Natural Arch

Not Exactly as Planned: Memorial Day Weekend in Kentucky

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Sometimes it’s good to get away for awhile. To see something new. To go somewhere you’ve never been before. That’s why Clarissa and I decided to spend Memorial Day weekend camping with a friend in Kentucky. We planned an awesome extended weekend at Lake Cumberland, and as the trip drew nearer we found ourselves growing more and more excited.

Remember Rule #10? Remember how things never go exactly as planned? Well that described this trip perfectly. Plans didn’t work out, mistakes were made, items were forgotten, equipment malfunctioned, and some stuff just didn’t go right.

Yet amidst all the stuff not working out as planned, we had a great time. We accepted Rule #10, made do with what we had, improvised, and laughed off whatever fell apart. I’m probably not supposed to give away the moral of the story this early, and I hope you keep reading, but the number one takeaway of this post is that you have to let stuff go, do the best you can with what you’ve got, and decide to have a great time.

The first bit that didn’t work out hit before we were even on the road; our friend who planned to meet us there wouldn’t be able to make it due to injury. We were disappointed but understanding, these things happen, after all. We decided to go ahead and make the trip. We had already planned it and knew that trying to find a spot closer to home on a holiday weekend would be almost impossible.

The day before our departure was my last day of work, and Clarissa had to work on Friday until noon, so I spent the morning getting everything ready to go. When she got home from work, we finished the last of the loading, and hit the road. Our nine hour journey had begun.

By the time I turned into the Lake Cumberland State Resort Park, my cheerfulness had dwindled. I was tired, hungry, and frustrated with the truck behind me that felt the need to ride my bumper so that his headlights blinded me. I pulled off and let him pass, then continued the three mile drive to the camping area; that road was all twists and turns, one right after another, but we finally made it. We got checked in, bought some firewood, and started to set up camp. Once we had the tent up, I started scouting for tinder and kindling to get our fire started.

Everything was wet. I don’t know if it had recently rained, but there wasn’t a single dry piece of wood in the area. Even the firewood that we bought was damp.

“That’s okay,” I thought, “this is why I bring firestarters.” Which is true. I had a ziplock bag full of wood shavings and dryer lint in our supplies. Surely I could generate enough heat to dry our some of the smaller kindling and get a small fire going.

But I couldn’t. I very patiently worked at it for about thirty minutes. Then my patience abandoned me and I attacked the fire like a madman. I used up almost all of my fire starters, I burnt up hand sanitizer, I did everything I could to breathe life into that fire, and simply could not make it happen.

Camp Fire

By that point I was a bit maniacal. Nearly insane. My wife calmed me down and I realized that any chance I had at lighting the fire had flown out the metaphorical window the moment I grew impatient and lost my temper. So I called it quits for the night. There would be no roasted hot dogs for dinner that night. Luckily we had packed some cold cuts, so we could just make some sandwiches.

Except the turkey was nowhere to be found. Remember how I packed everything up that morning? As it turned out, I packed everything but sliced turkey, which was still chilling on a shelf in the refrigerator back home.

Dinner was trail mix, pork jerky, and a couple of shandies. Not the meal we had wanted, but it was okay. We just needed some food in our bellies before bed. Once we had eaten our fill, we got cleaned up, loaded all the food and garbage into the Sportage (campsite rules on account of bears in the area), and drifted off to sleep.

We awoke to a cool but beautiful morning. I tried to get the fire started again to make coffee and some breakfast, but after fifteen minutes I threw in the towel. Dampness pervaded the wood, and I didn’t feel like fighting it anymore. So we climbed back into the Kia and drove into Jamestown, KY in search of breakfast, which we found at the Hillbilly Cafe.

Breakfast at the Hillbilly Cafe.
Breakfast at the Hillbilly Cafe.

After eating our fill of delicious breakfast foods and getting properly caffeinated, we drove back to camp to prepare for our day of hiking. I felt rejuvenated now. I stopped feeling bad about forgetting to pack some of our food. I let go of the negativity that came with my inability to start our fire, as well as my embarrassment for getting angry about it. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time. The twists, turns, and curves that had been so frustrating the previous night seemed beautiful that morning. I was happy to be driving them while Clarissa and I cracked jokes. My life is good, even when things don’t go perfectly.

The view of Lake Cumberland
The view of Lake Cumberland from the road heading into the park. Things sure look different in daylight.

