Red River Gorge – Slade, KY: A Different Look

Slade, Kentucky Welcome Sign

Ofttimes when we visit a place, we have a destination in mind.  The Red River Gorge area of Kentucky is one of those places.  Visitors typically are focused on visiting beautiful and expansive views of the gorge, hiking some of the well known trails, taking a hike up to the Natural Bridge or something else.

This past weekend (August 31, 2019) I took my wife to the area fora hiking meetup.  This left me with a three hour window to do other things.  I am not able to hike some of these trails right now because my knee has been causing problems.

Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

So, after dropping my wife off, I headed back to Slade to do my “offbeat travel”  thing and find some of the unique and quirky of the area.  I had no problems with that, because inevitably, where there are lots of tourists, there are also the quirky and offbeat to draw them in.

Many dangerous cliffs in Red River Gorge, but a climbing heaven for rock climbers.

As the Welcome Sign above indicates, Slade is the “Adventure Capital of Kentucky.”  And it is true.  A drive around the area in the summer months will prove it as one can see license plates from all over the United States and Canada.   According to one website (GEARHUNGRY), the Red River Gorge is the second best, just behind Yosemite for rock climbing.  They call it a “must-do list contender for the serious climber.”   The site notes that there are over 1600 potential climbs in the area.  And Slade caters to these visitors big time.

Slade Welcome Center just off of Exit 33 on the Bert T Combs Mountain Highway
Miguels Pizza in Slade

A drive down Kentucky 11 (also called Natural Bridge Rd.) from the Slade Visitor’s Center will take you past the REALLY World Famous Miguels Pizza and its neighboring Miguels Rock Climbing Shop, both of which cater to climbers big time.

Founded by Miguel Ventura, who was from Portugal, the place has become a go to for climbers and hikers since 1984 (the name was changed to Miguels in 1986).   As the Ventura family continued to befriend climbers, they expanded and opened a campground and soon the place got the nickname “The Camp Four of the East” by climbers. (The Original Camp 4 is a climber’s campground in Yosemite National Park).  For over thirty years the Ventura family has made a name for itself all over the world as a result.  Then, in 2016 in the field behind the Pizza Shop, the Rock Climbing Shop was opened and now is a full-service climbing shop as well as the check-in spot for the campground.

Climbers and hikers from all over the world set up tents in Miguels expansive campground
Miguels Pizza in Slade, Kentucky
The Sign on Highway 11 for Miguels Climb Shop
The artsy Miguels Pizza front door has been opened with hands of people from all over the world

Rock climbing is not the only drawing card of the area.  Another big hitter are the more than 30 big hiking trails in the area.  It includes the 282 mile long Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail which begins in northern Kentucky on KY377 and travels south nearly 290 miles to its terminus at Pickett State Park in Tennessee.  The trail meanders through the Daniel Boone National Forest and also gets its name from the Shawnee name given to Daniel Boone by Chief Blackfish.

Star Gap Arch on Auxier Ridge Trail (#204) in Red River Gorge (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)

But Sheltowee is not the only trail.  There are many other trails from easy to very difficult. Most of the trails are numbered (all are in the 200s) and there are plenty of maps in the area.  Many of the trails offer spectacular views, many arches and lots of scary cliffs!

Cliffs as seen along the Auxier Ridge Trail (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)
Fall Colors over the Red River Gorge in Kentucky
Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Slade, KY
Natural Bridge Skylift

Drive down KY11 a little further and you get to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, home of a large geologic formation called Natural Bridge, which is 65 feet high and 78 foot long.  It is one of the few large arches in the Eastern United States.   The hike is about 2.5 miles long, but those that prefer a more casual adventure can take the Natural Bridge Skylift up to the scenic arch.

I had fun driving through the park and catching some of the unique.  For instance, where can you go to find a unique speed limit, like 23 MPH?  Then there are the other things…

Speed Limit 23 in Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Low Gap Trail leads up to the Natural Bridge Arch
Watch out for Bears!
One Lane Tunnel

Take the opposite direction from Slade on Kentucky 15 northwest to Kentucky 77 which leads to the Nada Tunnel (pronounced nay-duh by the locals), a 900-foot long tunnel which is considered as the “Gateway to the Red River Gorge.”  This unique single-lane rough hewn tunnel was originally built in 1911 for the Dana Lumber Company.  It was named for the small town of Nada, which was a logging town at the time.  Its original use was for a railcars, but has since been paved and is used by thousands of visitors every year as they traverse into the geologic wonderland of the Red River Gorge.

