Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia

My friend and photographer Jim Heemstra and I added three more states to our 50-state project last week: Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia. (Now only 37 more states to go.)

I must say that traveling to so many states in such a short time has really opened my eyes to the fact that this is a really amazing, geographically diverse, and beautiful country. Hawaii was stunning, yes, but in my opinion it has nothing over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, or the horse farms of central Kentucky – all areas we visited last week.

We headed out the afternoon of May 1. We stopped in Iowa City at the New Pioneer Co-op for yummy vegan salads (and cheese for Jim) to eat later that night. Our first overnight stop was in Peoria, Ill. We sat by the riverfront (surrounded by the most goose poop I’ve ever seen in my entire life), ate our picnic dinner. and watched the sun set over the bridge.

The next day we did nothing but drive. Our day ended in Georgetown, Ky., our home for the next two days. It was a hot day – the temperature gauge read 90 by the afternoon – and the sun had been beating up on us through the windshield. So although we had good intentions of exploring Georgetown on foot or driving to other nearby towns to explore, we ended up at the well-air-conditioned Galvin’s restaurant on Main Street, where the mostly local crowd was gearing up for the Kentucky Derby.

Like any good beer connoisseurs, we wanted to try the local brews. Luckily, Galvin’s had several on tap, so we opted for a taster tray to start with. The only two I remember were Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale – both brewed by a company called Alltech’s Lexington Brewing Company. I expected to dislike the Bourbon Barrel Ale, but it was surprisingly smooth and tasty. But the Kentucky Ale won out. It’s a beer I’d definitely buy again.

The next morning we had to start working. We drove a short, scenic distance to Frankfort, Ky., stopping along the way to photograph horses in fields. Frankfort, a rather small city, is the capital of Kentucky and home to two capitol buildings – the old one built in 1830 and the “new” capitol built in 1910. Apparently there was a quarrel among Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort over which city should be Kentucky’s capital. I’m not sure how Frankfort was ultimately chosen, but it’s a pretty town that can be seen in its entirety from the Frankfort Cemetery built on a bluff (and – a bonus! — containing the grave of Daniel Boone.)

We spent time with our Iowa State alumna in Frankfort, and she also took us to Lexington to the Keeneland horse-racing track and to the Four Roses bourbon distillery. I was not aware that bourbon cannot be called bourbon unless it’s made in Kentucky (kind of like Champagne, I guess). Julie and I did a bourbon tasting but I didn’t like the taste any better surrounded by Kentucky bluegrass than I have anywhere else. I am just not a fan of bourbon.

Later that day, Jim and I had a little bit of time to explore the horse farms near Lexington, and we met with an equine veterinarian who has a horse farm of his own. I like to look at horses from a distance but, as it turns out, I’m not so great with them up close. It’s a long story.

We left Kentucky bright and early the next morning and took a long and winding journey to Boone, N.C., where we met another alum. He took us for a hike at the Julian Price Memorial Park, a short drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had on the wrong shoes and didn’t have a hiking stick, so when we came to a creek way too wide to jump over, I balked. I didn’t want to have wet shoes and didn’t want to fall in and I definitely didn’t want to walk across the log as Joe suggested. So he found a big rock and put it in the middle of the creek and helped me cross. Jim thought it was very funny and took lots of pictures. But I will just say I did NOT fall in.

Boone is a fun college town, home of Appalachian State University. There’s a funky mix of people, so there’s a funky mix of shops, bars, and restaurants. Joe took us to Murphy’s Pub for food and beer.

The area around Boone is just overflowing with opportunity for outdoor adventure. Besides Julian Price and the really beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s Hebron Falls, Linville Falls, and lots of other places, none of which we had time to explore because we had to get to Virginia.

Our day traveling from Boone to Staunton, Va., was as frustrating as it was scenic. We started out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, planning to take it a few miles and then hook up with Interstate 77 so we could make better time the rest of the way. Unfortunately, about halfway up the Parkway section we encountered a detour that took us (very slowly) in the wrong direction. We literally spent hours going nowhere. It was a pretty road but very curvy, slow, and mountainous. I was glad I bought Dramamine the night before in a Boone drug store.

We finally made it to Staunton (in the rain) and walked downtown (in the rain) and found – hallelujah! – a vegan-friendly restaurant with a kick-ass wine list.

Staunton (pronounced “Stanton”) is a really cool town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. The historic downtown, honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is famous for its arts scene and restaurants. I wish I could show you more pictures of it, but we were there for a very short time. In the rain.

After our final alumni story assignment — in rural Verona not far from Staunton, where we were treated to a home-cooked breakfast and got to play with chickens – we took the most direct route we could find to Shenandoah National Park.

My previous experience with this national park was in 2003 when Dave and the girls and I went there for a family vacation. I was really gung-ho about hiking back then and wanted desperately to hike the Appalachian Trail. I also wanted to experience the beauty of Shenandoah. Unfortunately on that trip it rained every day and there was so much fog in the park that Skyline Drive and its famous overlooks were nothing but white.

I had high hopes for this visit, but pulling in to the park (after a sunny drive there) we were greeted by…..FOG. Fog on the roads, fog on the hiking trails, fog in the picnic area (where we ate peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips and grumbled about the fog). Fog at Skyland Resort.

Skyland is where my family stayed in 2003, and that’s where Jim and I stayed this time, too. I like the rustic feel of the place (my kids think “rustic” is just another word for “crappy”) and the big ol’ dining room where the windows overlook the mountains. At least, I assume the windows overlook the mountains – it’s pretty hard to tell when there’s that much fog.

After we checked in to Skyland and hauled our bags up the metal stairs, we drove south on Skyline Drive to the Big Meadows area, hoping we’d eventually run out of fog. There were a few moments of sunshine and a few peeks on the overlooks, but just when we thought the fog was lifting, there it would be: everywhere. We hiked a loop trail and parts of a couple of other trails and called it a day.

The next morning was more of the same so we headed home. After hours and hours and HOURS of mountain driving, it felt wonderful to hit Interstate 80 and get back to Iowa.


1 comment so far

  1. Janet Haight on

    Beautiful areas – we just returned from a family reunion in Flat Rock, NC and it only rained the last day. Janet Haight

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