K is for Kentucky – #atozchallenge

One word: Staycation

My family moved to Kentucky with in 1993. We moved from the western United States and had not lived in a humid, green environment since our time in Japan in the late 1980s.

Kentucky the Beautiful
Kentucky Backroads

Like many others, when we heard the word Kentucky, we thought about the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kentucky bourbon. There was not much else to really understand or know about Kentucky.

Honestly, looking back I can say that our move to Kentucky was one of the best things we ever did. Kentucky is a beautiful and diverse state. Living in Lexington, which is the Horse Capital of the World, we are surrounded by beautiful horse farms. In fact, I can leave my driveway and be driving through horse farm country within five minutes. The black plank fences, the nicely mown fields, immaculately expensive barns and the horses out grazing in the field… always uplift our souls.

Kentucky Capitol Building in Frankfort
Black Plank Fences are all over Kentucky…this is Horse Country
Lebanon, KY

There are so many things to see and do in Kentucky. The worlds largest cave, Mammoth Cave is here. Beautiful waterfalls, streams, rivers and lakes. The hills of eastern Kentucky are lovely.

The drive across the state takes about six hours if you’re driving east to west from the furthest points. The diversity that you will see on a drive like that is amazing.

Mail Pouch Barn in Central Kentucky
Rabbit Hash General Store in Kentucky
Louisville, KY as seen from across the Ohio River in Indiana
Lexington at Sunset
Wisdom, Kentucky
Mare and foal jaunt
Oddville, Kentucky
Sumoflam at Cumberland Falls
Flippin, Kentucky Post Office
Ice Storms leave lovely art

Kentucky is one of those states that has true four seasons. The wintertime typically has snow and sometimes we even get some pretty impressive ice storms.  Not fun in and of themselves, the ice storms leave beauty hanging around.

After winter comes springtime and the abundance of colorful flowers and flowering trees. One of Lexington’s favorite places for visiting and viewing flowering trees is the Lexington Cemetery. It is a lovely place when everything is in bloom.

Cherry Blossoms in Lexington Cemetery
Yes, it can snow in the spring and cover the flowers.
Kentucky is famous for its lovely Redbud Trees
Thoroughbred Park

April is the start of the horse racing season in Kentucky. Keeneland Race Track is one of the premier race tracks in the United States and then after the Kingman meet horses move onto Louisville and Churchill Downs and eventually the Kentucky Derby. In the past I’ve had the opportunity to attend those events and they are a lot of fun.

But there are many other horse activities in Kentucky such as show jumping and even Polocrosse — a mix between polo and lacrosse done on horses.


Polocrosse at the Kentucky Horse Park
Show Jumping at Kentucky Horse Park
Horses frolic
A horse relaxes against a tree in late winter
The grandeur of nature with sunbeams shining over a lake in Kentucky

Throughout the year, I make my way to a local reservoir/lake on the outskirts of Lexington. It is called Jacobson Lake and is part of the huge Jacobson Park. It is a beautiful place to come early in the morning and watch a sunrise or come in the evening and catch a sunset. I also thoroughly enjoy spending time at the lake and listening to the birds and watching and photographing birds. There are a variety of them from the great blue heron in the beautiful bald eagle and Osprey, to many smaller birds such a seagulls, Killdeer, blackbirds and bluebirds and Cardinals.

Blue Heron taking flight at Jacobson Lake
We call this Bald Eagle “Jake”. The local eagle at Jacobson Lake
Sunset at Jacobson Lake in Lexington, KY
Blue Heron grabbing some breakfast
Fall at Jacobson Park

Summer in Kentucky is generally mild but can be warm and sometimes very hot and humid. Those are the times to stay indoors or to go to the lake and sit out on the lake. The family has made a few visits to Cave Run Lake in eastern Kentucky to enjoy the nice environment.

Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of the KFC Special Recipe
Wigwam Cafe in Ravenna, KY

Also, during the summer I often take back road drives around Kentucky. There are so many lovely little two lane back roads that one can take and see the landscape, lifestyle and many other unique things. On these trips I’ve discovered old churches, beautiful old farm houses and buildings. I’ve come across fields of sunflowers. I even came across “Kentucky Stonehenge.”

Sumoflam at Kentucky Stonehenge
An old bourbon plant in Woodford County
Turkey Vultures guard their meal near McKee, KY
Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville
Sandhill Cranes

Traveling south of Louisville I took a back road during the spring in hopes of catching the migration of the beautiful Sandhill Cranes. And I was fortunate enough to be there when they were there in the small little town of Cecelia, Kentucky.


Sandhill Cranes near Cecilia, KY
Cave Land Motel – Cave City, Kentucky

On other trips we have visited Cave City, a kind of National Park resort town that supports Mammoth Cave. Cave City offers one of only three remaining historic Wigwam Motel complexes, the other two being in Arizona and California. Further south on the same interstate or taking a back road, is the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. This is the only factory in the world that builds the Corvette. Kentucky is also home to the largest Toyota plant in the United States, a huge Ford production facility in Louisville that makes F150 pick up trucks.

Sleep in a Wigwam – Wigwam Motel in Cave City, Kentucky
Wigwam Motel in Cave City, KY
Giant T-Rex statue in Cave City, KY
Old Corvette on pedestal at Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Lincoln by Eduardo Kobra, part of the 2013 PRHBTN Festival in Lexington, Kentucky


Both Lexington and Louisville feature amazing murals and wall art.  Lexington even has an organization called PRHBTN that invites famed street artists from all over the world to come to Lexington and paint on buildings around the city.  There are some amazing pieces.


Louis Armstrong Mural by Sergio Odeith from Portugal, for PRHBTN 2015
Another large mural on the side of an old warehouse in Lexington’s Distillery District

I love Kentucky. I am so glad that we had the blessing to move here to this beautiful state. If you have not visited Kentucky, you need to add it as a “must see” to your list.

Ranada Riley, owner of the Lexington Diner in Lexington has been on television Food Network Competitions such as Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen
One of many horse barns
Sunrise in Eastern Kentucky as we approached West Virginia
Mist covered farmland as seen from Kentucky Highway 79
Paducah, Kentucky
Mural Tribute to Kentucky Bourbon by Esteban Camacho Steffensen
Jac’s Coffee Shop – Harlan, Kentucky
Past Time Cafe storefront – Crab Orchard, Kentucky
Visiting Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in November
Humongous field of sunflowers in Central Kentucky. This too offers a feeling of grandeur

And, if you live in Kentucky…go take a “staycation” and see this great state.



The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX

I occasionally write about unique eateries that I come across in my travels.  In the past I have written about Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV (see link), Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR (see link), Lambert’s Cafe – the Home of Throwed Rolls in Sykston, MO (see link), the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY (see link), Fat Smitty’s Burgers in Port Townsend, WA (see link) and dozens of other unique places.  Last week (Feb.  8, 2017) we were introduced to another fabulous place called The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX.  Much like Fat Smitty’s in Washington or Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, this is a quirky themed eatery (or in this case, a resort…).

The Shack Burger Resort storefront – Texas style fun
Outdoor eating area at The Shack
The Shack
The Shack Road Sign
The Shack Playground

The place is huge and includes a giant playground for the kids, which includes two old school buses and more. Funky art and rustic decor  surround the resort.  Its setting in an almost rural area of Houston makes it even more fun.

The Shack Bus – one of two
Dino accompanies granddaughter in play area at the shack
Awesome burgers at The Shack – this one is the Dang Dang with their Dang Dang Sauce

Of course, decor and quirkiness are a great draw, but if the food is so so, one may not want to return.  Not the case at The Shack.  Their burgers are huge, flavorful and there is a great variety to choose from.  For those that like to imbibe, there is also a full bar.  And their Fried Pickle Chips are to die for!

