2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek


  Thursday, August 28, 2008


Dam 8 to Mile 129



Sorry about the somewhat nondescript name above for the end of this trip.  You see, I started out wanting to get to the Jessamine Creek closer to mile 127, but I ran out of time.  I woke up a bit later than usual and wasn’t able to get everything in.  I’ll pay for this the next time I come out though, because I’ll have to make up a lot of ground. 


There are only 3 public access points in this pool:  one at mile 135 ( Camp Nelson, the one I’m using today) and two at mile 117 ( High Bridge and Shaker Landing, almost directly across).  There’s nowhere in between.  Thus, you have to paddle a lot if you want to see everything.  A put-in near the Jessamine Creek would make this pool a lot easier, but I’m not complaining.  It’s all good!  This part of the trip was possibly the most spectacular yet! 


The put in at Camp Nelson is in a really significant spot - lots of history here.  I got to it by crossing over the US27 Bridge over the river, and the roadway for this bridge was cut right out of the hillside (Kentucky has something between hills and mountains and I never know what to call them – “hill-tains” maybe?  Maybe not…). 


After making the first left after crossing this bridge (if you come from the north as I did), you’ll wind down to the river on the original roadbed to Nicholasville and Lexington that used to go over the Wernwag Bridge (the supports of which are still visible here).  More on this bridge later...  The Wilderness Road itself crossed the river near here too!


The ramp I would use today was the one for the Otter Outpost, and while they might draw quite a crowd on the weekends, there wasn’t a soul around when I was there.  There are quite a few dwellings in the vicinity though along with a campground, and there are actually 2 different ramps you can choose from here.  A friend of mine and I came down and used one of them when we came last fall.  I decided to try the other one this time.  


Both ramps will cost you $5, and every paddler I’ve talked to believes this to be a bit high, but people do have to make a living and this is a fantastically historic place as well as being near the heart of the palisades.  So too, this would be a wonderful pool to see in the fall – in fact, some parts of it look like fall right now!  Mile 131 to 130 especially!  If you’re a lover of the fall season, as I am, you can get a head start on it by coming out here.


I paddled up to lock and dam 8 where I ended the last time, and here I have to mention yet another awesome resource which I only just discovered.  If you’re interested in the lock and dams, another great website to visit is www.nandwphoto.com.  They’ve got a ton of pictures of these dams as well as a lot of information on the river itself.  In fact, I was informed by the owner of the site that this particular lock was the last to be made of all stone by Italian stonemasons. 

The physical location of dam 8 from this side looks almost exactly like that of dam 12 in Irvine, and I was able to climb up the bank and onto the lock to get some pictures.  It was so overgrown, however, that I couldn’t really see much and I didn’t have a lot of time to walk around. 

There’s also another beach here (partially visible to the right in the picture below) on the downriver lock side which could rival the size of the one back at dam 10 in Boonesborough Park, but it's not been developed as one.  This would be a great Nicholasville beach!  This is pretty incredible to me, and I hate to be a broken record, but it’s too perfect!  Please allow me to envision this again:


Lock and dam 14        Heidelberg beach and campground

Lock and dam 13        South Irvine beach and campground

Lock and dam 12        Irvine/Ravenna beach and campground

Lock and dam 11        Richmond beach and campground

Lock and dam 10        Already a Boonesborough/Winchester beach and campground

Lock and dam   9        Lexington beach and campground

Lock and dam   8        Nicholasville beach and campground

Lock and dam   7        Haven’t seen it yet, but probably a perfect High Bridge/Wilmore beach and


Lock and dam   6        Harrodsburg beach and campground?

Lock and dam   5        Versailles/Lawrenceburg beach and campground?

Lock and dam   4        Frankfort beach and campground?

Lock and dam   3        Monterrey beach and campground?

Lock and dam   2        Lockport beach and campground?

Lock and dam   1        Carrollton beach and campground?



The entire middle of the state could have a ready source of water fun!  I look at it this way:  the more awareness that can be brought to the river, the more likely this will become.  More awareness would first engender an aversion on the part of people to pollute this river.  People would simply be more reluctant to do so if they knew that more eyes were on them.  At the same time the communities, to include both government and private enterprise, could get more involved in coming up with better environmental alternatives so that certain kinds of pollution need no longer be an easy option.  Government could provide the incentives and private enterprise could provide the solutions.


