Kentucky is Full of Surprises!

Starting last summer, Shane and I and a group of friends began planning a summer vacation. After dates were debated and sites were sifted through, it was decided that Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee would be the place we would visit. Knowing it was a bit of a drive, and the fact that Shane and I were going to skip some sort of anniversary trip like Costa Rica, we decided that our way down would be made our one on one time before the group cabin experience.

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So I booked us a stay at the lovely Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky. This little park had some big sites to see, one of which we meandered to right upon entering the park. As we wandered on the trail, remarking that we hadn’t seen too many trail markers, honestly something that continued to stick out the entire time we were down south, we came up to the “hole” that looked down into the natural bridge that the trail was leading us to.

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We thought that was pretty neat, but we crossed the road and continued on not thinking much of the hole and comparing it to cenotes we had seen in Mexico. But soon we reached the natural bridge, and it actually made us stop with surprise and awh in our tracks. It was huge!

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That wouldn’t be the only surprise that evening.

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When we reached our room and checked in, to Shane’s delight, he discovered, as he and anyone from Kentucky would put it, “the world’s best ginger-ale”. As we cooled of sharing a glass of it, we decided to hit one more trail and natural bridge before trying the dinner at the restaurant.

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It too was impressive, and there was a platform at the top of it where you could look down into the gully that ran through it. You could tell that they were set up to offer zip-line adventures, but we visited the park in mid-May, so things weren’t quite set up for summer fun yet.

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We got back to our room, where we happened to have cell service, and my phone began to ring with a number from Oregon. If you read my last blog post, you know that I am headed out there soon to be an Artist-in-Residence. That wasn’t on the forefront of my mind, as I had just answered a rejection email, right before that last hike, with a nice “thank you for considering me” and “keep me in the loop for next year” and “what can I keep in mind for future applications”. But I answered the call, thinking maybe they were going to tell me via a phone call what they thought of my application; it would be a first, but it wasn’t inconceivable. Shane relaxed with another “world’s best ginger-ale” while I took the most wonderfully surprising phone call I have ever received.

It was a ranger from John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Upon receiving my prompt response, they re-evaluated my application and realized they had had tunnel vision when looking for an artist for this years spot recipient. My medium of wool would work out perfectly with their fall festival focused on sheep and they wondered if I would still be interested.

All I can say is, at this point Shane was filming me on his phone, because I was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement and my face was hurting from smiling. I of course answered yes! We celebrated with a meal at the restaurant on location, Tierney’s Cavern, and the next morning I enjoyed a coffee on the deck reading from Psalms, my heart bursting with gladness for all the wonderful things in my life before Shane awoke and the other Elser family joined us that day.

A theme verse for that week and this summer was from Psalms 145. That whole chapter breathed a lot of truth that week, but that morning verse 19 really stuck with me.

Psalms 145:19 “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.”

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What woke up Shane was a phone call from his brother saying they were close to the park, and Shane, in vacation mode, groggily admitted to having just woke up and not having breakfast yet. The other Elser family joined us as we ate from the buffet again in Tierney’s Cavern. It was a really fantastic, all kinds of southern, breakfast.

Now, something we just weren’t familiar with was this idea of “state resort parks”. In all my research pre-vacation, it seemed like a really great idea and it just something we don’t have in Pennsylvania. Almost every park had a perk that accompanied the booking of a room. For us it was a guided cave tour and that great breakfast, so after we dined we headed to the Welcome Center where we had to go to sign up for our tour.

A few delightful things were at the Welcome Center. For starters, the Natural Bridge Trail head was there, and we got to show Quintin, Raesha and little Bryce that amazing limestone natural bridge. But, the Welcome Center had another treat, these homemade sort of big cowtail like candies. I can’t remember what the folks in the shop called them, and as I researched them more recently, the name Modjeskas has popped up.

Loaded up with Modjeskas, we headed in the direction of our guided cave tour that took us away from the many trail heads that begin near the Welcome Center. Keep this in mind if you ever visit this park. The one trail near the guided Cascade Cave tour was the Box Canyon Trail. We chose to do it before our guided tour.

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This trail was well worth it. Almost a mile of big, beautiful rock formations in Olive Hill, Kentucky.

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It reminded me a little of Hocking Hills with it’s large rock walls that shot up into the sky streaked with earth-tones.

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The trail was manageable for us four adults, one, Raesha, being pregnant, and one toddler. We finished in time to sit and rest for a bit before meeting at the parking lot for the cave tour.

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Like any good cave tour, we saw little bats dotting the ceiling in the Dance Hall portion of the cave where they used to hold weekly dances! Could you imagine?

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Even though it was May, our tour group was pretty large, and we were near the end of it, the last to leave each of the unique spaces like the Lake Room where they turned off the lights so we could get the full affect of the reflecting pool.

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As promised, we got to see the 30 foot underground waterfall. Just as a note for anyone who hasn’t been there, it isn’t in a large space like the Dance Hall or Lake Room cave spaces. We went down the stairs into a small cave to view it a little at a time.

