Big Bone Lick SP

Featured image: My favorite thing about Big Bone Lick SP is the bison herd. 

Big Bone Lick SP gets a four on the Gus Scale. The trails are easy to moderate, with a couple of hills in between.

Big Bone Lick SP gets a four on the Gus Scale. The trails are easy to moderate, with a couple of hills in between.

If I don’t get out to Big Bone Lick State Park near Union, Kentucky, at least once a month, I get an itch. Maybe it’s the cute baby bison, maybe it’s the way I can loop around the park 700 different ways depending on my mood. Maybe it’s the light traffic that I – and my dog – both like. Or maybe it’s the lake that we stop at about halfway through the hike. Whatever it is, I haven’t found many trails I enjoy as much as this one that are still close to home.

My favorite route to take at this park is by starting down the access road past the museum. The marked trail head is right next to the parking lot and takes you to basically the same place, but you don’t get to go by the entire bison pen. I like my way better because it takes you along the entire bison pen. If you take the trailhead, you may miss the herd because it brings you out to about the middle of the pen.

From the access road, take the first left slightly up a hill and soon you’ll see a fence to the right. You’ll recognize it as the bison pen from the signs every 10 feet reminding you that bison are dangerous – a fact that people in parks across the country always seem to forget. Granted, the bison don’t run wild here like they do in Yellowstone. They remind me more of a pet cow than a wild animal, but I know that if they really wanted to, they could charge that fence and it wouldn’t stand a chance.

Once you get down the access road and follow the curve to the left, the trail runs along the side of the bison pen.

Once you get down the access road and follow the curve to the left, the trail runs along the side of the bison pen.

Once you reach the fence, just keep following it. You’ll reach the point where the trail from the parking lot dumps out, follow a bend to the left and go straight for a bit. Once you get toward the end of the bison pen, the Cedar Run trail will take a left up a hill. Up to this point, the trail would have been fairly easy with a smooth, relatively flat trail. Here’s where the hiking begins.

The "lake" is more like a big pond.

The “lake” is more like a big pond.

But the lake makes a great place to stop and force your dog to get her picture!

But the lake makes a great place to stop and force your dog to get her picture!

I’m not going to go over every step of this trail. Instead, I’m just going to point out a couple of trouble spots for me:

  • Cobwebs. There are a lot of them once you get in the woods. And ticks. I pull three or four off my dog every stinking time we are at this park.
  • The hill leading from the bison pen isn’t particularly steep, but it is long. It took me three or four hikes to be able to get up it without having to stop for breath.
  • When that hill ends, Cedar Run intersects with Gobbler’s Trace Trail. If you go left, you’ll keep going uphill for a while until you finally start going down a long, mildly steep hill. If you hike this in the rain/after it’s been raining and/or with a dog, be prepared to ski. You can catch Gobbler’s Trace from the parking lot and head up that hill, but I don’t. That hill is killer.
  • If you take a right on Gobbler’s Trace, the trail levels off a bit, but you’ll still be going up and down some moderate hills.
  • When you reach the campground, Gobbler’s Trace ends. You need to keep walking straight to find the trailhead for Coralberry Trail. There may be someone camped in front of it, but it’s across from the dumpster and there is a sign. (I had trouble finding it the first time because there was a tent in the way.
  • Coralberry Trail takes you around the lake. There may be some people fishing there or a trail runner or two acting crazy (running through the woods is nuts to me). There are benches around the lake and it’s a great place to stop and sit a spell.
  • There are trails that go down the hill on either side of the lake. If you are facing the lake, I take the one to the right because it is more direct. They both lead to a small parking lot at the bottom of the hill. This is a great cheater way if you don’t want/have the juice to trek back through the woods. Once you get to the bottom of the hill, you take a left and follow the road straight back to the museum. It’s an easy walk.
Since all the big bones are long gone from the park, they have displays like this along the discovery trail. I'm not sure if this part is to teach people or scare them?

Since all the big bones are long gone from the park, they have displays like this along the discovery trail. I’m not sure if this part is to teach people or gross them out?

If you’re looking for something easier or just to add on some miles, there is a paved loop trail that goes out from the back side of the Museum/Visitor’s Center called the Discovery Trail. The trail takes you back through the park’s history and has informational signs along the way. You’ll also pass through sulfur springs, so bring a clothespin for your nose.

I just love these kids - but the younger two weren't as impressed with hiking as I wanted them to be. From left: Mandy, Ella and little Olivia.

I just love these kids – but the younger two weren’t as impressed with hiking as I wanted them to be. From left: Mandy, Ella and little Olivia.

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#TBT: Yellowstone National Park Part 1

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010. 

