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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My Travels in 2018

Life gets so busy. The first two months of 2019 have been exceptionally busy and so I am just now getting to my annual review posts for 2018.

Visiting Route 66 in Oklahoma

At the beginning of 2018 I didn’t have very high hopes for many travel opportunities. I had begun a new job in early October of the previous year and I didn’t have any definitive travel plans. But, I had also learned to roll with things and, as good fortune would have it, 2018 actually became a really good travel year.

Over the course of the year I was able to travel through 26 different states and drove nearly 12,000 miles. I was able to add a plethora of photos (I took over 15,000 travel photos in 2018) and content for use in future blogs and books. Though many of my travels were alone (which I love), I also was able to travel with family on some of the trips (which I also love!).

Morning sky taken between Bend, OR and Brothers, OR (near Millican, OR) on US Hwy 20 heading east.
A sunset scene taken from the Edmonds to Kingston Ferry in Washington
Lovely sunset after a windy day. Taken on a side road of Interstate 70 just east of Abilene, Kansas
Mt. Aetna as seen from US 50 near Monarch Pass, Colorado.
Desert and snow-covered peaks in Nevada

My major trips included:

  1. A trip to Nashville in January to visit with my new employer ComicBook.com. On this trip I also visited the cool and “off-beat” Paradise PointMarketplace
    Welcome to Paradise Point
  2. In late January I made a trip down to Barren River Lake State Park in southern Kentucky to view the sandhill cranes which had migrated down there.
    Sandhill Cranes take flight
  3. In February I was asked by son Seth to come down to Cypress, Texas to watch his two sons for a couple of weeks while he and his wife were off on a cruise. The trip south took me through Calvert City, KY where I visited the Apple Valley Toy Land and Hillbilly Gardens. I also found my way to Kenton, Arkansas, home of the white squirrels, then to historic Walnut Ridge, Arkansas to see some fun Beatle’s things. I then meandered my way into Louisiana and visited a few fun places. While in Cypress with the boys I also visited Austin and then took the boys venturing out on some of the back roads around the Houston area where we discovered some fun places. My return trip took me up to Keller, Texas to visit my sister and while there I found a few more fascinating places. I then made my way home through Oklahoma and Arkansas, traveling back roads all the way and discovering some fun places. I finally returned to Lexington at the end of February.                                                                                               
    Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden – Calvert City, Kentucky
    Sumoflam with the Beatles in Walnut Ridge, AR
    The Beatles in Houston, statues by Houston artist David Adickes
  4. March saw me again on the road for a quick trip up to Cleveland, Ohio. On this trip, with my wife, we visited sites in Cleveland and then on the way home stopped in Columbus to see the famed Topiary Garden Park. It was a quick, yet fun and interesting trip. 
    Topiary Garden Park of Columbus
  5. On April 2 I set off on one of the biggest road trips I have had in a couple of years. We had a family event taking place in Port Orchard, Washington. I drove while my wife flew (she had a tighter schedule and needed to take some PTO time). I set out heading west through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. I had hoped to go up through Minnesota, but a major snowstorm diverted much of my initial plan. Nonetheless, I always find something. This trip allowed me to visit seven different Peter Toth “Whispering Giants” , which also took me to other unique places along the way. I ultimately made my way through Iowa Falls, Cedar Rapids, northern South Dakota and overnight in Belle Fourche. I then headed northwest into snowy southeastern Montana and crossed the state from there through Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and overnight in scenic and touristy Wallace, Idaho. From Wallace I made my way to Spokane and then east on US 2, to complete my travels on the western portion of that highway (other parts I had driven on in previous road trips. This took me through Washington’s high desert and then into the Cascades and back down into apple orchard country. I ultimately made my way into the Seattle area. The return trip went down through Olympia and then into Oregon on US 101 and then across Oregon’s high desert, through Winnemucca, Nevada and then into my old stomping grounds in Murray, Utah, near Salt Lake City. I then ventured to Colorado Springs to see my son Solomon and then across Colorado’s high deserts into western Kansas, and finally back home through St. Louis and Louisville. It was an amazing two week adventure! 
    Visiting the Whispering Giant at Starving Rock State Park in Illinois
    One of over 200 sculptures from around Raymond, Washington
    A stretch of Oregon Highway 205 south of Burns, Oregon
    Leavenworth, Washington
    Snow walls taller than me on both sides of the road at Stevens Pass in Washington
    Helper, Utah
    Dignity: Of Earth and Sky – 50 foot tall statue by Dale Lamphere near Chamberlain, South Dakota
    Men’s Room Door at a gas station in Ashland, Montana
    US Hwy 101 in southern Washington
    Garden of the Gods in Manitou Springs, Colorado
    On the road somewhere in NW Nevada
  6. I didn’t really venture out on a road trip again until mid-June when my wife and I took a day long trip up to Cincinnati to see some things we hadn’t done before. It was a nice sightseeing adventure.
    A day trip to Cincinnati with my wife
    The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge as seen from Carew Tower in Cincinnati. When opened on December 1, 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet main span.
  7. In late July I was joined by my oldest grandchild Autumn for a fun adventure to Cypress, Texas. I was again asked to babysit my two granddsons for about ten days. Autumn and I meandered our way down there through Tennessee and Alabama down to the gulf coast and into Biloxi, Mississippi. We traveled along the Gulf Coast into Louisiana and eventually into Texas. While in Texas, the four of us made a few trips as well, including a day-long adventure to the weird city of Austin. Autumn and I then returned home through central Texas and up to Keller to stay with my sister and allow Autumn to hang with her cousin, who is the same age. After a couple of days in Keller, Autumn and I returned home through Oklahoma, Kansas and into Missouri, where we visited the unique touristy place called Uranus and then finally home. It was an amazing fun trip.
    Sharkhead in Biloxi, Mississippi
    Decatur, Texas
    Welcome to Uranus Missouri
    Getting stabbed in Bowie, Texas
    One of hundreds of frog statues in Rayne, Louisiana
    Peach Water Tower in Clanton, Alabama
    One of a number of murals in a section of Houston
    Vulcan Statue, one of America’s tallest, in Birmingham, Alabama
    Woody Guthrie Water Towers in Okemah, Oklahoma

    Over the next few posts, I will try to catch up with content about different themes…road scenes, wood art, murals, roadside attractions and more.

    I hope you will enjoy the ride with me as I revisit these adventures.

Have you seen my most recent book yet? “Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions” is available on Amazon!

The book is 130 pages of FULL COLOR whimsy and kitsch as I tell stories of my visits to these places all over the U.S. and Canada. Definitely was fun taking these back roads trips to quirkville and I am excited to share them with you in words and photos.   I hope you will be able to check out the book or even get it on Kindle.

You can order the book here:   See Offbeat and Quirky Roadside Attractions

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Offbeat and Quirky Roadside Attractions Now Available on Amazon!

Yesterday my new book, “Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions” made its debut on Amazon!

The book is 130 pages of FULL COLOR whimsy and kitsch as I tell stories of my visits to these places all over the U.S. and Canada. Definitely was fun taking these back roads trips to quirkville and I am excited to share them with you in words and photos.

Even more exciting was that after a few hours the book was already #5 on Amazon’s Road Travel New Releases chart and #24 on their Travel Reference chart!!

I hope you will be able to check out the book or even get it on Kindle (#14 on the Road Travel chart). You Chang the book here:

SEE NEW BOOK

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