Road Trip IX, Days 33-37, Kentucky to Kansas: Bluff Buffs, Sharing Our Love of Sandstone

Since this is Road Trip #9, you can imagine how many times The Mate and I have crossed Kansas. But Kentucky, not so much. We’ve generally passed either above or below it; the big interstates make it fairly easy to miss. But this year we went to eastern Kentucky, on purpose, for two reasons.

Reason #1: St. Patrick’s Day was our 40th anniversary, and we wanted a pretty place to spend the night, plus a kitchen for me to make the Reuben sandwiches we’ve been eating together ever since March 17, 1979.

Thus: Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Ooooh.

Pretty place with kitchen: check.

Reubens: check. (Roasted Brussels sprouts weren’t a thing 40 years ago…but they are now!)

I’ll be honest: the culture of eastern Kentucky makes me uncomfortable. In these polarized times, it’s hard not to imagine people looking askance at our scruffy Subaru, and The Mate’s ponytail. It’s hard not to wonder how we’d be received if we were a gay couple, or people of color. I also imagine what they’d think of me, a middle-aged lady acting like an early retiree, eating my hummus-arugula sandwich…a left-coast, REI-wearing, Subaru-driving Ivy Leaguer…

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much CNN, or reading too much US history, but that polarization is real

So it was a sweet relief to get up into those lovely trails and find people…enjoying the same beauty I was enjoying.

Ooh!

The Natural Bridge itself is very cool…

…whether from above…

…or from a distance

…but it’s only part of the sandstone sculpture on display. There’s also balanced Rock…

Rock: check. Balancing: check.

Lovers’ Leap…

Those teeny-tiny tents down there tell you how high up this is. Leapin’ Lovers!

…and then just the stone itself. I couldn’t get enough.

So…pretty!!!! I can’t stand it.

All the trails are concentrated in a small area, so I imagine during high season it must be pretty crowded. But in March, meeting handfuls of other tourists was just nice. Everyone up there had walked steep trails for the sake of scenery: my people!

Reason #2 for our Kentucky dalliance was two sets of old friends, not seen for over a decade. The first lives in Louisville, where I didn’t take any pictures, but we did ride our top-favorite bike path, the Louisville Loop, so here’s a picture from last year.

Coolest bike path ever! You go, Louisville!

The second was in Land Between the Lakes, near Kentucky’s western tip. We met our friend for a day hike, then spent another night in a very pleasant cabin. (Could we have camped? Yes. It only got down to freezing that night. I wimped out. No excuses.)

“Hey, it’s nice and warm in here.”

No sandstone here, but we did enjoy a lovely lakeside walk…

No sandstone? No problem.

which treated us to some splendid little crowds of turtles.

Yes! Spring’s a-comin!

And just as before, meeting fellow walkers in the woods did my conflicted soul as much good as reuniting with an old friend.

From Kentucky we headed across Missouri, another non-Subaru state. There, we visited another section of the amazing Katy Trail, a 200+-mile rail-trail that stretches nearly the entire length of the state.

And such a cute name too.

Our section follows the Missouri River, thus…bluffs!

Ahhh…

Otters wallowed in the powerful current. Cliff swallows attended their nests. Signs alerted us to Lewis and Clark’s one-time camping ground.

Mud nests. Not pictured: otters, and Lewis & Clark.

Because it was the middle of a work week, we met very few souls out on the Katy. But just knowing it was there, knowing that citizens of Missouri support this…

You can see I-70 crossing the Mighty Mo in the background

and this…

Free air for your tires and everything!

…gave me those warm fuzzies about my fellow Americans that I so badly need.

Next day, we had one more sandstone encounter, this time in Kansas. Most of what you see of Kansas from the interstate is fields (pretty unimpressive this time of year), but as you might expect, a few miles off the big roads yields great results. In this case: Wilson Lake State Park.

I mean, it’s not a wheat field, but it’ll do.

And guess what: sandstone bluffs again!

Hey, buddy!

Once again, our privileged status, on vacation in the middle of March, gave us the park to ourselves. And the solitude of my walk set me thinking.

The real stuff, the good stuff, what we share as fellow Americans–love of our land, our families, and our freedom to enjoy both–that’s our bedrock. Like sandstone, it has accrued over time, all the time warped and eroded by pressures like economic need and religious mandate. Sometimes it’s just covered up by ugly growth.

Something like this

So I hope and pray that this period we’re living through now is one of those temporary times–a period of ugliness from which our bedrock may emerge. I pray the rock isn’t riven straight down to its core. Let those bluffs hold.

Road Trip VIII, Days 14-18, Albuquerque, Oklahoma and the Ozarks: Green Chiles, Porcupines And Beavers, Oh My!

If you appreciate rodents of usual size, cute cabins, and veggies of Hispanic cuisine, this post is for you.

Fourteen years ago our little family of four spent five months in Santa Fe as part of the Mate’s last sabbatical. We love our wet, green northwest home, but we never got that red desert out of our system. We LOVE coming back to New Mexico.

Albuquerque is actually a better fit for us than artsy Santa Fe, with its twisty old streets too narrow for biking and its running trails all headed straight up mountains. And since we have a dear friend in Albuquerque it’s become a regular stop for us.

Of course we have to get our fix of the best green chiles in the country. These are from The Range in Bernalillo:

Encrusted with blue corn, served with arroz verde!

Then a hike along the flank of the gorgeous Sandia mountains.

Thanks to Desert Buddy Beth for taking this!

Usually we head into the heart of Texas after leaving the Land of Enchantment, but this year we let a ferocious tailwind zoom us across the Panhandle and right into northwestern Oklahoma.

On past trips OK has been a mess of blizzard or tornado, but this year it’s been downright lamblike. We spent a night each at two different state parks, Boiling Springs in the west and Greenleaf in the east, with a bike ride in Tulsa along the Arkansas River in between. We now have a much cosier relationship with the Sooner state.

Boiling Springs is an oasis on the prairie, featuring enormous cottonwoods. The joys of off-season: we had the whole place to ourselves, and the cabin cost less than a nice motel room.

But the highlight was this porcupine, asleep in the high, sunlit branches with only a tubby half-moon for company.

Wait a minute…that’s not a bird’s nest!

By the end of the following day, no more coyotes howling at night, and cottonwoods had switched to oaks as we entered Ozark country in eastern OK: Greenleaf State Park. The hiking was only ok (appropriately), but oh, those CCC cabins!

Doesn’t it look like it’s melting? I guess those CCC boys found a way to build quickly on a slope.

Because the weather gods were being so sweet, we decided to take advantage and visit another state that’s usually “under the weather” in February: Missouri. (Also, we just couldn’t resist staying off I-40 one more day! No offense, I-40…we’re just a tad sick of you.)

And in the Missouri section of the Ozarks is where we met not only this beaver

Hey, what are you doing awake in the middle of the day?

but also a spring which makes Oklahoma’s “Boiling Spring” seem like a joke. Notice I didn’t take a picture of Boiling Spring? Now check out Missouri’s Big Spring:

288 MILLION gallons per day bursts out from the base of this cliff!

The Show Me State is right! Here are a couple more views:

The limestone cliff wall, leading to the spring

Closeup of that incredible upwelling of water:

I have Spring Fever!

Oh, and lest you’re wondering about those Traveling Avocados of ours…#4 topped a delicious plate of pasta containing capers and sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan and greens, but we snarfed it before I remembered to take a picture. And #s 5 and 6 are apparently holding off ripening till we arrive in North Carolina. I feel ya, avocados!