September 16 Audubon State Park, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana

HendersonKY (8) I walked in a hardwood forest today that measured up to my imaginations.  One of my dreams for this trip was to experience the thick green life of a hardwood forest up close.  I thought that would happen in Minnesota, or maybe New York, but instead it happened here in Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio River.  The John James Audubon State Park in Henderson has several hundred acres of climax hardwoods, some more than 200 years old.  The major trees are beeches, sugar maples, basswood, several varieties of oaks, tuliptree, catalpa, huge sycamores, ash, elm, and the Kentucky coffeetree.There are 61 varieties of trees here, including some rare species. 

The museum was built by the CCC, another incredibly fine example craftsmanship and art.  It houses the greatest number of original Audubon paintings of any museum in the world.  There are original intact copies of all four volumes of the Birds of America, published in 1837. What I didn’t know until today is that these books are nearly 3 feet tall, in order to represent the birds at life size.  In addition to the art, the museum had artifacts of his life and the displays told the story of his life work, his children, his devoted wife, his connections with people in power in the early 19th century.  It is a fascinating story. You cannot imagine the incredible detail and beauty of an original Audubon painting without seeing it.

HendersonKY (4) When we pulled into the state park campground last night, we were a bit disappointed.  It seemed too close to the highway, too open, and a bit tattered.  I had seen the park on Google Earth and was expecting something different, I guess.  The night was warm and humid and when we went for a walk the sounds of crickets and other bugs was almost deafening.  We slept well, though, and this morning our explorations of the museum and the rest of this gorgeous state park, which includes hiking trails, two small lakes, and a golf course, more than made up for the deficiencies of the campground. 

EvansvilleIN (33) This afternoon was warm and humid again, but not at all uncomfortable, and we drove back across the Ohio River to Evansville, just a few minutes north of our camping location here in Kentucky.  Evansville has a thriving historic district, and we drove the streets ooohing and aaahing at every corner as more and more huge old homes came into view.  I did wonder just how many photos I could take of these houses, but they are irresistible. We ended the day with a long walk along the greenbelt, a beautiful parkway punctuated with art and walkways, memorials, and bronze plaques detailing the long storied history of this river town.

Lewis and Clark passed by here on their voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and John Wesley Powell rowed past this town when he paddled the full length of the Ohio River before he became a geology professor and then later explored the Colorado River. Hardwoods and history.  Our days have been filled with both in a part of our country that I never have experienced before this trip. 

EvansvilleIN (41) We talked about our last cross country trip, and how different this seemed to be.  Somehow that trip, while interesting and wonderful, didn’t pass through landscapes that were so new to us.  Texas still felt like the West, and I had been in Florida so the south wasn’t completely new to me either.  Somehow this world, all the way from Eastern North Dakota, through the north country of the UP, to these woods of Kentucky, somehow they feel brand new.  These are landscapes I have read about in the history books, in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. I’m glad for the chance to follow this river, the heartstream of a huge part of our country.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.

September 15 The Ohio River Scenic Byway

Cassstown_to_Henderson (19) I learned about the Ohio River today, as we traveled from Ohio, and across the southern boundary of Indiana. The Ohio River Scenic Byway covers three states along 967 miles of natural and cultural history.  Leaving Casstown this morning, our route took us south toward the river, and we chose to follow the blue dotted line, curves and all, in order to see the countryside.  The first part of our route wasn’t too impressive, and I wondered what the “scenic” really meant.

We had been on winding roads so much of the time, and decided to take a bit of a break around Louisville, and followed the Interstate for a time before dropping back down to the river again.  It was a great decision, because from the town of Sulphur on state route 66, through Evansville, we followed the river through forests and farmlands  and river towns rich with history.

Cassstown_to_Henderson (10) The town of Madison was especially inviting, with 1500 buildings and all 133 blocks of the town listed on the Historic Register.  A point of frustration for us, especially on a scenic byway, was the lack of places to stop and park and actually see the river.  The road was incredibly narrow and winding, with no shoulders at all, and no place to stop.

But finally at the tiny town of Derby, we found a lovely park along the river, and a big barge happened to pass by at just the right moment.  I love the signs telling about the history of what we are seeing, and as silly as it seems, these sign photos really help me to remember the stories of where we have been. This sign was especially good, with a clear panel that made my photo look like something framed rather than an actual scene.  Made me laugh.

Cassstown_to_Henderson (24) We followed the barge along the river until we came to the Cannelton Locks, where again there wasn’t any place to park or pull over.  High on a hill above the locks, however, is the Eagle Ridge park, and as we walked out to the overlook, we got to see our barge going through the locks.

Today was my 65th birthday, and it was great to spend it exploring some part of the world that is new to me.  Sometimes birthdays are strange, and I find myself waiting for the band to come marching through.  Most of the time, there is no band, but in this case, since I was traveling, it didn’t matter!  I talked to my children and to my dearest friend back in California, and the chance to connect with family and friends was a good thing. Cell phones are an amazing thing.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.