The Shack Menu
Restrooms this way

As I noted above, the place is quirky.  For instance, the Men’s Restroom is totally quirky/rustic.  A really nice touch…

The Men’s Room had wooden Saloon Doors for the stalls and an old rustic sink for washing hands.  There was art on the doors and on the walls.  No themes….just quirky all the way!!

Men’s Stall Door in restroom
The Rustic Sink in the Men’s Room
Restroom Wall Decor in Men’s Room at The Shack
The other stall door in the Men’s Room
A nice 70s style mural painted on the wall outside the restrooms

Everywhere you look there was fun art and unique kitsch.  Here are a few more shots of this fun place.  Definitely worth a visit if in the Houston area.

A painted trailer in the front yard of the lot
Grandkid fun in an old bathtub and by an old truck
A portion of a wall mural on the indoor dining section of The Shack
One of many offbeat random paintings to be found on wood, fences, beams and doors at the Shack
A nice place for R & R at front of The Shack
Have a seat
Wall Art at The Shack
Painted Fences and Pink Flamingos
A bottle cap adorned arm rest on one of the couches
Selfie Fun at the Shack
Cowboy Stop Sign at the Shack
More outdoor seating
The Shack



An Afternoon in Pittsburgh

Welcome to Pittsburgh
Welcome to Pittsburgh
Fort Pitt Tunnel in Pittsburgh
Fort Pitt Tunnel in Pittsburgh

As noted in my previous post about Prosperity/Canonsburg/Washington areas of Pennsylvania (see post HERE), we took an afternoon with my wife’s sister and her family to take a drive around Pittsburgh.  Obviously, an afternoon does no justice to a large beautiful city like this, but that was all the time we had. Fortunately, I have been to Pittsburgh before and have knocked out a few places worth visiting (see my post which includes some Pittsburgh sites HERE).

Bridges in Pittsburgh
Bridges in Pittsburgh
Crossing into Pittsburgh
Crossing into Pittsburgh


The PPG Glass Castle in downtown Pittsburgh
The PPG Glass Castle (One PPG Place) in downtown Pittsburgh

Our drive took us past the amazing glass structure built by PPG — their headquarters.  Some call it the “Glass Castle” and indeed, it looks like one.

Actually named PPG Place,  this amazing building is one of six structures designed by architects Philip Johnson and  John Burgee and completed in 1984.  The six buildings cover three city blocks and five and a half acres. All of the buildings are of matching glass design consisting of 19,750 pieces of glass. The complex centers on One PPG Place, a 40-story office building.

A view from below One PPG Place
A view from below One PPG Place
Artistic view of One PPG Place
Artistic view of One PPG Place
Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh
Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh

We also crossed over the famed Roberto Clemente Bridge, named for the 60’s era Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder. We passed by the Andy Warhol Museum (but didn’t stop to visit).

A study in 2006 noted that there were 446 bridges in Pittsburgh thus giving the town the nickname “The City of Bridges.” Of course, not all of them are the massive structures crossing the three major rivers.  There are nine or ten prominent bridges, including the Clemente, which is one of the “Three Siblings,” which are three parallel, nearly identical self-anchored suspension bridges that cross the Allegheny River at 6th, 7th, and 9th streets. They were named for prominent Pittsburgh residents: Roberto Clemente Bridge, Andy Warhol Bridge, and Rachel Carson Bridge.

Bridges across Pittsburgh
Bridges across Pittsburgh
Crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh
Crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh
Crossing the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh
Crossing the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh
Old Wall Sign in downtown Pittsburgh
Old Wall Sign in downtown Pittsburgh
Old Byham Theater in Pittsburgh - built in 1903
Old Byham Theater in Pittsburgh – built in 1903
Welcome to the Monongahela Incline
Welcome to the Monongahela Incline

After driving around a bit, we headed to the Monongahela Incline to take a ride up Mt. Washington, a hill that provides amazing panoramic views of Pittsburgh. This proved to be the highlight of this trip.