After loading up our daypacks, we hit the road yet again. We planned to spend the day hiking in the Daniel Boone National Forest, a place you should definitely visit if you’re ever in Kentucky. We got ourselves warmed up by hiking the relatively easy, but completely worthwhile Panoramic View Trail #528.

Only a mile to the end and back, #528 is a pretty easy hike, but the views are incredible!

Trail 528
Like I said, incredible views.
Incredible views
And they keep getting better…
Incredible view from the trail
Am I right?

After that little warm up hike, we were ready to take on Natural Arch Trail Loop, from which we could hop onto the Buffalo Canyon trail, where we planned to spend the majority of the day. We parked at the Natural Arch Scenic area; there is a fee to park here, but it’s only $3.00 for a day pass. Trust me, it’s money well spent.

Daniel Boone National Forest

The Natural Arch is a beautiful archway that towers above the surrounding forest. The opening reaches 50 feet in height and spans nearly 100 feet across. Erosion from water, wind, and ice carved the arch out of ancient sandstone, leaving the hard caprock arch stretching high across the forest floor. It’s an amazing example of what nature can do given enough time.

Natural Arch in the Daniel Boone National Forest
The Natural Arch. The world is just awesome.

Just a few minutes after our arrival at the overlook the battery in our new Nikon D3300 DSLR went kaput. I can’t blame the camera; I have a bad habit of leaving it turned on when I put it away, so it’s no wonder the battery life dwindled so quickly. We hated walking back to the car to get the spare battery, but of course I hadn’t brought it with us. So after a short hike back to the Kia and with a second battery in place, we returned to the overlook. We snapped some photos, and took some time to just enjoy the view. It’s truly a beautiful place.

Closer view of the Natural Arch
Here it is with a little more zoom. It really is amazing what we find in this world of ours.

Eager to investigate the arch from below, we set out on the trail and crossed paths with a couple coming back, one of the very few times we would see other people on the trail that day. “It’s incredibly muddy,” they warned us. “It’s almost impossible to get through in some spots.” We thanked them for the warning and carried on. We didn’t disregard their words, but did notice that while the couple were sweaty, they were pretty mud-free. I worried little about getting dirty, and though Clarissa isn’t a fan of getting muddy, I can usually get her through it without too much trouble. So onward we went. After all, how muddy could it get? (Spoiler alert; it got very muddy.)

The temperature dropped a little once we descended under the forest canopy, which we did not take for granted. It had been quite warm in the sun, and the shady trail provided relief from the heat. Before long, the trail turned and we stepped through the trees and could see the Natural Arch reaching into the sky before us. Approaching from below filled us with awe. What an amazing structure, crafted by nature over centuries, at which we found ourselves gazing upward; it’s easy to understand why the Cherokee considered this place sacred.

A view from beneath the Natural Arch
A view from underneath. The pictures hardly do the structure justice

The awe was temporarily shattered as Clarissa tried to take photos with the camera, only to discover that it had stopped functioning. I tinkered with it, played with it, and tried to reset it, all to no avail. Of course, this frustrated us. All of our previous testing and experimenting with the camera had ended with great results. Up until this point, it had worked well, taken great photos despite our limited expertise, and had given us no problems. Now, on its first real field test, it had failed just a mile or so out. That’s never going to induce a happy response.

But what can you do? We sucked it up, packed the camera, accepted that we’d have to carry a few pounds of dead weight on the rest of the trail, and carried on.

NOTE: We have since discovered that the lens was faulty, but the camera is awesome.Since replacing the lens, we’ve had no problems with the camera. We’ve used and abused it, taken countless photos and tons of video and despite the early setback with it in the Daniel Boone National Forest, I’ve found the Nikon D3300 to be a reliable camera for our needs. If you’re in the market for an entry level DSLR, I give this one two thumbs up.

You can’t let a little thing like equipment malfunction keep you down, especially in a place as beautiful as the Natural Arch.

Me below the Natural Arch
I couldnt be in a bad mood here if I tried!

The bad feelings dissipated quickly, and amazement returned. As we made our way along the trail passing underneath the arch, we took note of this sign…

Heritage sign
This is legit.

I’ve picked up a couple degrees in history, and Clarissa and I both have degrees in historical administration (think public history and museum studies). We’ve worked at museums, archives, and historic sites. We know the importance of any fossils, artifacts, or remains that could be found here. Native people used this area as hunting grounds and a campsite for thousands of years, so there’s a lot of history underneath this stone arch. Leave it there.

