International Writers Magazine: USA Travel
After two lovely
dinners in the Cincinnati (OH) suburbs with family friends, my fiancée
and I left the highlands of southwestern Ohio for a two-day road
trip into Scenic Kentucky, another under-rated American state in
terms of beauty and history.
We crossed the Ohio River on a bleak day in the low 40s, then hurdled
south on Interstate 75 toward the southeastern part of the Commonwealth,
arguably its most agreeable portion. About two dozen miles before the
Tennessee state line, we turned onto old US Highway 25 and made a 40-mile
southeastern beeline for the incredible Cumberland Gap National Historic
When Maria and I parked
and walked about 200 yards to the zenith, all the day's driving was well
worth our time. Gorgeous, diverse views of three American states at sunset
quickly presented themselves.
is often the case in this part of the country, the sun made
about a 90 minute appearance at the end of the day, which was perfect
and welcome as Maria and I made a four mile twisty traipse up to
an area of the Park called "Pinnacle Overlook." As we
rose in a steep, circular pattern around the base of the mountain,
snow and deer could be spotted as the elevation increased dramatically
from roughly 1600 feet to just under 3000 feet.
First was Middlesboro, Kentucky, a town of just under 13,000 folks to
the northwest; then Historic Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, was dead center,
directly below us, nestled in charming hills, some 2,000 feet below. The
Cumberland River snaking its way southwest through undulating autumnal hills
toward Nashville and Central Tennessee was beyond that---with the Smokey
Mountains off to the due south about 80 or so miles. Third and lastly,
about eight steps to our left was a view of the extreme southwest
corner of Virginia and Powell's Valley with the southern terminus of the
Blue Ridge Mountains far in the distance.
Remember, Virginia's northern edge is just across the Potomac River
from Washington DC, but this might as well have been another world, as
we clearly sat in the Midwest or southern portion of the US, depending
upon whom you ask. In fact, Maria and I were standing more than 500
miles from Virginia Beach and any oceanfront land in the Commonwealth.
We also were a poke under 460 miles from the Nation's Capital. Virginia
is an enormous state with an equally enormous history. And to think that
for more than 250 of its 400 year existence (since the settlement of Jamestown),
present-day West Virginia, another of America's treasures, was
part of the same state. Well, it's enough to never make you step foot
in centers of debauchery and vapidity like Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Miami
Truly then, the Cumberland Gap was as good as anything I have
seen in my 48 states of American travels, especially with the sudden snow
at 3000 ft and the history:
Three hundreds thousand settlers crossed this brutal
and narrow gap---the chief passageway in the "middle" of
the immense Appalachians---between 1775-1810 on their way to Kentucky,
as well as the lands of the Midwest and Ohio Valley. Daniel Boone
had led a company of men to widen the path through the gap to make settlement
of Kentucky and Tennessee easier in 1775. The trail was again widened
in the 1790s to accommodate wagon traffic. Today 18,000 cars pass beneath
the site daily via the Tunnel built in 1996, and 1.2 million people visit
the park annually.
From the National Parks Site:
Cumberland Gap is a prominent V-shaped indentation
in the Cumberland Mountains. It is situated on the Kentucky-Virginia boundary
approximately one-quarter mile north of the point where Kentucky, Virginia,
and Tennessee meet. The base of the pass lies in a plane 300 feet above
the valley floor and 900 feet below the pinnacle on its north side. On
the south side, the mountain is only 600 feet above the saddle of the
Cap. Viewed from a distance, this picturesque natural feature probably
appears much the same as it did when seen by the first pioneers. However,
a closer look will reveal that the north side of the pass has been sliced
by a modern highway to a depth of approximately twenty feet.
Or, as wikipedia notes:
The gap was formed by an ancient creek, flowing
southward, which cut through the land being pushed up to form the mountains.
As the land rose even more, the creek reversed direction flowing into
the Cumberland River to the north. The gap was used by Native Americans
and migrating animal herds.
Like many parts of the American colonies and current eastern and Midwestern
towns, The Gap was named for Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
The explorer Thomas Walker, who has a historic site in the Park and throughout
the region, also gave the name to the Cumberland River in 1750, and
the name soon spread to many other features in the region, such as the
As the sun descended, we took a cursory visit to the Historic town of
Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on the other side of the pristine tunnel, and
were off for dinner and a 45 mile ride back on the state highway to our
hotel in Corbin, near Interstate 75, whereupon tomorrow's journey would
On the way, one of many snapshots of American presented itself near the
town of Pineville, where cars lined the highway for literally the better
part of two miles to enjoy a high school football game, likely a county
title tilt. Pure Americana on a dark, cold evening. Also, New Deal Era
Public Works Projects were abundantly evident from their time during FDR's
term in the 1930s Great Depression Era. Of course, this area was the heart
of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Tennessee Valley Authority,
which was headquartered in Knoxville (TN), just 60 miles southwest of
where we were.