Monongahela Incline
Monongahela Incline

The Monongahela Incline is the oldest continuously operating funicular railway in the U.S. It opened on May 28, 1870, and has since then transported millions of passengers.  Built at a cost of $50,000, the incline opened up Mount Washington to development, enabling people to live 600 feet above the city and still have easy access to factories and businesses along the river.

Monongahela Incline
Monongahela Incline
Heading down on the Mongahela Incline
Heading down on the Mongahela Incline

At one time Pittsburgh had 15 inclines. Today the Monongahela and its younger sister the Duquesne (about a mile away) are the only ones that remain.  The cars are not self-powered, and do not even have operators on board. Instead, they are pulled up and down the inclined track by a cable driven by an engine in the upper station, where the operator works. The cars operate in pairs, permanently attached to opposite ends of a single cable, with one going uphill and the other going downhill simultaneously. The cars therefore counterbalance each other, so the engine needs to provide only enough power to overcome friction and the difference in the weight of the passengers in the two cars.

Monongahela Incline
Monongahela Incline
View of the city form the car on the Monongahela Incline
View of the city form the car on the Monongahela Incline
Riding down
Riding down

The ride up the hill is about 635 feet and climbs a little over 365 feet in altitude at a grade of about 35 degrees. At its max speed of 6 miles per hour, the ride takes about three or four minutes. There is no air conditioning in the buildings or on the actual trains.  So, on a hot day like we experienced, it was a warm wait.


Enjoying the Ride!
Enjoying the Ride!

Each car holds about 23 people, with room for about 8 persons in each section of the car.  It is certainly something I would want to sit down on rather than stand in.  The view from the window can be kind of scary.


Monongahela Incline going up
Monongahela Incline going up
Panoramic View of Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington
Panoramic View of Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington
Mount Washington
Mount Washington

Once atop Mt. Washington, the view is breathtaking with expansive views of the three rivers (the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio) and the many bridges over these rivers.

While at the top, we took in the view, walked over to DiFiore’s for an ice cream treat and a rest.  From there I caught sight of an amazing wall mural.  Titled “Bloom,” this giant mural was painted by Gerard Tonti in October 2007. This is one of a number of large Art Murals funded by the Sprout Public Art project of Pittsburgh.  According to the website Pittsburgh Murals and Public Art, there were 32 original Sprout murals, but there are many more throughout the 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  Looks like my next trip may be a mural hunt!!! (Pittsburgh Murals has created a great spreadsheet for the mural/public art seeker HERE.)

Family shot from Mt. Washington
Family shot from Mt. Washington
Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
Fort Bridge with stadium in background
Fort Pitt Bridge with stadium in background
Another Bridge
Smithfield Street Bridge as seen from the top of Mt. Washington
Ice Cream anyone?
Ice Cream anyone? DiFiore’s on Mt. Washington
Bloom by Gerard
“Bloom” by Gerard Tonti
Detail of old Pittsburgh on Tonti's "Bloom"
Detail of old Pittsburgh on Tonti’s “Bloom”
Point of View by
“Point of View” by James A. West

Also while driving along the top of Mt. Washington we came across a lovely statue sitting on the edge of the hill (at Greenbriar Avenue and Sweetbriar Street).  Titled “Point of View,” this 2006 bronze sculpture by James A. West depicts George Washington and the Seneca leader Guyasuta, with their weapons down, in a face-to-face meeting in October 1770, when the two men met while Washington was in the area examining land for future settlement along the Ohio River.

Overlooking Pittsburgh with wife Julianne
Overlooking Pittsburgh with wife Julianne

That pretty much ended the day trip to Pittsburgh for us.  It was fun, but certainly warrants another visit in the near future.