Louisville downtown was our destination for today despite the fact that I hate driving into cities because they have dreadful traffic, bizarre and arcane traffic rules inconsistent with those in other cities, an abundance of insane motorists and traffic-clogging construction. Louisville is no exception.
We headed south from our RV park in Clarksville in Indiana. There were many attempts to get us on I-65 which has a toll bridge crossing the Ohio River. It costs a bit over $2 if you are fortunate enough to have a transponder but costs twice as much if you pay by mail. There is no mechanism to pay in cash approaching the bridge. Since we don’t have a Louisville Bridge transponder, the local authorities will send a bill to my house which I will not receive since I am not there. I anticipate a warrant will follow. I hope I don’t go to jail for scheme to deprive the city of Louisville out of a $4 bridge toll.
We took an adjacent bridge today that does not have a toll. Instead, the local bridge authority is painting the iron components of the free bridge and they have winnowed the heavy traffic down to one lane each way. Traffic going north over the bridge is an absolute nightmare that snarls traffic all the way back into downtown Louisville.
Despite the traffic, Louisville has some magnificent building architecture of commercial, residential and municipal facilities. They have many statues of horses because L’ville is home to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Louisville Downs is an enormous complex, unlike the spartan Del Mar Racetrack near my home in San Diego. I think the Del Mar track and the entire adjacent Southern California Exposition fairgrounds would fit inside the buildings at Churchill Downs.
Intermingled with the fabulous homes and snazzy horse racing tracks are neighborhoods that look pretty nasty with lots of sullen folks sitting on their porches ogling the passing cars. We should not be amazed – cities are miserable places but the jobs there sure pay better than, say, West Virginia.
We got some pictures crossing the river and in the city today. Click the asterisk *
Today was another travel day. We hitched the fifth wheel to the truck and pulled out of Fort Boonesboro State Park and headed a few miles to I-75. We took I-75 through Lexington and then got back on I-64 in our westward quest. Usually we try to stay off the interstates but Kentucky is so gorgeous that they could not uglify it by running a freeway through it. The scenery was stunning – gorgeous horse ranches with emerald pastures. It appears that horses live better here than almost everybody in West Virginia.
We continued on to Louisville where we turned across the Ohio River into Indiana. Only about 4 exits later, we pulled off near the town of Clarksville and into the Add-More RV Park. It is sort of a big gravel parking lot and the spaces are small but they have full hookups, our satellite dish works here and they have wifi. We anticipate dropping back into Louisville tomorrow to take a look around.
Today we took a spin into a couple Kentucky cities with a ton of history behind them. Our first destination was Winchester, not far from our campsite at Fort Boonesboro State Park. On the way out of the park this morning, we tried to see the old Boonesboro fort from the 1700’s but all we found was a small stone foundation about 50 feet on a side. It was not real thrilling.
We headed down the highway to Winchester after this tremendous nothing. Winchester is a gorgeous city with stunning old buildings, most of them made from brick although there are some fabulous wood structures, too. We puttered around and fouled up traffic while gawking at the beautiful buildings. However, we soon figured we didn’t want to get pulled over for impeding traffic so we split and headed to Lexington, about 20 miles west.
Lexington is absolutely magnificent. The traffic lights are irritating but the sections we saw were stunning. Henry Clay, Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams and long term Kentucky statesman, had a really nice place in a neighborhood of staggeringly ornate and unique residences. After cruising Henry’s neighborhood, we drove downtown and, like an idiot, I turned into Lexington’s enormous downtown graveyard. We became lost in this massive city of the dead but not before spotting Henry Clay’s family plot and crypt. He must have been a hell of a guy because his crypt is the biggest in the graveyard and it has a big column with a marble statue of Henry at the top. Today he had a very chubby hawk perched on top of his head.
We also drove by Mary Todd Lincoln’s house. She was Abraham Lincoln’s absolutely bonkers wife who really went gunnybag after Booth shot Lincoln behind the ear. There is an amazing number of other famous folks both in the past and present that call Lexington their home but I can’t remember any of them because I am old. We made one more pass through the astounding downtown area before getting back on a skinny back road toward our campground. The skinny back roads are lined with rock walls made from limestone slabs cleared from the crop lands. Somebody did a ton of work because there are a lot of rocks involved in these roadside walls.
