When I left Cades’ Cove with my sights set on the Hocking Hills of Ohio, my route took me right through Lexington Kentucky. Between my love of horses, and the fact that I have friends who live there, it was an irresistible stopover point. While researching campgrounds, Kentucky Horse Park seemed like the obvious choice. Unfortunately, because it was Memorial Day weekend the place was packed and my only option was in their overflow area, which… when it came to actual sites… seemed like a bit of a free-for-all to me. I woke up the first morning with a tent pitched right in front of my motorhome where there was no designated site. Since he was long gone by mid morning I didn’t say a word. From the looks of things I was lucky to have a site at all.
As easily as I have met and gotten to know fellow campers across the country, it’s almost unsettling when no one even looks up from their own activities or bothers to say hello while I’m out and about in a campground, but that was how my weekend started here. I have to admit I was starting to think it was going to be a very long weekend when a neighbor’s black lab came trotting into my site to greet the girls. This sealed introductions with the nice young family camped behind me. In three and a half days there though, I shared only brief conversation with one other neighbor, and absolutely none with any of my other fellow campers.
The highlight of my trip to Lexington was spending time with my friends Tim and Bev Walden. We met years ago when we were all sponsored speakers for Kodak, and frequently saw each other at conventions. Since I took a break from speaking a few years ago it had been awhile since we’d spent any time together. Tim and Bev are not only delightful people to know, they are an extremely talented Lexington area photography team as well. We had a wonderful evening together my second night in town, followed by an additional visit with Tim at their studio the following morning. Thanks again you two! It was wonderful to see you!!
Another highlight was meeting another fellow travel blogger for the first time face to face. Mike, of Mike’s Road Trip, has been a virtual friend for quite some time. We’ve even gone so far as to visit on the phone a time or two! (Almost unheard of in today’s virtual world! ) We discovered one day that we were both in Cade’s Cove at the same time and didn’t even know it! (That’s what happens when two bloggers go off-grid!) We realized a few days later that we were literally crossing paths, as I was arriving Lexington, Mike was traveling through. He swung into the Horse Park as I was backing into my site and we engaged in a 20 minute “live chat”! Sweet! Or should I say Tweet! (Only a few of you will get that humor, but it had to be done!)
Much of my time in the area was spent walking Jazzy and Sadie around the grounds of Kentucky Horse Park, which was easily accessed through a gate not too far from where I was camped. I found it a bit ironic that the first creature we came upon the afternoon we arrived at this well known horse park was a Great Blue Heron. This is a bird I photographed a lot, and grew to love in Florida. I don’t know why I’ve always thought of them as a deep south waterway bird, but I’ve been happily surprised to see them in several states throughout the country. It is my “sense” (as opposed to knowledge) that numerous species of birds, and other creatures for that matter, are making a comeback after serious decline in population. One educated guess is that much of this is due to regulations on the use of some pesticides.
One of the first things I sought out while walking through the park was the statue of Man o’ War, one of the most celebrated race horses of all time. One little tidbit that few know about me, short of my family and a few close friends, is that my childhood dream was to become a jockey. Only those who’ve met me in person would understand the humor there. I reached my height of 5’9″ by 8th grade, but it was in 5th grade that my heart was broken when I discovered that I was already too big to live THAT dream. Needless to say I am blessed to have found another passion(s) to pursue in my life. Man o’ War was the kind of horse I dreamed of riding when I was young. Born in 1917, he lived a legend’s life until he died in 1947 as the greatest race horse and leading money winner of his day. He is buried beneath this statue.
The park was filled with activity and events which were fun to observe, but made it difficult to get the kind of images I was hoping for while there. Most were fully occupied and surrounded by people, but we did find a few beautiful and friendly horses in fields along the way.
My next destination was Hocking Hills State Park. The afternoon I was researching this park as a possible destination my friend Tony Courter, after reading that Ohio was coming up on my route, chimed in suggesting the very same place. Tony has never lead me wrong with his recommendations, which sealed it for me. I have to admit that, even after reading about it, Hocking Hills was one of the most unexpected surprises I’ve come upon during my journey. I’ve always thought of Ohio as a “plains state”, and did not anticipate the varying elevation, the dense foliage and the sheer rock cliffs to quite this magnitude. [Note- the one drawback for me was being completely off-grid, with no cell service and therefore no wifi either. Connection continues to be a big obstacle since not only my writing and communications, but also my planning is completely reliant on it.]