My first trip to Yellowstone National Park was too freaking short. My second visit to Yellowstone was too freaking short. I really think that no matter how much time I have to spend at Yellowstone, it will be too freaking short.

I really wanted to get my video edited from the second trip, but I didn’t get that far this week, so you will have to sate your appetite with my old flip cam video until I can get the rest of it put together. It’ll probably be at least another week; the weather has been so nice that I’ve been spending more time outside having adventures than at a computer splicing them together. The constant rain this week is keeping in indoors and helping me get caught up on work.

But back to Yellowstone. It’s the Big Daddy of the American National Park System and does us proud. I find it so interesting because it has so many different geological formations – there’s geysers, hot springs, even the Grand Prismatic Spring – that in two visits to the park I STILL haven’t seen! Seriously, I don’t know why I keep missing it. And of course, there’s Old Faithful.

My favorite thing about the park is the wildlife. No other park I’ve been to has shown me so much diversity. There’s bison – not buffalo, those are only in Africa and South Asia – elk, and bears. Thankfully, I haven’t met a bear yet. If I did, whatever bear safety research I did before my last trip out west would go right out through my ears and I’d get eaten.

Getting a taste of Yellowstone in Kentucky

Seeing bison tagged and penned in as if they were cattle didn't exactly feel like Yellowstone, but it isn't bad for being more than 1,600 miles away.

Seeing bison tagged and penned in as if they were cattle didn’t exactly feel like Yellowstone, but it isn’t bad for being more than 1,600 miles away.

Its late January and we’ve been getting hit with cold and snow pretty consistently  for a couple of months now. Taking the dog for a walk has become an exercise in endurance for both of us — and that’s on the days where she doesn’t just run out, do her business and then make a bee line back to the door. Cabin fever has set in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. I would much rather be dealing with temperatures on the southern end of 70 degrees, wind chill or not. Pulling on a pair of thermals under my pants is no big hardship to me. And living in that big, bulky hoodie for a few months? I welcome it. But what do to on those days when you’re tired of being cooped up and you feel like if your dog runs a circle around the room one more time you just might hog-tie her and hang her from the ceiling fan?

I slap on one more layer of clothes, grab the long leash and take the dog on some nature trails. In the spring and summer we love to hit Shawnee Lookout and we’ve been to the Cincinnati Nature Center. But this time I wanted something different. I’ve been looking at pictures from Yellowstone National Park lately and it got me thinking. Why not go see one of Kentucky’s own geological masterpieces? So last weekend we headed to Big Bone Lick State Park.

Emme was impatiently trying to drag Dad up the hill going back to the bison pen.

Emme was impatiently trying to drag Dad up the hill going back to the bison pen.

All right, we’ll pause here for a minute. Yes, I said Big Bone Lick. I know, so many jokes. I had been living in Kentucky for almost a year before I realized there was such a place. So I asked a friend who grew up here what, exactly, is a big bone lick?

“Its … a lick. … A land formation. …I don’t know,” is the response I got.

Well, the story behind Big Bone Lick, according to the park service, is once upon a time millions of years ago it was a marsh that drew all sorts of big animals to feed around the mineral deposits in the area – in this case, salt. Then those big animals died and left their big bones behind. Actually, nothing specifically said where the “big bone” part of the name came from, but scientists were pulling enormous bones out of the earth for several decades, so its not a far stretch. (Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any of these points.)

So, its one big salt lick that used to have some big dinosaur bones in it. Bison have been reintroduced to the area, and we even have a sulfur spring. (Take that, Yellowstone.)

One of the things I love about snow is being able to see the trails that my mutt sniffs out in the woods.

One of the things I love about snow is being able to see the trails that my mutt sniffs out in the woods.

So, bright and early last Sunday morning I set out with the dog and my dad to get a little nature and exercise. As the humans trudged through the couple of inches of snow on the ground to get back to the bison herd, the hound darted back and forth, taking full advantage of the 16 feet afforded to her by the retractable leash. And I realized another thing to love about snow: It reveals to me the tracks of animals that Emme is attempting to hunt down. Instead of me just rolling my eyes as she runs to and fro, I can see the rabbit and deer tracks crisscrossing the path. So while Emme busied herself hunting wabbits, I had some fun taking pictures of snow tracks.

And of course once we got to the bison, my little 40-pound, hound dog mutt thought she should have a crack at one of them. She barked at the bison, pulled on the leash and pawed at the ground until I swear I saw one of the giant beasts roll his eyes at her.

Getting up close and personal with bison

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These lumbering giants gummed up traffic while we were at Yellowstone National Park.