Surprisingly, on the way home we found another access to Fort Boonesboro State Park and drove right up in front of Daniel Boone’s old Boonesboro stockade. It is an amply sized enclosure that looks like it would be nasty to attack. Probably burn okay if you could get the big palisade logs to catch fire but you would have to get in close and Kentuckians were good shots.
We took some photos. To see them, click the asterisk *
We intended to go out and fool around today but instead we drove into Lexington and shopped at Costco, a liquor store attached to the side of Costco and a Trader Joe’s. They have Kirkland Irish Cream in the liquor store next to Costco and their liquor prices were downright wonderful compared with the states east of us. It took a while to spend as much money as we did so we drove right home to Boonesboro State Park after the shopping. The back roads here might be even skinnier than those in WV but the paving is much better.
Today was a travel day. We left Beech Fork State Park and crept up the skinny rural West Virginia roads necessary to get us back on I-64 west. Once on the interstate, we again started the up-and-down and back-and-forth that is West Virginia roads. In only about 15 freeway miles we crossed into Kentucky and not too much further down the road the freeway became downright easy to drive with an enormous vehicle, like ours. The speed limit even went up to 70.
West Virginia is a state with magnificent scenery. There are extensive forests, beautiful stream and river valleys, abundant wildlife, flowers along the roads, some very nice folks and verdant state parks. Unfortunately, the state is riddled with Dogpatch hamlets where atrocious housing is being currently utilized by what appear to be miserable folks. Dentistry seems to be a lost art here. There is scant work available or the population is unsuitable for simple work because it looks like everybody is unemployed. The schools look like fenced juvenile prisons. Only church buildings look inhabitable and they are closed and locked six and a half days a week. There are old cars and lumps of metal that used to be old cars widely distributed in yards, fields and along the roads. More than half the buildings in the bigger towns are shuttered and either decaying or already collapsed. Unsanitary and possibly toxic formerly operating industrial sites are intermingled with residential neighborhoods. The roads are dreadful. The pharmacies are built like blockhouses. There is way too much Oxycontin, hydrocodone, Fentanyl and death. In just the towns of Kermit, Mt.Gay and Williamson, 20 million doses of opiates were prescribed for less than 3000 people in 5 years. More than 6000 doses of opiates per person in 60 months or 1200 doses per year, per person, seems a bit high. Overdose is a leading cause of death since there isn’t much else to do when you are destitute, filthy, ignorant, mastication-challenged and proud of it. It is hard to ignore the crushing poverty, the desperate longing for coal mining to return, the trapped people unable to finance escape from this pretty hell.
It is a strange place for me. It seems that properly directed investment in this gorgeous place could yield benefits for some of the people but evidence of poorly engineered and, in hindsight, hysterically inappropriate improvements are rampant statewide. Is it corruption or do the citizens merely not give a damn? Why can’t these hayseeds pull their heads out of the fire and progress? No wonder they vote for Trump; they are desperate for somebody to come and save their dumb asses, like a big, orange, fat messiah. It is depressing. I have never been anywhere like WV before and it is unlikely I will return. I think living in rural Mexico is preferable to living in West Virginia.
Fortunately, today we escaped WV and crossed into Kentucky, finally pulling off the interstate near Lexington where we vectored southwest to Boonesboro State Park. It is quite nice. They even have wifi – in a state park. We anticipate going over to the fort and larnin’ all ’tis tuh know about Dan’l Boone, mebee tomorrow. That’s if we don’t go grocery shopping which will work here because they have Trader Joe’s and Costco and other supermarkets in Kentucky, unlike West Virginia.
The birds were all hanging out near our trailer in Beech Fork State Park this morning. We spotted eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, flocks of barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, starlings and ducks and chubby Canadian geese swimming by in the lake adjacent to our spot. We were bad and put a feeder out in a state park and the birds flock to it.