After settling into our campsite I took the girls on the 15 minute drive into the nearest town for a quick “log on” and some groceries. On our way back we did two short hikes, first to Lower Cedar Falls, and then to Ash Cave.
The following morning we headed out early to enjoy the most popular destination in the park, Old Man’s Cave, before the masses rolled out of their beds/sleeping bags. The story goes that this place got it’s name because a 19th century hermit made the cave his home. Read more about that at the link provided! If the story is true, I hope the old man found a sense of peace here. I surely did!
After our hike at Old Man’s Cave we hopped in the car and drove up the road to hike at Conkles Hollow. After parking, filling water bottles, reorganizing my gear (which becomes a bit disheveled as I’m swapping out lenses and such) and leashing up the girls, we walked down the road to the trailhead only to find a sign stating that dogs were not allowed on the trails. Conkles Hollow is a State Nature Preserve, as opposed to part of the State Park, and I had not seen their literature so was completely unaware.
Thinking that fate may have been in play, I took the girls back to the motorhome, grabbed my laptop and notepads, and headed back into town in search of a restaurant with free wifi. Over a bowl of soup I worked much of the afternoon away… bill paying, responding to the pile up of “marked unread” email, researching, making route and camping plans, and looking for a convenient place near my route to take my motorhome for some tech work on a slide-out (which, at writing weeks later, is STILL not fixed. I’ll refrain from that frustrating story.)
After stopping to walk the dogs in the campground I headed back out to Conkles Hollow. First I set out on the 3 miles long Rim Trail which almost completely encircles the gorge from nearly 200 feet above. Much of this trail is only steps away from the edge of the rim, so I was extremely glad that I did not have Jazzy and Sadie along with me! I would not even take a small child on this trail, and for that matter I would not take ANY child without some form of harness system. This is not a hike for anyone who is uncomfortable with heights, but for me it was a fun hike with a breathtaking view.
The gorge floor on the other hand, is an easy one mile walk, and wheelchair accessible all the way to the end. Although I encountered 6 or 7 other people while hiking these two trails, I hiked completely on my own. I wish I knew how to adequately describe my impression of this gorge. It was dense with foliage, most prominently trees and large fern, with plenty of moss and lichen growing on the trees and rocks. The entire trail meandered beside, and at times across, a creek that was flowing with the run-off from recent hard rains. On both sides of the trail the hills, created by years of rock giving way from the walls above, jutted quickly to the sheer walls that form the gorge. The impression on me was prehistoric… I half expected to see dinosaur darting amongst the foliage, or flying between me and the treetops. It didn’t feel creepy or frightening to me at all, so although some of the dinosaur I envisioned were big enough to shake the earth, none of them were menacing in the least!
One other thing I noticed was the extreme change in temperature between the trail above (even in the shade) and the shaded gorge trail below. If I had to guess I’d say the difference was at least 20 degrees. This is a great trail and I love that it can be enjoyed by everyone!
I finished my hikes at Conkles Hollow with enough time to spare for a the Rock House hike a bit farther up the road. The trail leading to the rock cave was slightly less dense with foliage than some of the others, with rock walls leading the way. The cave itself is very spacious, with a couple of easily accessed “doorways” to climb through. The other openings provided sheer drop, watch that first step, type views of the surrounding cliff sides. Understandably the parents of several small children, who were testing the unusual acoustics with deafening screams, were busily herding their little flocks away from those openings.
Before heading out to Pennsylvania the following morning I took Jazzy and Sadie on one more hike back out Old Man’s Cave trail, this time taking in Lower Falls as well.
And is if to wish us farewell, the sun shone through the trees in a magical way as we finished our last hike in Hocking Hills.
Again, this place came as a bit of a surprise for me. The state park and campground were well maintained, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. My only nearby neighbors were a very nice couple and their cutie-pie granddaughter, Evelyn.
Next up is Pennsylvania, and my first live encounter with yet another friend and fellow travel blogger!
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