From the western lakes to the eastern mountains, Kentucky is home to a wealth of natural and historical landmarks. Many of our state’s greatest treasures, however, can only be seen by not taking the road at all.
Track back to the past
“I always tell people that I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she steps out of the house and onto the porch. She’s been in black and white, and now she’s in Technicolor. It’s a magical spot on the rail line,” says Becki Egnew, director of Marketing and Passenger Operations, as she describes the passage through the 256-foot-long tunnel at the Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns.
Passengers climb aboard a diesel-powered train to travel 16 miles, round-trip, while experiencing breathtaking views of dense forests, wildlife, rugged rock formations, and the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
After descending 600 feet into the river valley, visitors step back in time for a self-guided tour at Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp. Egnew says, “There are 13 structures they can visit, as well as the coal tipple. They can walk across the coal tipple on the tramway bridge. They can also go into the face of the mine, about 15 feet or so.”
Train engineer Matthew Jones adds, “A lot of people think they’re just coming on a train ride, and they get the extra of the coal town.”
While at Blue Heron, Elizabethtown residents Mary Isham and Violet Parks share a picnic lunch as the sound of live bluegrass music fills the air.
Isham says, “I love the trees, the mountains, streams, and the rocks. I just love to see that. It’s neat to think about when the coal mines were running.”
“The train ride is fun,” adds Parks.
The beauty and history of the river valley attract many families. Jerry and Donna Eaves of Powderly brought three of their grandchildren along on their excursion.
“I thought it would be educational for them,” says Jerry, “and I wanted them to see some things that they might not ever get to see.”
“It’s good family time, spending time together without any distractions,” says Donna. “I love the fact that it’s a simple trip that doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
Tina George of Somerset homeschools and brought her children Alexandra, 9, and Shadrach, 6, to see the coal mining camps.
“I think they were a little surprised when they heard how long we’d be on the train. They didn’t realize we’d be getting off and checking stuff out,” says George.
While aboard Big South Fork Scenic Railway, passengers view scenery that would otherwise be impossible to see. Engineer Jones says, “At any given time, you may be three miles off the highway.”
Rollin’ on the river
For a cruise along the tranquil Kentucky River, travel to Harrodsburg to board the Dixie Belle riverboat at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
Aimee Darnell, Shaker Village publicist, says, “Passengers can experience beautiful scenery
along the river, including the Kentucky
River Palisades, waterfalls, cave entrances, and occasional wildlife.”
To those unfamiliar with the Palisades, Darnell explains they “are truly an untouched natural beauty. The Palisades are high limestone cliffs and are the oldest exposed rocks in the state.”
In addition to the scenic views, the hourlong narrated tour on the 115-passenger Dixie Belle provides a learning experience for guests.
“During the cruise, passengers can learn about the river’s diverse ecosystem and how the river was important to the Shakers,” says Darnell. She adds that visitors will also “learn about different fish, different birds, and wildlife in and around the area. During the riverboat tours, guests will have an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the captain to ask any questions they might have.”
Visitors also enjoy taking a look at the bridge spanning the Kentucky River. “Everybody likes High Bridge,” says Bruce Herring, a Dixie Belle captain since 1990. “It’s the tallest railroad bridge in the nation over a navigable stream.”
Darnell has been a passenger on the Dixie Belle many times herself. “It’s a nice way to sit down and relax and unwind. There’s just something about the peacefulness of the river,” she says. “It’s being immersed in history and nature at the same time–truly a breath of fresh air.”
“How would you like to fly an airplane? Yes–really fly the airplane,” says Andrew Broom, vice president of communications with Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, who also leads Let’s Go Flying, a learn-to-fly program sponsored by the AOPA.
It’s possible by taking an introductory flight with a Federal Aviation Administration certified flight instructor at a local flight school. “People all around the state can go to our Web site, put in their zip code, and get a list of participating flight schools closest to them,” says Broom. “In order to sign up for an introductory flight, you do not need to have any previous flight experience.
“Airplanes used for training have dual flight controls, one set for you and the other for the flight instructor,” Broom explains. “With the flight instructor’s help, you’ll taxi from the flight school to the runway, take off, and fly in the local area for a bit before returning to the airport. You should plan to spend an hour or two for the whole experience, which usually includes 30-45 minutes in the air.”
Broom, a pilot and flight instructor himself, says,”You’ll get to see your hometown in a whole new way. Being in a plane gives a whole new
perspective–literally a whole new dimension–to any state’s beauty.”
Up and away
Get carried away with Kathy Lee of Glasgow as she gets a bird’s-eye view of Kentucky while floating on the breeze in her hot air balloon, SpiritWind–The Celebration of Life.
Lee explains a typical flight. “You’ll meet your pilot about three hours prior to sunset. It takes about 20 minutes to set up the balloon and get it ready for flight. The flight lasts about an hour.” She also offers sunrise flights.
For those experiencing their first hot air balloon flight, Lee says, “Everybody’s surprised that they’re not as scared as they thought they would be and how quiet it is up there.”
Marla Doty, also of Glasgow and a member of Lee’s ground crew, recalls her first hot air balloon ride. “I’m a big talker, but the first time I went up, I didn’t hardly say anything. I was amazed and checking things out.”
Lee says the view of the countryside and rolling hills from the sky is “awesome.” “Getting off the highway, you see a lot of wildlife, different landscaping, and grids of land and homes. It’s just amazing.”
For anyone considering their first hot air balloon flight, Doty says, “Don’t second-guess it. Just go for it. It’s the chance of a lifetime.”
Slow pace tour
For those more comfortable staying on the ground, sit back and listen to the rhythmic clip-clop of hooves striking the pavement, while touring the town in the back of a horse-drawn carriage.
William “Jonesie” Jones of Bardstown has owned and operated Around the Town Carriage for 25 years. “We give narrated tours of historic Bards-town,” Jones says. The 2-1/2- to 3-mile tour lasts 25 to 30 minutes.
Jones says passengers will view “old homes built in the 1700s and 1800s and go by St. Joe Cathedral. That’s always fascinating.” Another historic landmark on the tour is The Old Talbott Tavern. According to Jones, “It’s the oldest stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was the end of the line in the 1800s from Pennsylvania to Bardstown.”
In addition to tours, Jones’ services include weddings and special events. With several different carriages, Jones says, “We’ve got a buggy for every occasion. We’ve even got a stagecoach.”
What do carriage rides offer as a way to view the city that a car doesn’t? “It’s a slow-paced way to see the town,” says Jones. “You don’t miss out on anything.”
Charlie and June Vincent of Hanson recently toured downtown Lexington by carriage. Charlie says, “We enjoyed riding around the city, looking at different things, and the driver telling us about different historical sights.”
June believes the slow pace gives you a chance to unwind and encourages others to take a carriage ride. “It would be an experience they would not forget,” she says. “There are many amazing sights to see.”
So unfasten your seat belt, leave the highway behind, and prepare to see Kentucky in ways you never have before.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: OTHER ROADS TO TRAVEL
For information on a fun-filled day for the entire family at the 2010 Muhlenberg County Skyfest on June 12 in Greenville, and fun trivia about taking roads less traveled, go to roads.