The environment would then be given a fair opportunity to cleanse itself naturally, and the cleaner water which would result would enable people to swim in it again without fear of bacteria.  This could, in turn, drive revenue back into the 3 groups which made it happen in the first place:  communities, government, and private enterprise!  Oh, how I’d love to see this happen!!!!  Am I a hopeless dreamer?  Maybe, but it sure is sweet to think about!


Enough of my musings!  There was a warehouse in the early 1800’s immediately down from dam 8 which was called the Liberty Warehouse, and it served the tobacco farmers between the warehouses at Quantico Landing and Hickman Creek.  The first marker you’ll notice is here, and it corresponds to the Jessamine County Boating Guide I keep mentioning…  Wait a minute!  This was very strange… 


The booklet on the history of the river was supposed to cover dams 6 through 9, yet I hadn’t seen any of these markers in the last pool...  Odd…  They must have been vandalized or stolen.  Anyway, the markers that do remain now are orange with numbers on them and I would see several on the trip today.  It appears that all of the ones in this pool are intact so far…  (I’d find a possible reason for the missing markers on a later trip.) 


I noticed here too, the remains of “someone’s” lunch - that someone being an animal of some kind!  There were a lot of large shells lying on the dead trees in the water with the mussels eaten from them.  I wondered what kind of animal did this?  Whatever kind, it must have been pretty strong to pry open the shells.  I’ve heard that shellfish can exert an absolutely amazing amount of pressure in keeping their shells closed to predators.


After the beach at the dam on the right side, the bank turns rocky at the start of a curve left in the river while it’s forested on the right bank.  In fact, there really isn’t much farmland in this stretch - at least not that’s visible.  One side is rocky with or without a palisade and the other is forested, either with hills or with a landing atop the bank.  The exceptions to this are the dam and Camp Nelson itself. 


The bend left here that extends for the first mile and a half is called the Round Bottom Bend, and on the left bank is the Round Bottom Bar.  I met a nice fisherman here on my way up.  I never know how to greet these boaters except with but a wave, yet there was no such ambiguity in this encounter.  The man actually shut off his motor to talk to me!  We shared a moment of mutual respect for the river before he started to drift too close to the bar and had to restart his boat.


When you get to mile 138.5 you’ll be entering what’s known as the Devils Elbow.  The shape of this area looks more like a tooth (molar) to me, but this was, nevertheless, a tooth which chewed up a lot of log rafts in the old days.  To understand this, you have to understand how things used to be on the river before the dams were built. 


From the 3 forks all the way down the river people would construct rafts which they would then stock with all kinds of wares – anything which might sell downriver, be that in Frankfort or in New Orleans!  These boats or rafts could weigh in the tons, and all the men who were to be in each crew would wait until the early spring rains came to provide enough water for their rafts to float downstream…


Well just as soon as the river was high enough to lift the rafts from the shoreline, off they went – and these guys would be away from their wives and families for months if they were going all the way to New Orleans (and, incredibly, a lot of them would walk back!).


Now with the high water the river could be pretty rapid.  Picture this along with a ton of these rafts crowding the river.  The men were cold, wet and fatigued - maneuvering these boats would take a lot of strength and tenacity even in the best of times, yet the curves in the Devils Elbow at mile 138 and 137 presented a challenge to even the most expert navigators.  If they didn’t negotiate the bends just right, they’d get the boat stuck on one of the bars… 


Imagine having to unload a ton of freight in order to float your raft off the bar, and then reload it again, while at the same time keeping it from floating downriver while you load it!  (Quickly too man!  You don’t want the others to gain an advantage further down south!)  You’re now even colder, wetter and even more tired than you were previously (you’re probably in a vicious mood by now too), and you could be doing all this only to get stuck again at the next curve!  It would be enough to drive a man insane.  Thus, the name Devil’s Elbow!  Rafts and cargo both intact and in pieces must have really piled up here making for quite a chaotic scene indeed!

Ugh!  I think its best that I get back to the present now!  It was a LOT more tranquil here today (as you can see from the picture above), and even the creeks who's bars used to cause all the problems looked pretty innocent!  Dry Run (heard that name before!) comes in - dry - at the mile 138 curve, and Canoe Creek comes in just after over a large rocky shoal.  This shoal was, in fact, almost an island which I came very close to paddling around today.  Canoe Creek Bar (the sandy kind!) is across the way. 