The guided trail overall had around 250 stairs. They were spread out and manageable with a two year old. The rest of the trail was really easy to walk along and we were surrounded by people of all ages. At the end, we had to walk through a sudsy shoe bath because of the white-nose syndrome plaguing the bats. Our ranger and guide was very informative of the bat’s health in the park, the history of the park, and cave information. It helped that our particular guide had grown up living and loving Carter Caves, her passion for it was really clear.

We ordered pizza that night, so yes, there was a pizza place that delivers that far, it just took a little while, and we enjoyed state trivia while enjoying some of Kentucky’s fine ginger-ale on the deck.

The next morning we were going to take the mile and a half Horn Hollow Trail. The Horn Hallow valley boasts of wildflowers from April till May, so we would’ve hit it at the perfect time, but the description of it also included the word “hilly”. We chose against it as Raesha wanted to save her energy for Tennessee, instead we threw axes at the Welcome Center. This is not an activity that the park necessarily had out for any-old visitor. They happened to have the backstops for ax throwing, and like any good outdoorsman, my husband had a few axes!

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There was so much more to explore with in this little park that it will definitely remain on my radar. The breakfasts were great, the guided tour was worth it, and the trails we did do were stunning. If you are going from one place to the next, and this park is in the middle, take the time to stop in. Better yet, give it its due, and spend a few days taking in this unique Kentucky landscape.

 

Here Comes the Sun

I can officially say I have experienced a full solar eclipse.

My dad called me mid summer to tell me that he was planning a quick trip to Kentucky to view the full solar eclipse, and he wondered if Shane and I wanted to go. Honestly, I was in the middle of laundry or something when he called and I didn’t put much thought into my, “Well, maybe…” answer. He called a little while later and asked if I had given it any more thought, and I had a cartoon slap the forehead moment, because I had really forgotten about the request, but I quickly looked at my calendar and said I would join, but Shane wouldn’t be able to take the day off so wouldn’t be joining. I had one condition, I needed to make it back to Pennsylvania basically the day of the eclipse because the next day I had to set choreography on students.

So off my parents and I went to Kentucky, stopping at the ever amazing Grandpa’s Cheese Barn along the way for some snacks and staying quite a ways from our actual destination because that was the closest hotel room my dad could find for the event. We heard that traffic may be intense because of the swarms of people who wanted to view the solar eclipse totality. Because of this, my dad had chosen a town off the beaten path, Russellville, Kentucky.

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They’re library was set up with sunscreen and information stands with buckets of ice and water. There was a map at the front door where you could put a sticker representing where you came from. They had a shuttle that was taking people to the library, but we just parked at the grocery store next to it. All through the parking lot and into the library lawn people were set up with their cameras or hammocks or lawn chairs, everyone getting ready for the main event.

We got there early, as though to “save our spot”, even though it was happening in the sky and it wasn’t like someone was going to block our view like a tall person sitting in front of you at the theatre. So with our car parked and chairs set up we took a walk through the town.

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Well worth the visit, Russellville boasted quite a history, a cute little park in the town center, historical buildings, some cute shops, and it was alive with people excited to see this once in a lifetime event. It was a sleepy, sort of tired place that the mainstream had forgotten until this solar eclipse event.Eclipse-6
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Besides the image at the top of this post, I won’t include any images of the sun in totality because there were plenty of professionals who got awesome photo’s of that. I was more interested in the reactions of the crowd and filmed a lot of that. It felt like you were at a baseball game, all cheering together for one team and a great play, but way more surreal.  It was like dusk the whole way around the horizon, which just messed with your comprehension of what time of day it was, and it actually got cooler outside! It was such a neat experience that I am so glad to have taken the time to see.

After such a thrilling afternoon, we grabbed a Sonic milkshake and began our trek home, and what a trek it was. Immediately we hit traffic, everyone was leaving Kentucky in the dust and headed home. What road construction we hit the day before and sailed through brought everyone to a screeching halt and taking back roads was barely a remedy with all their twist and turns. Our original route was going to be us going north then traveling east, but we had to change that to traveling east then heading up north. My fingers were zooming in and out on my Google maps and I was giving directions to my dad to avoid “red” areas where there was no movement in the traffic. It quickly became a nightmare, and a trip that should’ve been eight hours literally doubled.

Because I had to get back to teach, we absolutely could not stop, but we kept watching our arrival time change. You know those dreams where you are trying your hardest to get somewhere but you can’t reach the door even though you can see it and there is that panic that sets in that you may never reach it? Yeah. That is how it felt. We all so longed to stop too, because we went past Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, his childhood hometown, a town called Horse Cave a few miles north of Mammoth Cave National Park, and one of those campgrounds where they have those teepees you can stay in. So many cool places, but we had to keep going.

We made it home around four, maybe five in the morning. Honestly, it was such a blur, I showered then and figured I might as well get a good nap in before I taught. I made it through the day of teaching, and was able to tell the kids that the day before I had been in Kentucky watching the solar eclipse, and that is something I wouldn’t trade for a full eight hours of sleep!