We headed into nearby Barbourville to eat breakfast at a Waffle House where we were served the thinnest sirloin steaks we have ever seen. We wondered how they got them so slim without having holes. Their eggs and hash browns were okay, though. From this upscale eatery, we drove over to the Ohio River and crossed north into Ohio. It looks about the same as it does in WV except the timber has been harvested and houses look much better. We noted some have foundations.
We crossed back into West Virginia at Huntington, a few miles west. Huntington is another WV city with a horrible slum section and some houses out of the inner city that appear to be slums for white, dentition-challenged rednecks. We have enjoyed the natural world and gorgeous state parks here in West Virginia but anyplace these hayseeds have set down their roots it looks like shit. We will be happy to depart tomorrow.
See today’s pix if you are tempted. Click the asterisk *
Today we elected to go investigate a place called Griffithsville. Since our name is Griffith, we figured it might be wonderful, just like some of my relatives. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Some of the relatives are okee-dokee but Griffithsville is a terrible butthole.
This part of West Virginia has beautiful, rugged geography, nice creeks and streams, fabulous vegetation and foliage and diverse wildlife but, everywhere the people have decided to build houses or anything else, it looks like hell. There are a few really nice places but the preponderance of structures are either abandoned or look like they should be. People are living, along with all their valuable stuff, in terrible little hovels that would not be considered as viable occupancies in any other state. None of the houses looked plumb, level or square. About a third of the windows and doors are pieces of plywood nailed over openings in the walls. Many dead cars are strewn about their yards and pastures. Some of the cars have been overwhelmed by kudzu so they now look like green lumps with a bit of contrasting paint visible amidst the vegetation. No wonder these folks voted for Trump and his promises to bring back the coal industry despite nobody using coal for fuel anymore. These folks look desperate.
There is an abundant population staying in these structures or former structures that perch on their front porch all day, most of them smoking cigarettes. We saw very few with a full complement of teeth. They look very sullen and surly. All the former businesses, except gas stations and small stores, are shuttered. The economy and life has been hard on these people and they appear a little worse for wear. The roads are terrible; today it took us 6 hours to drive less than 80 miles and we kept moving about as fast as was safe.
However, the state has some really pretty parks. This evening we had some cedar waxwings fooling around near our fifth wheel. They are very handsome birds.
We even got a picture of one. Click the asterisk *
Today was a travel day. We managed to get our trailer out of the mudhole we were camped in at the Rifrafters RV Park in Fayetteville. The owners were very nice folks and told me not to worry about tearing up the ground as we pulled through the thick, glutinous slop remaining from the last two days of thunderstorms.
We turned south on WV-19, a relatively good road compared with smaller West Virginia highways but not up to par with other states that have smooth, planar paving. I tried my best to avoid the really cavernous potholes but was unable to miss all of them. A couple times I thought our trailer was going to change lanes without bothering to take the truck along with it. We continued along this lumpy road until we hit I-64 where we turned northwest toward Charleston, the state capital. I-64 is a toll road in this location but it is plainly evident that the state does not use the funds it collects on road maintenance. Where there are not long, single-lane sections allegedly installed for construction in progress, the road surfaces are lousy and the highway is very serpentine. Driving straight ahead is almost unnecessary in this state.
We eventually emerged from a long, steep decline and arrived in Charleston. They have a gorgeous capital building visible from the freeway but we were preoccupied with a terrible wreck on the southbound side of I-64. Traffic going the other way was stopped in a long queue with many grumpy motorists. We also noted there is a big, steamy power plant and a nuclear reactor right close so everyone can enjoy their benefits as long as they don’t breathe or go outside.
About 30 miles further on I-64 we made it to Barbourville where we turned off into Beech Fork State Park. It has full hookups, sketchy wifi and is quite beautiful. There are lots of colorful birds here although we noted the female cardinals seem to be molting and currently look like they got the red and gray ugly disease. The facility has pull-through sites and good roads. West Virginia has gorgeous state parks although the preponderance of buildings we have seen in this state appear to be condemnible. From our furthest eastern extent of our trip this year, in Delaware a few weeks ago, we have now made it back west as far as the Ohio River which separates us from Ohio just a couple miles north of our camp spot.
