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Weekend Wanderings

Slade off season

There’s always something to see and do during the
winter months when many attractions are closed. Slade is a case in point. Sandwiched
between Natural Bridge State Resort Park and the Red River Gorge Geologic Area,
Slade is a collection of shops and businesses catering to travelers.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park makes a wonderful
base of operations. The lodge not only remains open, January is the one time
you are likely to find rooms open without making reservations a year in advance.

The big draw in the park is its namesake arch. Although
neither the largest nor tallest natural arch in the region, Natural Bridge has
been attracting tourists for more than 100 years. The skylift is closed for
the season, but it’s a relatively easy walk to the arch.

Trail #1-Original Trail-is 1/2 mile of comparatively
easy hiking. It does, however, climb steadily, so be prepared for that. After
exploring the arch, you can return on the same trail, or take Balanced Rock
Trail back. Caution: there are 450 stairs on this trail. But if you’re up for
it, you’ll see the unique mushroom-shaped rock that gives the trail its name.

As you enter the driveway leading to Hemlock Lodge
and the skylift, stop the car and look at the cliffline to the right. You’ll
see a natural carving called Indian Head at the end of the cliff. Just under
it is an opening through the ridge, called a "lighthouse." That’s
Owl’s Window.

When you’ve had your fill of the park, head over
to Red River Gorge by taking KY 11 toward the Mountain Parkway. Along the way
you’ll pass the Mountain Horse Museum, which remains open during the winter.

The Mountain Pleasure Horse is little known. Yet
this breed, which originated in eastern Kentucky about 165 years ago, is the
precursor to all the walking horse breeds, including the Tennessee Walking,
the Rocky Mountain, and the Kentucky Mountain horses.

The Mountain Horse Museum celebrates all these breeds,
with particular emphasis on the Mountain Pleasure Horse. Here you’ll find saddles,
tack, photos, literature, and memorabilia.

While visiting the museum, make a point of seeing
Goldfinger’s Star, a Mountain Pleasure stallion that Governor Patton named the
official Kentucky Flag Horse.

Unless you’re a die-hard hiker, the best way to experience
Red River Gorge this time of year is to take the driving tour. From Natural
Bridge State Resort Park, it’s a 40-mile loop, primarily using KY 715 and KY
77.

The 100 known natural arches and bridges found in
the Geologic Area are the main draw. And you’ll see some of the more dramatic
of them along the driving tour. But there are other important attractions-natural
and man-made.

One of the most awesome is Nada Tunnel on KY 77.
Begun in 1910 and completed in 1911, this one-lane tunnel was cut through the
mountain by hand, using dynamite, steam drills, and hand tools. Climax Locomotives
hauled logs through the tunnel to Clay City, where the largest sawmill in the
United States was located.

Ironically, the first load of logs jammed in the
tunnel, and had to be dynamited free. The tunnel was then widened to its current
13 x 12 x 900 feet. Be sure to put your headlights on when passing through the
tunnel, and remember: traffic is only one way at a time.

The Red River Gorge Geologic Area starts on the other
side of the bridge. You’ll pass through some really scenic country until merging
with KY 715, after which you’ll be following the river. Shortly after passing
the parking area to the Sheltowee Trace, look down and you’ll see a pedestrian
suspension bridge, built to accommodate hikers. It is usually only visible during
the winter months when the leaves are off the trees.

A while later you’ll come to the Gladie Creek Visitors
Center. The center itself will be closed, but check out the two-story log house
and the bison herd. Bison once roamed freely throughout this part of Kentucky,
and the herd commemorates those early trailblazers of the Bluegrass.

Continue on KY 715, exploring Sky Bridge, Angels
Windows, and the overlooks along Chimney Top Road. Tunnel Ridge Road, however,
is undergoing construction work, so don’t bother driving it this trip.

Eventually you’ll return to KY 15, which returns
you to Slade and Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

For details, contact: Natural Bridge State Resort
Park, 2135 Natural Bridge Road, Slade, KY 40376, (606) 663-2214; Mountain Horse
Museum, 691 Natural Bridge Road, Slade, KY 40301, (606) 663-0928.

Day Trips & Short
Stops

Cast in iron

Although you wouldn’t know it from their facades,
many old buildings were actually built out of cast iron. This includes both
supporting members and decorative elements, including columns, finials, and
facing panels.

Even less well known than the building material is
the fact that Louisville has the second-largest collection of cast-iron buildings
in the world, second only to New York. You can see them, along with artifacts
commemorating them, by taking the West Main Street Walking Tour, a stroll through
history often called "Louisville’s Time Machine."

Specialized paving stones and markers help identify
the iron architecture that spans two centuries. The ironwood trees supported
by cast-iron "walking stick" tripods are a really nice touch. Each
of the cast-iron buildings is fronted by one of the specially commissioned walking
stick triads, which are carved with icons of the buildings’ original uses.

Of course there’s a lot more to the walking tour
than the cast-iron edifices. Several museums are located there, including the
Louisville Slugger Museum (which includes a tour of the factory that produces
the famed baseball bats); the Louisville Science Center; and nearby is the new
Glassworks museum.

For full details, contact: Louisville and Jefferson
County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 400 South First St., Louisville, KY
40202, (502) 584-2121.

Outdoor Log

Winter game

Are you a fair-weather hunter? Then January may
not be for you. Cold, blustery days. Rain. Possibly snow. For many Kentucky
shooters, that kind of weather means hunting up a hot drink and the latest game
on TV.

But the fact is, some of the best upland hunting
of the year takes place in January. What’s more, there’s no dearth of choice,
because most of the seasons extend to the end of this month and beyond.

Squirrel season, for instance, continues to January
31. Bannertails tend to be more active during the daylight hours, too, so there’s
no need to get out at the crack of dawn. You’ll find squirrels on the ground
this time of year, foraging for fallen nuts and other foods. Either a shotgun
or .22 rifle is a good choice. Daily bag limit on squirrel is six, with 12 in
possession.

Rabbit and quail seasons also remain open until the
last of this month.

Rabbits are ubiquitous, but like thick stuff. Work
the overgrown swales and edges between woodlines and farm fields, and you should
get some shooting. Chaps or brush-buster pants are a good idea. Not all the
stuff rabbits hide in has thorns. It just seems that way. Limit on rabbit is
four per day, with eight in possession.

It’s not as easy to kick up quail as it is bunnies.
But it can be done, especially if a group of hunters forms a line and sweeps
through the right habitat. Here again, edges are where to find the birds, those
weedy, overgrown areas abutting farm fields. Quail bag limit is eight daily,
with 16 in possession.

Grouse season stays open until the end of February.
And there are plenty of places to hunt them. Grouse have been expanding their
range in Kentucky, and now virtually all of the eastern counties are part of
the statewide season: 53 counties in all.

Although grouse can be hunted without dogs, it tends
to be an exercise in futility. By this time of year they are spooky, and tend
to flush wild. A good pointing dog can up your success ratio tremendously. You’re
allowed four grouse per day, with eight in possession.

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