Walking beneath the Arch.
Walking beneath the Arch.

Don’t jump the fence either. It’s there for a reason, and that rule does apply to all of us. It’s protecting the site for further study and future generations. Respect this place, and treat it well. Trust me, you’ll still see plenty of amazing things without violating the the Antiquities Act of 1906 or the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. Be cool.

Continuing onward from beneath the Arch.
Continuing onward from beneath the Arch.

We pressed on, listening to the sound of water dripping down from above. The air was still but cool in the shadow of the arch, and the rich scent of slowly decaying leaves. The combination of the sights, sounds, smells, and, well, all sensory perception gave this spot an otherworldly feel. I suppose that’s part of what exploring new places is all about. Finding a bit of magic in the world.

The Natural Arch Loop snakes around (as loops do) and we hiked on into the woods on the Buffalo Trace Trail. A couple miles down the way we found a good play to rest, have a snack, and catch our breath. When we find ourselves sitting in the midst of interesting rock formations and stone faces, however, I have trouble not exploring a little bit.

Exploring and opening in a rock formation
The stone wall opens up to the sky; an old sinkhole, maybe? Wouldn’t you want to explore a little?
Exploring and opening in a rock formation
We found an opening in the stone wall that led back into a long narrow chamber.
Exploring and opening in a rock formation
This is about as far as it goes. I could go downward a bit, before terminating at another rock wall, but it’s pretty wet down there!

In the midst of this exploration, we came upon a beautiful new friend, sleeping languidly in the cool air surrounding the rock walls.

A copperhead
Well hello there! Don’t you look lovely!

Knowing very little about herpetology, I was unaware at the time that this is a copperhead. Don’t get hung up on the venomous quality of this snake, instead check out the beautiful pattern and coloration. We observed and took our photos without incident, he continued his nap, and Clarissa and I carried on our merry way!

The trail twists and turns, goes up and down hills, and will carry you through thick stands of trees and open forest floors, as well as alongside streams and rivers. This is a beautiful trail, and I recommend it to anyone who has the time to check out the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Open forest floor
Here’s a spot where there forest floor opened up under the canopy.
We found ourselves along a stream, so we decided it we’d take a quick break on the banks.

And then there was the mud. I wish I had taken more photos of the quagmires that we made our way through, but in the moment, all I could think of was trying not to sink. In some spots ankle deep and as wide as the trail. Sometimes we had to get creative to get around it. Sometimes we had to just accept that we were going to get a little muddy. What else can you do?

Muddy trail
This isn’t even close to being the muddiest spot we traversed. Im terrible at remembering to photograph things like muddy trails and the like! I’ll keep working on that.

Then we came to the spot where a stream had washed out the trail…

Submerged trail marker
It’s generally not a good sign when the trail marker is submerged.

We took a break and contemplated how to carry on. We could always bail out and go back the way we came, but we didn’t really want to do that; who would? I explored a little bit to see if I could locate an alternate crossing, to no avail. Finally, I grabbed a branch and checked the depth of the water. It would be beneath my knees at its deepest, and the water moved relatively slowly. I know from experience how strong moving water can be, but as far as I could tell this wouldn’t be too problematic for us. We grabbed some branches to steady ourselves with, pulled off our shoes, and started across.

flooded trail
Im assuming that there was a bridge at some point, or perhaps the stream has really overgrown its previous banks!

That water was COLD! By the time we got across and sat on a dry rock, our feet were numb. We quickly dried them with my hankie and started rubbing life back into them. Once clean and dry, we crammed them back into socks and boots and they warmed up without a problem. Then we hit the trail once again.

Putting boots back on!
Getting my boots back on so my feet would warm up as quickly as possible!

Note: Crossing moving water can be dangerous. Always weigh and measure the risks of crossing a stream or a river. This was relatively shallow and slow moving, so we decided that we could manage. If you have doubts about the safety of the water or your ability to cross, bail out.

After the stream, the trail climbed steadily uphill and back towards civilization. It circles around and for awhile skirts behind private property and people’s homes, which brought us to sign that made me giggle.

No trespassing
We’re okay

Soon we found ourselves walking back into the woods and through the mud again.

