Early spring drives
Spring comes suddenly to the Bluegrass State. One
March day everything is brown and bare. The next there’s a haze of green-so
pale you’re not really sure it’s there-covering the land. The day after that,
grass pops up, trees bud, and the world renews.
A weekend drive this time of year self-renews as
well. As you watch the world green up, you feel rejuvenated and the winter blahs
melt away like the morning frost.
For early spring drives, we like to incorporate as
much of the wild world as possible, while still ferreting out indoor points
of interest. Periodically we’ll get out and walk a hiking trail or nature path,
and spend a lot of time on overlooks. But a little of this goes a long way for
many, so indoor pursuits are appreciated. Most museums, unfortunately, are still
closed for the season, making those offbeat ones that are open so much more
pleasurable. We also try to include at least one state park-preferably a state
resort park-along the route, because we’re assured of access to the emerging
plant and animal life. Plus, with the resort parks, there are lodges and restaurants
always handy. Even if we don’t stay there, the lodges are always a good place
to take a break. Most of them have common rooms with fireplaces, for instance,
providing warmth and cheer when we’re ready for a break.
If there are no state parks along the route, we look
for bed and breakfast inns rather than chain motels, because the ambience is
so much better. Bed and breakfast operators usually know their areas thoroughly,
and serve as great guides to area restaurants and points of interest. Often,
bed and breakfast operators send you to great stopping places that you’d otherwise
miss because they’re not found in any of the tourist guides. Checking with local
chambers of commerce and tourism centers is another good way to find these little-known
and out-of-the-way points of interest.
Such tours can be constructed anywhere in the state.
In fact, if you just point the car in any direction, you won’t go far astray.
But it’s too easy to just drive aimlessly that way. So, more often, we look
for a way to create a unifying whole out of the trip.
You could, for instance, use The Trace, through Land
Between the Lakes, poking down the side roads and byways. You might discover
some of the old town sites and homesteads that made up the area before LBL was
formed. Some of them, such as Hematite and the Center Furnace iron smelter,
are actually preserved for your enjoyment.
If you’re not up to planning your own route there
are many established tours. You might, for instance, follow the Duncan Hines
Trail, out of Bowling Green. Details are available from the Bowling Green-Warren
County Tourist Convention Commission, 352 Three Springs Rd., Bowling Green,
KY 42104, 1-800-326-7465.
Another plan is to follow any of the river corridors:
the Cumberland, perhaps, or the Green, or the Licking, or the Kentucky itself.
None of these routes will be disappointing, as each flows through wild country
as well as past picturesque small towns and even into major cities. The Green
River is especially appealing for such a run, because it’s the longest Kentucky
river that flows completely inside the state. Obviously, you can’t follow it
all in one weekend. But a section-say from Green River Lake State Park to Mammoth
Cave National Park-makes a wonderful two- to three-day tour.
Most of our major rivers have dams on them, which
back up huge impoundments. Circumnavigating any of these large lakes is another
way of experiencing spring. Lake Cumberland is a natural for this, and is probably
the one most people would think of. But give thought to some of the smaller
impoundments, such as Rough River Lake or Grayson Lake.
You may find with these smaller lakes you’ll have
to plan your circle farther out from the lake to find interesting sites. For
instance, if you’re circling Grayson Lake, you might want to include Carter
Caves State Resort Park, or even stretch farther to include Greenbo Lake and
W-Hollow State Nature Preserve.
For us, spring means mountains. And the best hill-country
drive in Kentucky is found in the southeast, following the 125-mile swath of
the Cumberland Mountains and the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River. Starting
at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, we jump north to Pineville, then
follow US 119 eastward to Breaks Interstate Park.
Day Trips & Short
Where the giant buffalo roamed
One of the pre-eminent paleontology sites in the
south can be found in northern Kentucky. In fact, scientists were coming to
study the exposed bones and other fossils found here as early as the beginning
of the 19th century. But you don’t have to be an archeologist to appreciate
Big Bone Lick, where great herds of prehistoric mammals-including giant bison,
mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloths-came to lick the salt and got trapped
in the boggy marsh about 20,000 years ago.
The human history of the area is also important.
Mary Ingles, captured in West Virginia by Shawnee in the 1700s, escaped from
Big Bone Lick and made her way home on foot, traveling more than 700 miles.
Both the natural and human history is celebrated
at Big Bone Lick State Park. Several interpretive trails explain the area history,
with displays that include an Ice Age diorama showing exactly how the animals
came to be here. There’s also one of Kentucky’s buffalo herds maintained here,
where wild bison once roamed.
A small museum helps interpret the region. This time
of year it operates on a limited schedule, however, so it’s best to check with
the park before visiting.
For information, contact: Big Bone Lick State Park,
3380 Beaver Road, Union, KY 41091, (859) 384-3522.
"I wish there were some real trout streams
in Kentucky," our neighbor complained. "You know, far from the crowds."
He was shocked to find we have several such streams.
Ron had lived here for 12 years, and was unaware of our wilderness trout waters.
They’re out there, streams such as Parched Corn Creek, Dog Fork, Beaver Creek,
and War Fork.
Take Dog Fork, a tributary to Swift Camp Creek, in
the Clifty Wilderness. To reach it, you have to hike down Wildcat Trail almost
two miles. At one point there’s a change of elevation of 200 feet in only a
quarter of a mile. Wildcat intersects Swift Camp Creek Trail, which parallels
that stream. Turning upstream, you have a rough three-mile hike to the mouth
of Dog Fork. Once there, you’ll find a small stream only 1.7 miles long. But
it’s filled with wild brook trout.
Or consider Beaver Creek. To get there you have to
descend 400 feet on any of several trails, the easiest of which (Bowman Ridge)
is nearly a mile long. You then have to hike upstream to the junction of the
three streams that form Beaver Creek. Obviously, it won’t be crowded when you
Of all the wilderness trout streams, War Fork is
the most accessible, because you can drive to it. You’ll find it at the Turkey
Foot Recreation Area, in Jackson County. But once you’re there, it’s as much
as two miles of walking to the better fishing holes. War Fork is unique in that
it disappears underground, then re-emerges farther downstream, during the warm
months. Right now, depending on weather conditions, it’s likely to hold water-and
rainbow trout-its whole length. Even so, the better fishing is downstream, near
its juncture with Station Camp Creek.
Parched Corn Creek is another naturally reproducing
brook trout stream in Daniel Boone National Forest. It holds some of the larger
brookies found in the state. But getting there isn’t for the faint of heart,
as there is a 400-foot change in elevation from the ridgelines to the creek.
To reach it, you follow the aptly named Rough Trail from either Chimney Top
Road or KY 715.
Wilderness trout fishing isn’t something you do on
the spur of the moment. Because of the sometimes-difficult trails you have to
use, you mostly combine fishing with hiking and even backpacking. And you go
as light as possible. This means a short, breakdown fly rod and a small box
of assorted flies, or an ultralight spinning outfit and only a handful of lures.
Our preference is for the fly rod, for several reasons.
Most of these streams lack the deep pools and flats suitable for running hard
lures. Even in-line spinners are hard to use, because the water isn’t all that
deep in most places. For instance, Parched Corn, other than the occasional undercut
bank or plunge pool, averages only about calf-deep.
These streams tend to be overgrown as well. So a
short rod makes sense. We like #3 or #4 weight, 7- or 7-1/2-foot rods for these
creeks. And we overload them by one line size, because there is a lot of lob
casting in these tight quarters, using only 10 to 15 feet of line.
It’s not easy finding these streams. But the wilderness
experience is worth all the effort.