In 2018 I will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.
Tee Pee Motel – Wharton, Texas
Thoroughbred Park – Lexington, Kentucky
Tornado, West Virginia
Top of the World Store – Beartooth Pass – near Cody, Wyoming
Tews Falls – Hamilton, Ontario
Trailer Park Eatery – Austin, Texas
Teddy Rides Again – Enchanted Highway – Regent, North Dakota
Totem Poles – Neah Bay, Washington; Blueberry, Wisconsin; Ketchikan, Alaska; Superior, Wisconsin
Troll City – Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
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, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
I will have a different post about the Virginia Creeper Trail as part of my Bike Trail Series, but I wanted to post an article about the non-bike portion of our trip to Damascus, Abingdon, and Bristol, VA. Besides the bike trail, there is so much more to see and do on a road trip down to this part of Appalachia.
We began our trip by leaving early in the morning on Saturday to drive to Damascus via the towns of Hazard and Whitesburg in Kentucky on US Highways 23 and 119. Once into Virginia, we passed through the small towns of Pound and Wise.
The entire drive that morning was beautiful as we passed through the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia. The mountains were laced with fog and low clouds in this beautiful part of Appalachia. Many of the plants and telephone lines were covered with the invasive Kudzu (also known as Japanese Arrowroot) plant…though obnoxious, it does have its own eerie beauty.
Our first actual stop on the road was right as we entered the town of Pound. As we come down the hill there is a large mural painted on the side of a wall by the highway. As always, I stopped to grab a photo to add to my growing collection of wall murals from around the US and Canada. We then drove through the little village of Pound to see if there was anything interesting, which there wasn’t. But, these small little towns always have a charm about them.
Along US 23 after getting into Virginia, we came across signs that said we were on “The Crooked Road.” The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, following U.S. Route 58, but also with parts on U.S. Route 23.
The road winds through over 333 miles of scenic terrain in southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns. Famed Bluegrass musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Joe Wilson, the Carter Family Fold and others, all hailed from this area.
From Pound we made our way into Wise, VA on US 23 and just continued on the road to Damascus. Our trip eventually took us into Abingdon and then on to Damascus. From there we then went up US Highway 58 to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and near the top of Whitetop Mountain where there is a station called Whitetop Station where the bike trail begins (actually begins about a mile away in North Carolina).
It was a beautiful drive up there and they departed on their ride down the hill. Whitetop Station is about 3500′ in altitude and Damascus is at 1952′, so in a 17 mile stretch they would drop about 1600 feet. (I’ll cover that in a separate Bike Trail Post) After dropping them off, I drove a few mile back to Green Cove Station, which is another stop along the Virginia Creeper Trail. It was packed with bikers, but is also a very scenic part of the route.
Both Whitetop and Green Cove have snacks, drinks and also sell some t-shirts and hats, proceeds of which go to benefit the Creeper Trail Association that maintains the trail.
The stations also carry a few tools and some spare tires, etc., that have been donated by other riders.
Certainly worth a brief visit to see their offerings if you are up that way.
This area near Green Cove is dotted with Christmas Tree farms and is a lusciously pastoral environment for both the bikers and those tat are driving the back roads. The scene above is indicative (and you can see the Christmas tree grove on the left side).
From Green Cove I headed back down to the town of Damascus and drove around. Damascus touts itself as “Trail Town USA.” The reason for this is because many trails seem to converge into this town, most specifically the Appalachian Trail which is America’s most famous hiking trail and then the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail, which is one of the more well-known bike trails. There are apparently a few other trails that come through the area.
The entire town is set up to handle this “trail traffic.” There are outdoor shops, a number of bike shops that sell and rent bikes, there are outfitters that provide the things needed for hiking and camping such as tents and sleeping bags. Many of the eateries in town also cater to this type of crowd, thus giving the town a very relaxed and very friendly atmosphere. Sundog Outfitters was a great place for this and also has a large bike repair area with most of the items needed. We know as we had to get a repair done there during our visit.
Another thing I liked about the town was the murals. I am always looking for interesting murals and wall paintings. There are 4 or 5 murals including the Trail Town USA mural (shown above) which features a large compass and a life size mural poster of the Appalachian Trail with a pioneer on it. The Town Park features some interesting murals on the Restroom Walls…one of them I took has become one of my more popular Instagram photos. Following are a couple more I came across.
Unfortunately, as I noted above, Julianne’s bike broke down along the first few miles of the trail and she and Marissa ended up being stranded. They made their way to the Upbeet Cafe and the Creeper Trail Cafe, located along the trail on Taylor Valley Road, but really way out of the way for a car from Damascus. Map is below.