At the mile 137 curve the rocky bank will switch to the left, and on the right at this point is where the navigation charts indicate Firstvineyard used to be.  I suppose it could have been here, too, but the boating guide had this location as being in the last pool.  Maybe I’ll be able to reconcile the two versions sometime...  [I've actually been able to get some clarification on this since I wrote this journal.  According to George Dean of Jessamine County, this spot was actually above dam 8 on a hillside near the Sugar Creek Ferry landing across the river from an early Garrard County shipping warehouse and settlement (Quantico).  Thank you Mr. Dean.]


On my way up to the dam I had noticed quite a bit of wildlife in this area.  I was just able to spot a turtle (which looked to be of the box variety) emerging from the depths at the middle of the river to stick its’ nose above the water.  It darted back down as soon as it noticed me (maybe the bubbles I see coming to the surface all the time are from turtles at the bottom of the river?). 


I also stopped to take a little movie of the gar with my camera.  They were “fishing” for minnows.  I hadn’t noticed any of them in the last pool, but the minnows in this pool were now visible in giant waves, and the gar seemed to split them up and go after them individually.  You could hear the gentle “sklorp” and “plop” sounds as they popped up just over the water to snatch the little minnows which swam near the surface.


At mile 136 a palisade will come in briefly on the right side just before Little Hickman Creek enters at the curve left (lots of fairly sharp curves here, but they’ll lengthen shortly).  There’s another large shoal here with a gravel road coming down onto it, and there’s another SWEET looking cabin just up the bank.  This cabin then ushers in a series of dwellings on this side, and on the opposite side is the road which I wound down on to reach the put in at Camp Nelson


By the time you reach Hickman Creek at mile 135.5, there are dwellings on both sides of the river, and you’ll see the US27 Bridge in the distance along with the palisade that was cut through to accommodate it.  As mentioned before, this general area was the site of the Wilderness Road which crossed over the river.  Talk about history!  This was a main path of travel for some of the earliest settlers of this nation! 


The Hickman Creek is pretty nice, and it reminded me a lot of the Lower Howard Creek back at mile 174.5, both in the way it meandered and in the way it got shallow quite quickly.  I got in about 100 yards, which wasn’t quite far enough to view what the navigation charts indicated was Daniel Boone’s Cave further back on the left.  Across the river from the mouth of the Hickman, Shannon Run comes (a few feet wide on this day) through the Hickman Bar.


The area just downriver from Hickman Creek on the right is called Boone’s Knoll.  The first steamboat to travel from Kentucky to New Orleans was built here.  This was also a major supply point for a civil war army base that used to be here, and at other times this was the location of a ferry, a warehouse and even an oil terminal.  The showboats also stopped here. 


To look at it now, you can’t imagine all this, but Camp Nelson used to be quite a hub of activity.  The succession was thus:  the Wernwag Bridge made all the ferries in the area obsolete, and when it was condemned 88 years later, it was replaced by a steel truss bridge (still here) in 1926.  Then, in 1971, the US27 Bridge would make the steel truss bridge obsolete.  Sadly for Camp Nelson, however, US27 was built to stretch so far over the river that it completely bypassed the town, and this must have nearly wiped it out as a commercial center.  Nicholasville then became that center.


The Wernwag Bridge looks like it was a real beauty from the pictures I’ve seen.  It was actually a 2 lane covered bridge, and it was so important during the civil war that it was heavily guarded on both sides.  The abutments, which look like they were quite well done, are still here and they certainly conjure up images of the past!  

So, too, does the steel truss bridge which still spans the river here.  Its roadbed is still intact too, but it’s blocked off.  I’m going to look into approaching this area from the other side of the river sometime to get that perspective as well. 


Immediately down from these bridges there’s an old intake for a former distillery on the right (I noticed the warehouses for this on the drive back – they’re still standing out here), and a large RV park/campground is on the left.  It’s in looking downriver from this spot that you’ll see the palisades in full splendor on either side of the river.  They’ll tease you, coming in on one side and then the other as the river meanders through them.   


You’re entering into a long “C” curve at mile 134.5, and from this point on these palisades will be constant companions.  You’ll be able to see them at every point, and if they’re not visible right alongside you, they’ll be visible in the distance or through the trees.  They made me feel small and insignificant, and even though the wildness of this river has been tamed by the lock and dams, these palisades provided testament to the power and grandeur of this underappreciated river.