In 1939, fire destroyed
the original eatery, which Sanders then quickly rebuilt as both a restaurant
and motel. For many years, the restaurant and motel served as a popular
stop for travelers driving along what was then the major north-south route
US 25. Business continued to boom until the completion of Interstate
bright air greeted us Saturday morning as we matriculated two miles
down the road for a touristy, yet historic, stop. The original "Colonel
Sanders Cafe," which is better known today as Kentucky Fried
Chicken, is still standing in Corbin. Well, essentially it is.
Some brief history shows that Harlin Sanders, who was born on Sept. 9,
1890 in Henryville, Indiana, lost his father at the age of six. After
completing the sixth grade, Sanders quit school and went to work at a
variety of jobs. However, it wasnt until 1930 that Sanders moved
to Corbin, where he would one day forge the culinary empire for which
he was famous.
Once in Corbin, Sanders opened this service station, where he operated
a lunchroom that consisted of one table, surrounded by six chairs. Business
expanded quickly, and by 1937, Sanders had built "Sanders' Cafe,"
which seated 142 customers. At this restaurant, it was soon discovered
that Sanders' fried chicken was the most popular selection on the menu.
In the late 30s, Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel by
the state's Governor, and was re-commissioned in 1950. Although he
had been a Kentucky Colonel for nearly two decades, it wasnt until
after 1950 that Sanders began to look the part we know today, growing
his trademark goatee and donning his white suit and string tie.
In 1964, Sanders sold his franchise business to former Kentucky Governor
John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack Massey for $2 million. Sanders was, of course, retained
on salary as spokesman for KFC.
A benevolent and pious fellow who reportedly contributed money to religious
charities, hospitals, medical research, education, the Boy Scouts, the
March of Dimes and many others, Colonels Harlin Sanders died on Dec. 16,
1980. His body then lay in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort
before burial in Louisvilles famous Cave Hill Cemetery where
more than 120,000 others ultimately rest. Included in that figure are more
than 200 Confederate Soldiers, Revolutionary War Hero George Rogers Clark,
governors, congressmen and 28 former Louisville mayors.
The game has been played
each year for more than a century, with the Volunteers of Tennessee holding
a sizable advantage, unlike in basketball where Kentucky has won 139 of
the 203 meetings. (I later learned, via a cell phone call from my father,
than Kentucky, who was having one of their rare good years in football,
almost beat UT, but Tennessee won 52-50 in four heartstopping overtimes,
for their 23rd consecutive win in the football series. Brutal.)
then we motored north through the clouds until we hit Kentucky's
largest city by population, Lexington, around 1pm. The town seemed
half-dead, which caused me to ponder and quickly realize that today
was the HUGE Kentucky-Tennessee football game. I should have know
this since Middlesboro and Corbin essentially sit on the Dividing
Line for Lexington and Knoxville, TN.
So with Lexington quaint but desolate, our Nissan headed west
about 78 miles to Kentucky's largest city in terms of sheer size and metro
The ride in between, which I had done back in December 2004 on a cross-country
sojourn, is wonderful. For most of it, verdant horse farms with white
picket fences stretching for hundreds of yards alongside the Interstate,
surround you. The hallmark of the drive, as I see it, comes as you approach
the fantastic town (and Capital City of the Commonwealth) of Frankfort
along the Kentucky River. For about two miles as you approach the river
that criss-crosses Frankfort a few miles north of I-64, limestone cut
outs from blasts of half-a-century ago, engulf you. Then you are swooped
briskly downhill until you cross the monstrous river. Following this,
the road pushes you up again, past more limestone, before leveling off
back into the low hills and farms on your way to "Loo'ville."
It's a rush. I don't expect those who enjoy Yoga in Boca or shopping in
Santa Monica to understand at all. Shame.
Frankfort, Louisville and Southern Indiana, which we ended our trip enjoying
as the day and holiday weekend ended, are discussed in my past
articles. But overall, this chilly and somewhat rushed adventure was well
worth the experience.
and S. Indiana)
Ari10.htm (Frankfort and
© Ari Kaufman December 2007
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