Actually, the Upbeet Cafe, where Julianne was stranded, is further north up VA 725. Fortunately, a good Samaritan took her in a truck from the Upbeet to the famed Creeper Trail Cafe where I was able to find her and get the bike loaded.
As a result of the downed bike and the time required to drive to Taylors Valley and back to Damascus, we decided to call it a day and go again on the next day. So, we drove back into Damascus, got the bike repaired at SunDog and then found our way to a place to eat.
I am always about eating at local places when on the road and had researched to find that the Old Mill Inn in Damascus was THE place to eat in town. There are many other eateries, but this one is along the river and overlooks a scenic waterfall.
The thing about this unique eatery is that the menu is upscale and the dining experience is nice, but they cater to the casually dressed bikers and hikers. We were given great treatment by Kara Maguire, who is related to the owners. And we got a special treat when the Head Chef, John King, came out personally to serve us our unique and tasty dishes. All this while we sat at a table overlooking the waterfall behind the mill.
The atmosphere was casual, but the dining experience was upscale. They first brought us some Asian inspired tacos as an appetizer. These were so good that they disappeared before I could even get a photo! For dinner, Julianne got a vegan dish called Beet Risotto that included some root vegetables that had been steamed and spiced and were laid on top of the risotto. It was very tasty. I picked up a nice pulled-pork three cheese sandwich with their homemade “Mill Slaw.” Marissa had a chicken curry sandwich which was also quite amazing.
After dinner, we spent the night in Bristol, Virginia. I had earned a free night through my Choice Hotels points and stayed at Quality Inn and Suites. It was a nice restful evening as prepared to get up early the next morning to return to Whitetop.
Our drive up to Whitetop Station on Sunday was phenomenal! Along the roadway there were many places where we saw sunbeams coming through the trees, such as the photos that I have included below. Reminded me of a reference to Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:3 in the New Testament that says: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Indeed, on US 58 near Damascus, we too enjoyed the lights from Heaven on that Sabbath morning.
After dropping them off on the trail, I made my way back down the road and visited a couple of the bridges and then went on to Damascus and did more driving around town to find old buildings, little bed-and-breakfast places and ultimately a place for us to eat dinner.
On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a place along the trail called In the Country Bakery and Eatery. There are actually many places along the trail, some of which are actually a challenge to get to via automobile but have been built specifically to handle trail traffic. I
already mentioned the Upbeet Cafe and Creeper Cafe above. But on this day we stopped at In the Country which sit on the outskirts of Damascus. They offer sandwiches, baked goods and home made fudge. Their food was reasonable and they had indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the trail across US 58.
On the same site they have a great ice cream place called Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream Shoppe. It so happened that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day so we all indulged in ice cream.
They offered about 20 different flavors and also had some sherbets so it was perfect for a very warm day.
After lunch and a little relaxing Julianne and Marissa took off for the remaining 13 or 14 miles of their trip to Abingdon, Virginia on the Creeper Trail. I too made my way to Abingdon via US Highway 58 and took a couple of detours to get photos of the trail with them riding on it. I also found a couple of nice bridge shots along the way.
Apparently, the last few miles of the trail to Abingdon have a grueling gradual uphill climb, but not nearly the altitude change. Indeed, Damascus sits at 1952′ while Abingdon is at 2087′, which means about a 100′ rise. However, there was still some downhill from Damascus apparently.
I got to Abingdon much earlier than they did and was able to drive around the little town, which also caters to the biking crowd and to the hiking crowd. I discovered a movie complex with great wall art so had to grab a couple of shots. Always like fun Wall Art.
Abingdon has a Virginia Creeper Welcome Center at the end of the trail and it includes many old relics from the railroad and also has the last train engine to ride along that railroad from the 1980s. The final bridge, bridge number one, is the end of the trail and in that vicinity there are other little things to see.
After we loaded the bikes, we departed for Kentucky via Bristol, VA where we had spent the night previously. Bristol, VA is one of those unique towns that actually is split into two states. The drive along State Street will feature flags of the United States and Virginia on one side of the highway and flags of Tennessee and the United States on the other side. There are theaters, and number of murals in the town and the fairly well known large archway that welcomes people to Bristol.
While driving through town we came across a fast food place called Pal’s Sudden Service. We didn’t stop there to eat (we were already full), but I loved the unique building design — totally quirky. And I really got a kick out of their road sign — Exercise Daily. The building only has drive thru windows and no other windows. But the giant hot dog and hamburger can’t be missed! They apparently are located mainly in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, with 28 shops dotting this region. The company got its start in Kingsport, TN, where the original Pal’s still sits with its giant Burger Holding Muffler Man statue (looks like I need another trip!)
