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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Less Beaten Paths of America – Book 3 NOW AVAILABLE Amazon

Book Cover for Book 3 – Cover Art and design by Antsy McClain

Imagine my excitement as I woke up this morning to see the PAPERBACK edition of my brand new Book 3, titled  Beyond Description – More of the Strange and Unique, had cleared review and is now available for purchase on Amazon! Like Book 2, it is 120 pages full of color photos and interesting stories. This one looks at unique and fun destinations like Carhenge (NE), Paradise Point Marketplace (KY), Bowlin’s The Thing (AZ), Uranus ,Fudge Factory and General Store (MO), Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland Museum (KY), Wall Drug (SD), Lost River Trading Post (WV), Henrys Ra66it Ranch (IL) (and more) and then some themed towns like Vulcan, AB; Hell, MI; Mt. Horeb, WI; Santa Claus, IN, Winslow, AZ and Roswell, NM. Finally, there is a chapter on the Trail of the Whispering Giants and artist Peter Wolf Toth.

You can order the book beginning NOW and probably have it by Wednesday. I appreciate all of the past support and hope that you will continue to Enjoy the Read and Enjoy the Ride! Here’s where you can get it. (And please don’t forget to do a review!)

The paperback book is available on Amazon at

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1729428363

The Kindle Edition is available on Amazon on the link below:

https://www.amazon.com/Less-Beaten-Paths-America-Description-ebook/dp/B07WNXP71D/

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Special About Peter Wolf Toth – Whispering Giants Artist

Peter Toth at his studio in April 2018. (Photo used with permission courtesy of Caroline Porsiel, Atlanta Expat Magazine)

On August 20 I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of hours on the phone with American artist Peter Wolf Toth who took time to speak with me from his Florida Studio.

I had contacted Peter to get more details about this interesting man with the intent on adding a chapter about him and his Trail of the Whispering Giants into my new book, which will be available in August 2019. (Actually, the Kindle version is now available…see the link at the end of this post)

With Whispering Giant #61 in Ottawa, Illinois

If you are not familiar with the Trail of the Whispering Giants, it is a cross country collection of huge wooden sculptures created by Toth. Each is a tribute to the indigenous peoples of North America and each was done by Peter as a donation to the communities he created them in. His goal was to carve at least one in every state in the United States, which he finally accomplished in 1988 with his large sculpture in Hawaii.  Altogether, Peter has done 74 of these intricate statues.

Peter Toth works with chisel and hammer to make his Whispering Giants. (Photo by Daniel Guy, used with permission courtesy of the Cleveland Daily Banner, Cleveland, Tennessee)

When I spoke with Peter, he explained that he was born in Hungary, but came to the United States at a young age, landing in Akron with his family.  As he grew older, he grew interested in Native American culture and sought for ways to honor the indigenous people of this land.   He became a self-taught sculptor, using a hammer and chisel to work with stone. He told me that his first sculpture was in stone in La Jolla, California. He wanted to do another in stone near his home in Akron but, as he explained to me,

It was in a remote location and really not visible to many.  I wanted to make these to honor the Native Americans, so I felt that making them from local trees in all of the states would honor them best.”

The 40 foot tall Whispering Giant in Winslow, Arizona

Unlike many artists that work with wood, Peter chooses to utilize a hammer and chisel to create these giants, which range in height from 12 feet to well over 40 feet.  He has no issue with those that so their work with chainsaws, but he likes doing his statues his way.

The Whispering Giant of Las Cruces, NM which I visited in June 2019

Peter takes great care and makes great efforts to create these donated works of art to honor the Native Americans, who he feels “were victims of long abuse” and also wants to make sure that all victims of abuse and hardship are honored.

1983 version of Peter Wolf Toth’s book “Indian Giver”

In 1980 Peter published a book on Tribal Press titled Indian Giver: Gifts Of Statues For All 50 States To Honor The Indian and tells the story of the artist’s gifts to each of the 50 states to honor the Indian monuments now erected in the united States-the Trail of the Whispering Giants. The book is illustrated with both color and black and white photos of each sculpture.  Peter commented about this book.

It was a custom among the many Indian tribes that when a man was presented with a gift, he in return gave back as a gift, an object of comparable value. This was an act of honor and respect. The white man distorted this philosophy and degraded it into a selfish act-a person who gives but expects to take back something in return. Hence, the term “Indian Giver” came into our language. If that is the case, then I too am an Indian Giver because I want something in return for these monumental gifts I am sculpturing. In return, I ask that honor and understanding be shown toward the Native Americans because of the tragic fate that has befallen these noble people.

This book is available on Amazon for those interested in seeing the artist’s perspective on his work.

Chief Wasatch by Peter Toth, that is located in my hometown of Murray, UT

I am grateful to have become acquainted with Peter Wolf Toth.  I have admired his works, even though I have only been to 13 of them so far.  I will make it to more and hope to get down to his Florida studio sometime in the near future to see his work and enjoy the view of the Atlantic Ocean with him while we talk of the wonders of the world.

Book Cover for Book 3 – Cover Art and design by Antsy McClain

Like what you see? Well, there is lots more!  I now have three books available about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips. You can see all of them at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Book 3 was published and available on August 24, 2019.

 

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