Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 24, 2013

Carrie Stambaugh: A cure for the fall blues: 10/25/13

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — A trip, I have found, is the best remedy for a weary, worn-out spirit. When life just seems too busy, too confusing or just plain mundane, a getaway is the perfect cure.

The destination and length are less important than the physical act of leaving behind the known to discover the unknown. Like most folks these days, I don’t have a lot of cash after the bills are paid to spend on vacation.

But I own hiking boots, camping gear and am blessed to live in the Bluegrass State where entry into our 49 state parks, 61 State Nature Preserves and the Daniel Boone National Forest are all free.

So Saturday afternoon, Carl and I laced up our boots, loaded a cooler with food from our fridge and tossed the tent, sleeping bags and camp stove into the Volkswagen. More importantly, we shut off our cellphones and locked them in the glove box before embarking on a much-needed mini vacation. Destination: Daniel Boone Country.

For less than $200, we spent four nights camping and five days exploring some of the most beautiful landscapes in the commonwealth during the peak of fall foilage season. It was exactly what we needed to recharge before the hectic holiday season starts.

We started out at Carter Caves State Resort Park, where we joined family for a night of fright on the Haunted Trail. After splurging on Sunday brunch in the lodge, we took a meandering drive through Carter, Rowan and Menifee counties to Natural Bridge State Resort Park. We spent the next two days camping here and hiking a plethora of short trails in the park and surrounding Red River Gorge area.

Both Sunday and Monday boasted gorgeous blue skies and mild temperatures, which complemented the vibrant rainbow of leaves still clinging to the trees. The towering rock cliffs, majestic arches and hidden rock houses elicited awe and spurred our imaginations. Lounging for a while in the afternoon sun on the meadow at Gladie, we contemplated life in a little log cabin.

We weren’t the only creatures enjoying the final warmth of fall — swarms of aggressive yellow jackets were out in full force, too. Twice, we fled with our lunch from outdoor picnic areas into the safety of our enclosed car to avoid being stung. As we ate in the air conditioning, the angry insects bounced off the windshield or crawled along the windows trying to get inside.

Although Tuesday dawned overcast and rainy, the views along the winding back roads as we drove south to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park were still stunning. Park entry there is also free and the camping is cheap.

After a lazy afternoon hike, we cooked a pot of chili for dinner and spent the night spotting shooting stars while warming ourselves around a campfire.

The highlight of the trip, however, was the drive north the next day. Just outside of Cumberland, we crept along the paved section of Little Shepherd Trail, which traverses Pine Mountain into Kingdom Come State Park. It is truly the crown jewel of the region’s most prominent mountain.

The day was blustery and cold with light rain, but the sweeping views of color-studded mountains rolling away as far as we could see in the distance is what took our breath away and flushed our cheeks with rosy color. In spite of chattering teeth and cold fingers, we lingered for long minutes at overlooks soaking in the natural beauty of our home state.

 After a final heart-pounding hike to Letcher County’s Bad Branch Falls, we headed home via back roads.

By the time we arrived in Ashland we’d traveled some 600 miles. Our bodies were tired, but our spirits had been recharged.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at carriestambaugh@gmail.com.