Our Drive back to Lexington from Bristol took us through Cumberland Gap and we were able to take the famed Cumberland Gap Tunnel which brought us into the town of Middlesboro.
Originally completed in October 1996, the tunnels each carry two-lanes of traffic. Each tunnel was bored through 4100-feet of solid rock. At the tallest point, the tunnels are 30-feet high. Cross passages, located every 300-feet, connect the two tunnels and are equipped with fire extinguishers and phones for emergency use.
Since the mountain releases approximately 450 gallons of water every minute, thick PVC liner around the tunnels ensures that the bores stay dry. Air quality is monitored constantly by electronic sensors, and ventilation fans are located every 600-feet to keep air circulating in the tunnel. Variable message board signs are located in the Cumberland Gap vicinity to warn drivers of impending hazardous traffic and weather conditions or to direct traffic flow. AM and FM radio stations can be overridden with emergency messages as well.
The town of Middlesboro, KY is one a few towns in the United States or perhaps even the world, that is built completely within the confines of a meteor crater. We stopped there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some fairly good food. From there we zipped back up through Barbourville and Corbin and then back into Lexington.
It was a quick two day trip, but it was very fun and the scenery was amazing. The mountains of Appalachia especially in southeast Kentucky southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee are very beautiful. We look forward to taking another trip to the area in October when the colors should all be changed. Needless to say, the summer brings its own variety of colors in the wildflowers, some of which I captured in digital form…another plus to a trip like this!
In recent weeks, my wife Julianne has taken to riding on bike trails around the upper Midwest. In the past few weeks she has ridden bike trails in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon be on a nice trail in Virginia.
She is finding these very enjoyable and has done some with her sister and some with our daughter Marissa, and one even with the grandchildren. As a support driver I enjoy taking her and driving the back roads to meet her (and the others) along the trail.
Many of my upcoming blog posts will cover some of these scenic bike trails, many which are called Rails to Trails. This post is an overview of these trails with links to my posts below and also brief details about the Rails to Trails movement and some of the things that are going on with that around the country.
As some railroads have gone defunct or gone out of business, the rails have been pulled up and trails have been made to replace them. These trails include the bridges and trestles, assorted tunnels (some of which are very long) and, of course, the wonderful scenery that these old railroad tracks pass through.
This whole movement was started by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which transforms unused rail corridors into vibrant public places—ensuring a better future for America made possible by trails and the connections they inspire. According to their website, the “RTC serves as the national voice for more than 160,000 members and supporters, 30,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America.” It has been in operation since 1986 and the trails continue to get placed all over. The RTC History can be seen in detail here.
Julianne has fallen in love with these and I have too! Currently I only provide vehicular support, but I hope to be on the trail with her in the near future after I am able to get a bike. In the meantime, I am thrilled to drive the back roads nearby and see the small towns. Those too will be documented.
Not all of the Bike Trails are “Rails to Trails” trails. There are others such as the Legacy Trail in Lexington which has been built specifically as a bike trail…from scratch. These too will be covered.
Much of the documentation on the bike trails centers on the trails, but little is written about the “support” roads that a driver would want to take to meet the riders along these long trails, if wanted or needed. I have made efforts to document this in photos and will provide details in the posts on each trail…including maps when needed. (If links are not live, then the posts are still being worked on)
Finally, I have worked with Julianne to rate the trails. She will rate them from 1 pump (poor) to 5 pumps (excellent). Each separate post will include her comments about the specific trail. Comments and details will be in each individual post, but the ratings are also shown below with just a couple of comments.
Following is a growing list of trails — long and short — that we have covered. Check back here often as I will update links here and minor details as new trails are taken.
The first of the trails is perhaps our most visited due to proximity to where we live. It is the “middle of the week” riding trail for my wife and occasionally my daughter who joins her on these trips.
The Legacy Trail runs north and south through Lexington among green spaces, neighborhoods and parks. The trail joins the Kentucky Horse Park and the Lexington YMCA. (There are plans to extend it south beyond the YMCA to the memorial art garden named for African American jockey, and multiple Kentucky Derby champion, Isaac Murphy).
This trail is about 12 miles long and is completely asphalt. Julianne typically takes it form the Coldstream Parking Lot, so it is a bit shorter. But, she adds an additional 8 miles with a ride along the roads in the Kentucky Horse Park.
Julianne and her sister Laura rode a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail while on a trip to Ohio in early May 2016. We made a visit to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park after we found that part of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath runs through that park. Julianne and Laura rode about a 10 mile section of this 85 mile long path which actually runs from Scranton Flats in Cleveland down to Bolivar, Ohio. While they rode the predominantly crushed gravel trail, I visited some sites in the National Park.