Entrance to Nada Tunnel
A lit up view of the interior of the otherwise very dark Nada Tunnel
Exiting the Nada Tunnel
Wild Things of Kentucky

For me, much of the fun is discovering the “other stuff” that can be seen on the road.  Probably the most interesting “touristy stop” along the way was the Wild Things of Kentucky tourist stop where they advertise their Kentucky Snake Pit, the Kentucky Aquarium, an hilarious restroom and other things.  Sadly for them, they literally JUST missed out on being included in my most recent book about unique and quirky tourist destinations. (Have you seen my new book?  If not, check it out HERE!)

Wild Things of Kentucky -another unique tourist stop
Feed the Goats that reside on the roof

Places like this always try to find things that become a drawing card for tourists.  Indeed, they have some unique finds in the shop.  And, for a small fee you can visit the “Snakes and turtles and fish…Oh My,” as their pamphlet advertises.  Over on the other side of the building you can feed live goats that reside on the roof of the building.  You can get a selfie with their “Sitty Hall” outhouse or with their own version of “Bigfoot.”

Selfie with Sitty Hall
Feed a Goat
Too funny/weird – The Snake Pit
The “Aquarium” includes a couple of turtles
Can’t be a trading post without the Indian
Inside the store
Entrance Fee for Wildlife Exhibit
Better not use the porch! Go use Sitty Hall.
They have goats…why not Goats Milk Products too
Lots of fun shirts and stuff… much of it Red River Gorge themed
Yes, they do have a resident Bigfoot.. He wants you to choose happy

And back to the road…a few more fun scenes from the Slade area roads

Big Arrow
Need Wood?
Go through the tunnel to get to The Depot
A bearable bear
There are folks that set up on an empty corner with lots of interesting stuff
Take the forest roads to the trails and there are forest service restrooms. Some of the signs are funny
And then there was this…

ENJOYING WHAT YOU SEE?  TRY MY BOOKS.

Now have three books out. Check them out!

You can check my books out on Amazon for more fun reads about my quirky back roads travels.  Get them out on my Amazon page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0784XVGSW

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Everywhere a Sign – Some B Signs From 2018 #AtoZChallenge

(Editor’s Note:  For  my  2019  posts,  I will be posting photos from my travels in 2018.  I visited 26 states and drive over 13,000 miles in 2018.  These posts will feature of few of the road signs and business signs I came across, as well as some stories behind them.  Enjoy the Read and Enjoy the Ride!)

I love to always watch for interesting places on the road.  I will typically grab photos of town signs, road signs and other places.  Here are just a couple of “B” Signs that I came across in my road trips across America in 2018.

Belfair, Washington

As I began my return trip from Port Orchard down WA Hwy 3 (on my way to US 101), I drove through Belfair.  Didn’t stop, except for the sign, because I am a big fan of Blue Herons, of which one is featured on this sign.  It was a snowy morning, so I didn’t take the time to stop.

Bugtussle, Kentucky

Bugtussle General Store (closed for many years)
Revisiting Bugtussle in January 2018

One of my favorite places to talk about (and write about) is Bugtussle, Kentucky.  In my research on the Bugtussles of America, I found three actual places called Bugtussle…one in Kentucky, one in Alabama and one in Texas.  Back in February 2010, I actually drive from Lexington through Bugtussle, KY and all the way to Bugtussle, Texas (at County Rd 34 and FM 1550).  It ended up being an 18 hour drive. But, on this trip, in 2018, I once again visited my old stomping grounds of Bugtussle for a throwback. (You can see my 2010 adventure in this post HERE or HERE)

Bigfoot Road, South Dakota

Big Foot Road…off of I-90 in South Dakota

Are you looking for Big Foot?  Maybe this is the road you need.  On I-90 east of Wall Drug in South Dakota is this sign.  I did stop to take this photo in April 2018.  I did not take Big Foot Road and I did not see Big Foot.  About 10 miles further west I did see an 80 foot dinosaur.

Bat Bar, Austin, Texas

Bat Bar, Austin, Texas

A visit to Austin’s 6th Street is loads of fun.  Lots of stuff happening…music and pubs and other fun places.  I took the grandkids to the Famed Voodoo Doughnut in Austin (originated in Portland…been there too).   The Bat Bar was right next door and the sign is a classic!

Billy Burgers, Wilbur, Washington

Billy Burgers classic neon in Wilbur, WA

I wasn’t planning to add many neon signs to this years’ posts, but I couldn’t resist this one.  Sadly, I drove by in the morning and they were not open yet.  Would have enjoyed trying out a Billy Burger in Wilbur, Washington

Belle Inn, Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Belle Inn – Comfort Food
Belle Inn – Belle Fourche, SD
Sign at Belle Inn front door
Sign inside of Belle Inn

I always love a place with a sense of humor.  It is even better when the place is an eating establishment and actually has GOOD food to go along with the humor.  Such is the case with the Belle Inn Restaurant in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  I went in by chance and had a great meal.  The head chef is also a biker…goes to Sturgis every year.  What more do you want?  By the way, I wasn’t wearing boots…so I didn’t have an issue.