Muddy trail
This is hardly even mud by comparison!

And finally, we circled back around again, to the Natural Arch. Tired, but happy. That’s a damn good hike.

Natural Arch
It’s a little later, the sun is a little lower, but the Arch is still amazing.

Back in the Kia, we made our way back to our site, started a campfire (with a little accelerant purchased along the way), and settled in for a rest and a well deserved beer. Soon, we discovered that we had made another mistake. I hadn’t been Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to booking the site; there were only a few spots left available, so we jumped on the first one that looked promising. Our error was in booking a site right next to the playground.

Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, I’m glad they’re out camping, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them making use of the playground. They absolutely SHOULD be outside playing! But on a busy weekend at a campground, you can count on tons of kids running wild and free at the playground, and they will yell and scream the strangest things, such as, “I’m in advanced placement,” “don’t burn the magic stick,” or “I’m a fox demon.” It’s amusing at first, but after a few hours it stops being funny. Luckily, at around 11:00 pm they called it quits; just in time to have a beer and drift off to sleep.

The next morning, instead of trying to make a breakfast, we thought, “Ah, what the hell, let’s go back to the Hillbilly Cafe.” After pancakes, coffee, hashbrowns, and plenty of bacon, we rolled back to Lake Cumberland. Still a little worn from the previous day of hiking, we decided to take it a little easier and hit the park’s nature trail. Though not as challenging as the Natural Arch Loop or the Buffalo Trace trail, it’s still lovely and worth a visit. We passed no other hikers that day and enjoyed our hike.

Highlights included finding a stone bluff overlooking the lake.

Lake Cumberland from above
Lake Cumberland looks great from above!

While atop that promontory point, we found vultures circling overhead. It sounds a little frightening, and it unnerved us a bit, however we also found ourselves impressed with how close they flew and their large wingspan. One ended up landing not too far away, and I managed to climb out far enough to take a decent shot as it roosted on a limb.

The vulture
The vulture!

After walking through a resort camp (the trail passes through, we didn’t just wander in, I promise) we found a spot where the trail forks and an unfinished section leads right to the lake. We took advantage of that opportunity and had a little bit of a swim to cool off. There’s something wonderful about a nice swim in a living body of water that makes you feel a little more alive as well. I don’t know if we were technically allowed to swim in the area, but since there weren’t any signs saying we couldn’t, we just couldn’t pass it up!

Swimming in Lake Cumberland
We welcomed the opportunity to cool off in the lake. It was hot that day!

Be advised, if you’re going to take advantage of opportunities like this, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not feeling comfortable or safe with getting in the water, then don’t. Never jump into murky water that you’re unfamiliar with, and always be cautious; you never know where there could be broke bottles or fish hooks.

Swimming in Lake Cumberlnd
The water in Lake Cumberland was much warmer than the stream we crossed the previous day!

After our swim, we finished up our hike, circling back around to our campsite. That night, we had another campfire amidst the screaming children. We prepared what promised to be a delicious dinner made in our new pie irons (gifts from our awesome friend Amanda).

Pie irons
Pie irons over the coals!

But I burnt the hell out of them. I hadn’t used a pie iron since my early Boy Scout days, nearly decades ago, when we used to make countless pudgie pies. So, dinner in Camp Intrepid was hot dogs again. Still, hot dogs are best prepared over a campfire, and after a couple days of good hiking, we weren’t going to be too picky. We were both pretty beat, so after the kids stopped hollering at the playground, we each had a final beer and hit the sack.

We woke early in the morning, quickly packed up and hit the road. We traced the twisting turning road back out of the park, slowly since fog drifted across the pavement and through the woods. Turning out onto the highway, the sun quickly burnt off the remaining fog as it hung over the red soil. We’re seldom eager to leave a place, even when we feel ready to be home again, and our campsite in Lake Cumberland State Resort Park was no exception.

Lake Cumberland State Resort Park
This park is worth a visit if you’ll be in the area.

Plenty of things hadn’t gone right on this trip, but we experienced no disasters. No injuries, no sickness, no starvation. Sometimes we’ve just got to embrace Rule #10. Things will never go exactly as planned, and that’s okay. How you deal with those moments is the more important thing. We chose to laugh off the things that didn’t go quite right, learn from our mistakes, and have a great time during our stay. Sometimes that’s the most important thing you can do; decide to have a great time.

Have fun!
Have fun!

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