly, it appears to be about the only thing watching over the graves because many of the markers are falling or have fallen and broken.

I gave Historic Washington Village a two on the Gus Scale. The village proper is on relatively flat land and was incredibly easy to walk through. I would have rated it a one if not for the bumpy, though beautiful, flagstone sidewalks. If you’re someone who needs to use wheels to get around you won’t have quite as easy a time as I did.

#TBT Manhattan Beach

I have a confession to make: I am terrified of the ocean.

Stepping into a large body of water – with or without a life jacket – creates a silent kind of mind-numbing terror. Part of this is that I literally sink like a Stone – its not just my last name, it’s what I turn into in water: total dead weight. I don’t even panic, I just fall into a calm state of giving up. I accept the water as it wraps its cold arms around me and drags me to the bottom of the abyss.

When we reached the Pacific Ocean on this trip, it was late at night. Around midnight, I think. We were bone-tired but we knew that we wouldn’t have much time the next day to spend at the beach, so Amanda and I dropped off our bags and my brother at the hotel and set off for a late night rendezvous with the Pacific. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks off the shore, so we didn’t have far to go. I had been to the beach before, but in Florida several years before. That did not prepare me for the sight of the ocean at night.

Ink and infinity is how I remember it. It was a cloudy night, so the only light came from the shore behind us. Everything was black: the sand, the water, the sky. There was really no way to tell where one thing ended and another began. We stayed a safe distance from the water, but when we stopped to sit, I couldn’t shake a nervous feeling. If that water came up just a little too far and swept me off my feet, I knew I’d never be found. I would give up and let the water take me where it willed.

We walked quite a distance on the shore that night, stopping at a couple of guard stands. We passed few others enjoying the quiet night – if deafening waves can be considered a “quiet.” Despite the terror playing on the edges of my consciousness, I could have stayed there all night. But sleep overcame us and we crawled back to our warm beds.