Kentucky: state of mountains, mines, and impeccable scenery. This region of Appalachia also happens to be one of the best places to rock climb on the east coast. Red River Gorge (RRG) features some fantastic routes in sandstone cliffs forged many moons ago by a tumbling river.
It was the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
Armed with bug repellent, climbing gear, lots of crag snacks, and two competent friends, I enjoyed hour upon hour in this wild space. Muir Valley, named after the “Father of the National Parks”, was a serene location with enough shade to make the Kentucky heat bearable.
I still sweated.
But it was so much fun to climb real rock – to be 100 feet above the ground hyper-aware of every movement and rock feature. The wildlife was present, but unobtrusive, although I did get to watch a snake eat a mouse.
Nashville and Memphis were 2 cities that I proudly checked off my bucket list this week. While not as spectacular as a national park, they both brought some intriguing things to the table.
Nashville had so much live music. In some venues, you could hear 3 different bands depending on which floor you were on. During my second night, I stumbled upon an eclectic neighborhood where the locals hang out. The tunes were good and the conversations were great.
I couldn’t go to Elvis’ homeland and not see Graceland. Apparently there’s a big celebration this week in August to commemorate his death. I saw 7-year-olds dressed up like the King himself. Fun fact: Elvis had 14 TVs in his home.
The Wild Cave tour in Mammoth Caves was extraordinary! To start off, I had to gear up in a full-body coverall suit, bandanna, helmet, headlamp, gloves, and knee pads. I knew from the get-go that I would be embarking on an epic mission. For the next 6 hours, I crawled, squeezed, and hiked my way through 5 miles of underground territory. Although I never had any moments of claustrophobia, it was pretty surreal to contemplate the fact that I was over 300 feet below the surface.
Not only did I learn a lot about the history of the cave (at one point there was a tuberculosis hospital down there), but I was able to appreciate the beauty of its many formations.
It took 2 showers to get all the dust off my body.
A couple noteworthy things happened during my last 24 hours in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
First of all, I met Trevor. He is only 2 parks away from visiting every single national park. That’s incredible! I was able to ask him a ton of questions about his journey thus far and gleam some wisdom.
Secondly, I volunteered at the Tremont Institute, an environmental education center located within the Smokies. Throughout the summer, they have regular citizens (such as myself) show up in an attempts to monitor and assess bird populations. The staff and interns are incredibly passionate about their work. It was refreshing to chit chat with people who dedicate their lives to studying the ecology of a national park.