These lumbering giants gummed up traffic while we were at Yellowstone National Park.

After our white-knuckle trip into Cody, Wyoming and a 2 a.m. arrival, we slept in. For the first time on the trip we weren’t worried about covering miles, making up for lost time or being stranded. That day, all we had on our agenda was exploring.

Cody is about 50 miles from the east entrance of the park, so we had an hour-long ride through some breathtaking Wyoming scenery a Big Boy statue – that we never did get a picture of. He was just hanging out near the road, double-decker burger and all.

When we arrived at the park the weather was a little … unexpected. We’d prepared for the trip expecting Glacier to be cooler than Yellowstone and it was actually opposite. The weather in Montana couldn’t have been more perfect. But in Yellowstone, it was raining — pouring at times — and the cheap fleece I was wearing did absolutely nothing to keep me dry. After our first stop, which was a half mile hike from a parking lot to a restroom, I was already soaked. Memo to myself: Pack for rain next time.

Yellowstone greeted us with a spooky fog laying heavily on the land.

Yellowstone greeted us with a spooky fog laying heavily on the land.

The morning’s cold rain created a dense fog over the park that blocked most of the hilltops and restricted our view. It gave the park a surreal, almost spooky feel.

It didn’t take long for the rain to let up and we decided to hit one of the trails and try to see some geysers. The trail didn’t lead us to any geothermal curiosities, but it did give us the opportunity to practice karaoke hiking — that is, our own soon-to-be-patented method of not sneaking up on bears, or any wildlife for that matter. We serenaded the Wyoming wilderness with “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. And when I say we, I mean Lacey did most of the singing. I probably would have gotten us mauled.

One my least favorite things about going to parks is people stopping their cars in the middle of the road to take pictures of wildlife. Because that deer they see out in the middle of the field is so different than the ones that dart across the road back home.

Lucky for me, the traffic jam on Main Street, Yellowstone National Park was a bison herd ambling its way across the road. And before you ask, no. I was not one of the people weaving my way through the herd.  I have a little bit more respect for wild animals with horns (and brains in my head) than to try to get this close to them. Thank you, but I happen to like not being gored and I’m too clumsy to have to run for my life. I stayed in the car and still got eyeballed by a muncher on the shoulder.

Generally, I don't want to be making eye contact with something that has horns that large.

Generally, I don’t want to be making eye contact with something that has horns that large.

If you are an unfortunate person who hasn’t had the opportunity to see bison up close and personal, I’m sorry. They are beautiful beasts. You could call them bigger, furrier cows, but that’s deceptive. The animals’ size makes it seem as if they can only lumber along at a glacial pace, but they can actually run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

They’re kind of like that big, hulking football player you see in a line of scrimmage that looks like he’d be better suited at a table with a steak in front of him. But as soon as that ball snaps he turns into a graceful athlete, weaving through the other players and spinning down the field. That’s what a bison is like.

The Discovery Channel has a clip on YouTube of a cow defending her calf from wolves, and even though its a real nail-biter at times, it’s surprising to see how agile she is.

This herd was the first of two we got to see at Yellowstone. The other herd was a safe distance away – way out over the plain and across the river.

Though you can't see them in this picture, there were some people standing on the sides of the road where the bison were crossing. I applaud their idiocy. Fortunately, we didn't see any bison attacks.

Though you can’t see them in this picture, there were some people standing on the sides of the road where the bison were crossing. I applaud their idiocy. Fortunately, we didn’t see any bison attacks.

Because of all our lazing around we didn’t get to see much in the park that day. Just the bison and a few of the thousands of geysers in the park. We left in the early evening looking forward to a big, hearty meal fit for a cowboy coming in from a cattle drive. We’d been living mostly off sandwiches and snacks we kept in the car and hadn’t stopped for a really good meal in days.

The first thing we noticed when we got back to the town is how dead it was. I mean, it wasn’t particularly hopping when we left in the morning, but things were open and places were busy. It was just after 8 p.m. when we tried getting into a barbeque restaurant. It was on “winter hours” and closed at 8 p.m. There’s even a Cassie’s Steakhouse — kitchen no longer open when we got there.

By this time, we were starving. The Wendy’s lunch we had on our way out was long gone and I won’t lie. Lacey was starting to look a little bit like a T-bone steak. We gave up on good food and just tried a Dairy Queen. They have decent enough food and ice cream to boot. We walked into the dining room and waited at the register while several workers passed by, looked at us and never stopped to take an order. Completely disheartened, or maybe that feeling was just the low blood sugar, we got Arby’s and took it back to the hotel room.

To see more photos from Yellowstone National Park, check out my Flickr account.