Montour Trail – Pittsburgh, PA (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
On another trip in May 2016, Julianne visited her sister in Canonsburg, PA. Right outside of Canonsburg is the Montour Trail which actually runs from the northwest of Pittsburgh (starting at Moon Township), down through Pittsburgh and into Canonsburg area. It is about a 30 mile trail. The unique thing about that trail is that it also meets up with a much larger trail called the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. Complete from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Rail Trail to create a 335-mile non-motorized route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. They hope to ride the complete trail in 2017.
Dawkins Line Rail Trail – Swamp Branch, KY (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In early June 2016 Julianne and I took a trip down to Salyersville, KY (actually to the small village of Royalton) in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. This was at the trail head of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail, the longest Rail Trail in Kentucky. It is currently 18 miles long, but will be extended to 36 miles in the next year or two. The second half of the trail was to be completed and opened to the public in November 2015, but was still not completed on our visit. It will supposedly extend farther west into Breathitt County and will include access to the 1,556-foot Tip Top Tunnel. The trail passes by historical coal structures, goes over 24 scenic trestles and also includes the Gun Creek Tunnel, which spans nearly 700 feet. It was the first trail that she had been on with a tunnel.
Little Miami Scenic Trail – Southern Section – Xenia, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In mid-June 2016 we made our first trip to Ohio so Julianne could ride the southern portion of the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 78 mile trail that stretches from Springfield, OH (north of Columbus) all the way to Newton, OH (just outside of Cincinnati). On this trip she decided to take the southern half of the trail, from the main Xenia Station to the small town of Morrow (the trail actually goes all the way to Loveland, but it was a bit too far to ride that day.) as of this trip, Julianne has been happiest about this particular trail, thus a Five Pump rating.
The trail is paved all the way and has lovely shady areas, some nice bridges and also links to a number of other trails that comprise the 330-mile network of paved, off-road trails in Ohio’s Miami Valley. Eventually this trail will be a link in a trail that will go from the Ohio River in Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie in Cleveland (called the Ohio to Erie Trail).
North Bend Rail Trail – Cedar Grove, WV (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In late June 2016 Julianne once again met up with her sister in West Virginia for a ride down the North Bend Rail Trail. It is a 72-mile trail in north-central and western West Virginia and is operated by West Virginia State Parks. It is also part of the and is part of the American Discovery Trail. On our June trip, we started at North Bend State Park and she and her sister rode west to Cedar Grove (Happy Valley). The trail has 13 tunnels that were originally constructed by the B&O railroad. One of the tunnels, nearly 2000 feet long, is also supposedly haunted.
Julianne rated this trail a three due to the nature of the trail. There are parts with rough, sharp gravel that are not conducive to hybrid tires. But, on the other hand, the trail has some beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately for her, just after the long tunnel she got a flat tire and had to walk nearly five miles to meet me at the next location. Cell service is scant along this trail and much of the trail is not close to any roads.
Little Miami Scenic Trail – Northern Section – Springfield, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In early July 2016 we took our daughter and her three children and headed north to Springfield, OH to catch the northern section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail. This portion of the trail runs form Springfield, goes near a great dairy (perfect for an ice cream stop!), passes through the artsy town of Yellow Springs and makes its way into Xenia and beyond. Like the southern section, it is all paved and very scenic. There are a number of side trails available.
Tri-County Triangle Trail – Washington Court House, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
We visited this trail in early July 2016, taking a trip up to the town of Washington Court House, OH. Julianne rode the 32 miles into Chillicothe, OH. Like the other Miami Valley trails, this one is paved all the way and also very scenic, though it has less shade than the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Also, unlike the Little Miami, there are many more rural areas without cell phone service. But, Julianne said it was a fun and enjoyable ride.
Virginia Creeper Trail – Damascus, VA (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
Perhaps one of the most beautiful and fun rides out there, the Virginia Creeper is about 33 miles of bike riding bliss. We visited in mid-July 2016 and took the drive from Damascus, VA to White Top Station in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. From there the ride begins with a nearly 17 mile downhill glide on the crushed gravel surface. The trail goes through luscious forests, passes by a number of Christmas Tree farms and over a number of bridges and trestles into Damascus (known as Trail Town USA), which is a perfect place to stop for a break before tackling the more challenging ride to the trail’s end in Abingdon, VA.
Damascus has a number of Shuttle companies that will take you and your bikes to White Top and then you can ride down. You can also catch similar shuttles in Abingdon.
Julianne rates this a 4 1/2 only because the gravel trail can be tricky. However, young kids and older folks all seem to enjoy the downhill ride. The last 6 miles into Abingdon is a gradual uphill battle, but doable. Definitely one of America’s MUST VISIT trails. That is why it is a Hall of Fame Trail.