See the pictures. Click the asterisk *
We started out the day doing our mundane and suffocatingly boring laundry but, due to large washing machines in the Oak Hill laundromat nearby, we finished in a jiffy and had some spare time to fart around. We headed fro the New River Gorge National River Park just north of Fayetteville.
The New River Gorge is a tremendous tear in the earth. Not surprisingly, the New River runs through the bottom of it. Spanning the canyon from edge to edge is the New River Bridge, the longest single-arch bridge in the western hemisphere. We pulled in at the visitor center and overlook complex but found the view from the overlook is partially obscured by jungle-like vegetation happily growing along the edge. Peggy and I formulated a plan to get to better views so we went searching for some roads that would take us down to the bottom of the gorge and we could look up to see the bridge.
The first efforts were for naught with several failures of navigation, of which I was in charge. Nevertheless, through plain stupid pigheadedness and blunt stubbornness, we finally found a little skinny road to the bottom. We had to back up a few times to negotiate some of the switchback turns but we continued, descending through the temperate jungle until we got to the river. It is a spectacular gorge with massive cliffs of sedimentary rock, gentle waterfalls and vegetation on a mission to cover the earth with green. At the bottom, we found a bridge not visible from the canyon rim hundreds of feet above and ascended back up the other side of the gorge. Peggy isn’t real skookum on abrupt, sure-death dropoffs into a river so she drove at a very leisurely speed and I got to scope out everything. It was wonderful. It was also raining.
Eventually we drove up to the edge of the canyon were we noticed quite a few signs that stated “PCB’s Kills Communities” although I believe they should have run apostrophe check. We continued on into Fayetteville which is a nice little city with some very handsome architecture. It has a nice courtroom building in the middle of the square with an adjacent jail that looks positively medieval. I’m glad I am old and the police ignore me.
We got some photos. To see ’em, click the asterisk *
Exploration was our plan for today. We jumped into the truck and initially headed northeast to Lake Summerville, a big gorgeous body of water with dramatic cliffs jutting up from the waterline. Once at the lake, we turned east on WV-39 and plunged into the MonongahelaNational Forest. The road is quite serpentine and climbs over numerous ridges, some over 3,000 feet. It also offers spectacular scenery as it passes through forests, canyons, hollows and a few tiny communities. There are lots of roadside flowers in bloom. The little communities have some funny names like Droop and Smoot. Again, it looks like these places were nice when coal was king but now they are sparsely populated and sort of rotting away. Those folks lucky enough to have large pastures at the bottoms of some of the canyons have beautiful places with square miles of bright green pastures and substantial livestock herds. Those living in the tiny ravines above them are mostly living in substandard housing but they do get to pee into the streams.
Near the town of Mill Point, we turned south on WV-219. We soon came across the childhood home of Pearl S. Buck out in the middle of a fine pasture. After some snooping around there, we continued south on WV-219 headed for White Sulphur Springs, home of the Greenbrier Resort. The Greenbrier is a venerable old hotel that is gigantic in stature. It offers resort vacations to folks who never want to leave the resort other than to golf on their nearby course. It is allegedly quite elegant but we didn’t walk around inside because mere tourist parking is almost in the next state. Back in the Eisenhower administration, they made a tremendous bomb shelter beneath the hotel with the intent of putting all the plainly important government officials safely underground while us ordinary peons could remain outdoors to enjoy the benefits of their failed policies and subsequent nuclear annihilation. It was only when they realized the travel time from D.C. to the Greenbrier exceeded the flight time of the incoming Russian ICBMs and all would be cooked except those actually at the hotel when the sirens started.
In White Sulphur Springs we were just across the border from Virginia but we needed to go west so we got on old US-60 which is another very scenic road but it is very turn happy and there are almost no sections where one would actually go straight ahead. Maximum speed for first timers like us was about 35 miles per hour and there were long, serpentine, difficult sections with much lower speeds. We ultimately made it home late in the day having traveled only about 140 miles but being stoked on the fantastic scenery for about 7 hours.
We got a few pictures. Click the asterisk to see them *