Frankfort Blue Grass - Buffalo Trace Distillery Lexington Kentucky Horse Park - Kentucky Bluegrass Driving Tour Somerset Cumberland Falls Park - House Boats Stearns 1902 Mining village Other pages other states | articles
This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: South East
In the travel series View America, South East covers Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
This e-book does not describe directions, lodgings, restaurants, casinos or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 80 full-sized photos.
~ ~ ~ ~
KENTUCKY is also named the Bluegrass state, after the famed Bluegrass on grasslands in central Kentucky. The grass itself is obviously green, but it carries purple-blue buttons, which give it a blue tint. The name Kentucky comes from a Cherokee word, and it used to be spelled Kaintuckee or Cantuckey, as still can be seen on old trail signs of the Natchez Trail in Mississippi.
In 1792 Kentucky joined the US as the 15th state. It is one of the four states that are allowed to brandish the title Commonwealth. The state motto is United We Stand, Divided We Fall, the first part of which was adopted throughout the whole nation.
The state is positioned on the border between North and South, and although officially it remained in the Union during the Secession War, it was a very contested issue and many citizens fought in the Confederate Army. Strangely enough, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, the two great protagonists in the Secession War, were born in Kentucky !
The capital is Frankfort, and the largest city is Lexington. There are some four million inhabitants, with a population density of 40 per km2. The state's surface is 100,000 km2, and it is still forested for more than 40%. Approximately 60% of the pastures are used for grazing cattle or horses. Kentucky lies entirely in the Mississippi area, which had an important impact on its development toward the south.
The main crop is tobacco, for which Kentucky is the number two producer, after North Carolina. Lexington is famous for the breeding of cattle and race horses. Kentucky is also renowned for its Bourbon, and it produces more whiskey than any other state ! The underground passages of Mammoth Cave National Park consist of a series of caves on five levels, that connect to two other similar systems. Together, they have more than 560 kilometers of passages, which makes them the largest cave complex in the world!
Driving east on the I-71, the landscape becomes more mountainous, with rather hefty ups and downs. This is due to the fact that eastern Kentucky borders the Appalachian Mountains. The scenery is definitely worth admiring : you'll see short and high hills, covered with dark green foliage and pine trees. The Kentucky River offers many picturesque views. The wide and well-maintained interstate see-saws up and down from one hill to another, and presents a truly magnificent Broccoli-landscape !
The Blue Grass region is located near Lexington, and Blue Grass is particularly suited for grazing. The area around Lexington is famous for its many large horse farms. The view of vast pastures, each beautifully surrounded by high fences, is most special !
The Buffalo Trace Distillery produces some of the finest Bourbon in the USA. Kentucky is famous for its high-quality Bourbon, which is a whiskey that has to meet far stricter requirements than "normal" whiskey.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery was established in 1787, when an entrepreneur built a distillery on the Buffalo Trace, a path used by the buffalo to trek through the hills. This trail was soon also used by the pioneers to discover new lands, and by the trappers, the fur traders and the farmers, who shipped their grain harvest to the east.
In 1857, the very first steam distillery in the nation was built at this location. In 1886 it was not only renowned nationwide, but even worldwide for the quality of its Bourbon. During the Prohibition, it was one of only four distilleries to receive a special permit to continue its activities ! As they say, only for medicinal purposes...
Lexington is also called the Horse Capital of the World. The Kentucky Horse Park assembles and documents many horse-related issues. The park is very large, with a surface area of 1,000 acres or 400 hectares. Since 1839, it was the location of a horse farm, that was purchased by the Commonwealth of Kentucky with the intention of establishing a museum, and a rest home for famous horses !
The International Museum of the Horse offers a superb overview of the evolution of the horse from fifty million years ago until now, its origin in North America, its migration to Europe and Africa, and the whole history of the horse from before the Greek civilization. Furthermore, it documents the evolution of the different horse races (some 450 of them...), and the difference between trotters, race horses and work horses!
The museum also shows the evolution in carts and wagons, and the famous Conestoga wagon, which enabled the pioneers to unlock the West.
The Kentucky Bluegrass Driving Tour shows the finest Horse Farms around Lexington, situated in an outstanding background. The views are magnificent, and the surroundings are very restful. We also admired a couple of tobacco farms, and saw lots of tobacco leaves, hanging in the barn to dry.
The eastern part of Kentucky is almost entirely covered with woods. We took the Cumberland Parkway to Somerset, and the forested panorama is extremely scenic. The highway is perfectly situated between the rolling hills, and the pavement is in pristine condition.
Country road CR-90 leads to Cumberland Falls Park. This road is an interesting experience all by itself over its length of some ten miles... People from Kentucky don't have to visit any theme park whatsoever to get a Roller Coaster ride, they just have to drive on this road ! There is no straight stretch of road that is longer than one hundred yards, and to make certain that the driver stays wide awake, the road constantly jumps up and down...
Cumberland Falls Park has some extraordinary waterfalls. It also is the only place in the eastern hemisphere, where one can get to see a Moonbow in the moonlight ! These falls may be somewhat smaller and less imposing than the Niagara Falls, but still they are about forty meter wide and twenty meter high, and set in an exceptional wooded landscape. As a matter of fact, they are called the Niagara Falls of the South ! Furthermore, the riverbed itself is most picturesque, with the many sand-colored rocks, resulting from water erosion.
Stearns is a timber and mining town, that was founded in 1902 by Justis Stearns. According to the legend, this Michigan financier bought some 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) in order to develop it for wood industry. A few years later and quite by accident, coal was discovered, and so he expanded his operation, built an entire town, and became even richer...
In the 1950's the coal began to run out, and in 1976 the family sold everything. The town became a ghost town, even though everything is still in pristine condition. Now it has become a tourist attraction. The buildings can be visited, and a tour can be made on the Scenic Railroad, which is the train that went from the warehouses to the mines!