The palisade on the right in mile 134 reminded me a lot of the one which contained the Devil’s Pulpit back in the last pool, and the White Oak Creek comes in just before mile 133 over another large shoal.  This creek was several feet wide, and its’ shoal was another one which was quite nearly an island.  There were markers on the other side of the river that warned me to keep out, although I didn’t really notice them too much as I was gaping at the beautiful palisades on the opposite side after White Oak Creek (these stretch for another couple miles).


When you get to mile 131.5 look closely on the left for the Candle Stick rock formation.  It’s free standing and has its own marker down by the water (look for the orange).  There’s a picture of it in the boating guide and there are guys standing under it and on top of it in the picture!  It must have taken them quite an effort to get up there.  The rock looks pretty precarious and they couldn’t have known whether or not it would topple right down on them as they were climbing up.  Who says there weren’t any daredevils back in the 18 and 1900’s!  This is the formation right in the middle of the picture below with a little bush on the very top edge.


Right after Candle Stick the palisades will switch back to the right side again and, even though it was still August, it looked like fall here.  It was absolutely glorious with the palisade AND all the color!   

Here at mile 130 on this (right) side was the historical marker for the Camp Nelson waterworks, which supplied water to the old war camp.  The old structure for this looked pretty grand from the picture in the boating guide, but there didn’t seem to be even a trace of it left.  When it was in operation, water was pumped all the way up the hill here to a reservoir near the abandoned distillery I mentioned on US27 and this, in turn, fed into the camp.


I got a little confused at this point.  The navigation charts indicate that either 2 rock formations, 2 caves or a combination of these lie here - Swallow Rock and the Golden Gate.  I think the Golden Gate is the rock formation in the photo below.  It sure looks like a golden gate!  Not 100% certain though…  Swallow Rock?  I really don’t know to be totally honest.  Once again, if you know, I’d love to hear from you! 


I made it to about mile 129, and I’ll describe the spot as best I can.  It was at a seeming break point between the palisades on the right – a point where the rocks at the very bottom of the bank had given way to a muddy/sandy bank, and on the left side was a spot where several cow paths had converged at the river.  I was a bit dismayed that I had not made it quite to Jessamine Creek but hey, as my Uncle puts it:  “Into each life a little rain must fall!”


All the way on this trip I noticed that the buzzing insects had gotten more aggressive.  Even when I was out in the very center of the river they still buzzed around me, and they were now the most persistent they’d been to this point.  I imagined some of these to just be flies, but it was still a bit disconcerting not knowing for sure whether or not I’d get stung.  I really nailed one, in particular, a couple times with my paddle - unintentionally.  I never found out what it was, but I felt it and I heard the “bap!” when it hit.


One of these was a bee though.  I annoyed it somehow and was just able to duck my hand into the water before it stung me.  I then drenched myself with water (bees supposedly don’t like water even though they’re on the river now!).  Bees seem like drivers.  Irritate them, even unintentionally, and they’ll risk their lives to teach you a lesson.  Bees die after they sting you.  Drivers risk their lives in the process of trying to “put you in your place” - and worse - they could even kill you via car crash in the process!   Sticking up for yourself is one thing, but others always seem willing to go to greater lengths to get their way - and for what?  To defend their right to be rude in order to gain a few seconds of time?  And now that I’ve ensured myself of a mess of hate mail…


When I got back to the ramp I had another dog barking at me.  Great!  I didn’t have a problem here, but this was getting annoying.  It seemed that I was encountering a dog at every ramp.  The dog was the only sign of life, though, and I hoped that the Otter Outpost would get some business over the Labor Day weekend so that people can see all this!




Access to this ramp is right near the US27 Bridge going across the river at the top of the southern hill.  If you’re coming from the north, it’s the first left after you cross.  If you’re coming from the south it’s the last right before the bridge.  Unfortunately, the road sign ( Camp Nelson Road) had been taken off or stolen when I was there.  There is a nice newer log cabin at the junction which is somewhat distinctive.  Wind straight down this road until it levels out and as it does, look closely for one of the two ramps on the right side.  You can’t go too far.  The road dead ends at that steel truss bridge I mentioned.