Looking for a unique and fun gift for yourself or  your traveler friends? How about a book about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips? You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Working on Book 3, coming in late Spring 2019!!

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April 2018 Cross-Country Road Trip: Oregon’s High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway

Oregon’s High Desert

If the words “Scenic Byway” appear on a map or a highway, I try to take that road! And this is what I did on my return trip from Washington in mid April 2018.

After driving south from Port Orchard, WA on US 101, I skirted past Portland, OR and headed towards Bend, where I spent a night in a cozy, nice motel. My next day of travel was going to be rather long as I intended to make it all the way to Salt Lake City, which I ultimately did.

The High Desert Route through east-central Oregon

But I did not want to take the roads thru southern Idaho and come south on the interstate from Idaho into Salt Lake. Rather, I wanted to drive through the high desert and see the wildlife,  the high desert scenery and enjoy a long straight road or two!

A stretch of the Highway from Bend to Nevada

Thus, I discovered both the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway And, as part of that by the way, the Frenchglen Highway.

US 20 East of Bend, Oregon in the morning
Sunrise on US 20 as I neared Brothers, OR
Brothers, Oregon

I drove first from Bend southeast towards Brothers, OR on US 20 and then onto a cutoff south of Burns to get on to Oregon Highway 205, which would ultimately get me to the Nevada border at Denio.  By the way, Oregon is interesting in that it has towns named Brothers and Sisters.  I have actually been to both towns now.  Brothers is the home of the Brothers Stage Stop,  which was built in 1912 and was originally a stagecoach stop between Burns and Prineville. Today it’s a restaurant, gas station and post office.   I just got a photo of the place.

Brothers Stage Stop

Continuing southeast on US 20 towards Burns I saw some of that wildlife I was looking for.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Red-tailed Hawk
A stretch of Oregon Highway 205 south of Burns, OR

As I neared Burns, I made my way to Oregon Highway 205 which is a straight shot south almost all the way to Frenchglen. This is where the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway begins.

Highway 205 then makes its way into the Malheur Basin Which offers some wonderful views of the lakes down in the valley. Ultimately, Highway 205 runs through the Narrows and over a bridge between the two lakes (Malheur Lake and Harney Lake) and, just past the bridge, fortunately, was a nice little rest area.

Oregon 205 just near Princeton, OR

The one thing I discovered on this long road and other long roads on the trip is that there are very few rest areas or places to stop for restrooms. So, if you take this road, you might want to keep that in mind.

A view of the Frenchglen Highway
Entrance to Diamond Loop Trail

The highway eventually leads back up the hill into the high desert where I deviated off for both a restroom break and a short little drive on the Buena Vista Overlook route. This gravel road took me up to a view point to overlook the valley in the high desert. I saw hawks and other wildlife along the way.

Landscape scene on Buena Vista Loop
Another view of the scenery
A view of the Steens Mountain range
Small store in Frenchglen

Back on Hwy 205 where the road continued south at the base of Steens Mountain and ultimately into the small little community of Frenchglen, Which is about 60 miles south of Burns.

Frenchglen is the home of the historic Frenchglen Hotel which is in the US National Register of Historic places. What I learned in later research was that this is a place for birdwatchers to stay. The nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is supposedly a very well-known birding area. The hotel has eight rooms and also has an outdoor out house for visitors to stop and take a break.

The Famous Frenchglen Hotel
There is a “Public Restroom” outside of the Frenchglen Hotel. Gotta love the planter too!
Found a shoe tree just outside of Frenchglen. Funny
Oregon Hwy 205 south of Frenchglen, OR

Unfortunately, I was not able to take the time to go into the hotel as I had hoped I could do because I had such a long extensive trip to make. But I did take some time to get a photograph of the hotel.

The Catlow Valley south of Frenchglen

From Frenchglen, the highway continued south into Fields, OR where I stopped at Fields Station to get some cold drinks, use the restroom and stretch.  They apparently make a good breakfast, but had a quite a crowd.  I didn’t want to wait 30 minutes, so back on the road. and then on to Denio, Nevada.

Steens Mountain as seen from OR 205 near Fields, OR
Fields Station in Fields, OR
Welcome to Nevada — Denio, NV

Beautiful scenes, long straight roads and a wonderful drive.

ENJOY THE RIDE!  CHOOSE HAPPY!

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, is currently being worked on and I hope to make it available in late  June 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

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