Dispatches from the east coast – Kentucky

This current dispatch will be mostly photos for now because it’s 4:30 am and I need to be up by 8 am. Key things to know – roadtrip to visit national parks in Kentucky, bucket list item, I was in 3 states at one time.

So here’s the rest of the story. When my hiking group decided to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee again this year I knew that I wanted to do more than visit that one national park (as big and great as it is), so I thought about where else I could visit and chose to cross one more national park off of my bucket list. I decided to do a roadtrip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky because that would just be a 4-5 hour drive away. Then thought, why not see what other national parks or other sites would be ‘close’ enough that I could add one or two more to make the most of the trip. I added two: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park (ALBNHP) and Camp Nelson.

In addition to experiencing the core elements of each site, I wanted to hike at each one to check off another 3 hikes on my 52 hike challenge list. I invited others in the group to join me. Only one friend joined for the entire roadtrip, but two others joined for the Cave.

After researching opening days and hours, drive times, hotels and so on, I set the itinerary so that we would visit ALBNHP on Sunday July 14th, Mammoth Cave on Monday, and Camp Nelson on Tuesday. We would then drive back to Nashville, Tennessee Tuesday afternoon/evening and fly back to L.A. on Tuesday night. Of course things don’t always go according to plan, but the detours made were good ones.

The plan was to leave Tennessee early on Sunday so we could make the drive with enough time to get to ALBNHP before the visitor centre closed at 5 pm. Through no fault of mine, we left our Tennessee rental home at 10 am instead of 8 am because one friend was cooking a big breakfast for the group that couldn’t be missed plus we needed to take a group photo. Even leaving at 10 am we should still have made it by 3 pm, leaving enough time to go through the visitor centre, look at the historic cabin and do a short hike. Hmmm. When we were about an hour into the drive we saw a road sign for another site – Cumberland Gap National Historical Park – and a lightbulb went off: we could detour, do a quick visit and short hike, then jump back on the road and still make it to ALBLHP in time to hike before sunset, even if the buildings were closed. One more national park visited, two hikes in one day, four in total on the roadtrip … fabulous idea.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

It really was a fabulous idea.

There aren’t many naturally occurring corridors through the Appalachian Mountains; Cumberland Gap is one of them. This gap was traversed for thousands of years by the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee. Exploration by later arrivals (think Dr. Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone) started in 1750 and the gap was the main access point to the west for about 60 years which facilitated settlement in the western parts of the United States.  Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (CGNHP) was established in 1955 (NPS, nd).

We got to the Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center (not to be confused with the Visitor Center) and though it was closed decided to hike any way. I thought we were going to do a 1 mile hike, my friend thought that was 1 mile to the end of the trail and 1 mile back (so 2 miles). We ended up doing a challenging hike of 3.2 miles (1.6 miles each way) on the Historic Cumberland Gap Trail &Tri-State Peak Trail – so called because the peak is the point at which Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet. I had the pleasure of being in 3 states at the same time, plus walking on a path that Native Americans and bison, elk, deer and other animals took for thousands of years before settlers did. For a spur of the moment decision it went mostly well 😏

About a snake …

Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th President

Cumberland Gap was site visit and hike number 1 which ended around 2:30 pm. Since our original site was 3 ½ hours drive (175 miles or so) from Cumberland Gap there was no way we were going to make it before the visitor center closed at 5 pm, but we figured the grounds would still be open, so we could do our second hike any way. So off we went. We had to drive through many small Kentucky towns and rural areas to reach our destination. It was an interesting experience.

After many twists and turns we got to Hodgenville, Kentucky. On arriving at ALBNHP we found the site closed for the day, with a barrier across the entrance so we couldn’t drive in to park and hike. This made no sense to me because I’d reviewed the website many times and it clearly stated that the grounds were open until sunset and even if the visitor center was closed, his Boyhood Home at Knob Creek (LBHKC) could still be accessed. What wasn’t so clear (unless you live in the area and/or know the history 😲) is that ALBNHP comprises sites in several locations and his Boyhood Home at Knob Creek (our plan B) was located 8 miles away. So we got back into the car (cause roadtrip) and off we went.

To get to the Boyhood Home we drove along Lincoln Heritage National Scenic Byway. Yesss! Another ‘site’ checked off my national parks list!

The Knob Creek farm where Lincoln spent part of his childhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and acquired by the US government in 1998. In 2001 it became one of the units managed by the National Park Service (NPS, nd).

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.” Abraham Lincoln

The marker here is, fittingly, the first one I saw and read at this site.

The grounds of the Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek are beautiful and once you move past the possibility of encountering poisonous cottonhead snakes (which I chose to do), a lovely site for a leisurely 1 mile stroll. There was one other person there – a guy visiting Kentucky from San Francisco – so rather than meeting in the state where we live, we met on the other side of the country at a location neither of us had planned to visit … serendipity.

Site number 2 and hike number 2 done and dusted, but the day wasn’t over. Per the itinerary we still had to drive another hour our so to our hotel at Mammoth Cave where we would spend the night ahead of our caving day. Soon after leaving Knob Creek we saw a traffic circle (roundabout) with a statue of Lincoln and decided to stop. Another good idea as the photos show. There’s also a Lincoln Museum in this town centre.

Then we were back in the car and driving to Mammoth Cave (did someone say roadtrip?!). At some point I realized that my phone and my Fitbit were an hour apart and the clock in the car was on the same time as my Fitbit. No, I wasn’t in the twilight zone, nor had we been abducted by aliens. It turned out that we had changed time zones a couple of times without noticing and it was confusing the hell out of my Fitbit. Kentucky, like Tennessee is in two time zones – central and eastern. So along our drive we were zapping in and out of time zones.

Now can you see why I couldn’t finish writing all of this at 4:30 am? I uploaded the first draft of this post after I had hiked around 7 miles in Mammoth Cave between 10 am and 9 pm, then driven for almost 2 hours to our next hotel. But these stories are for my next Dispatch from the east coast – Kentucky 😁

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