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2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I75 Bridge to Dam 9 (Mile 157.5)



I’ve mentioned before that I’m both forgetful and that I’m a klutz.  I forgot to mention something else:  I'm prone to impossibly bad luck and timing as well. I can’t know what’s going on up there but I imagine it to be something like:  “Hey everybody!  Watch me pull another fast one on DiNardo!”  And everyone explodes into laughter.  Well, after what happened this past weekend I now have no reservations in referring to myself as “the impossibly hapless forgetful man-klutz”. 


Please don’t misunderstand. I haven’t lost all my pride. If it’s true that hardship builds character, then I may have more character than any 10 people on the planet!  What's more, I've come to expect misfortune.  Certain situations no longer irritate me the way they once did. I simply deal with things as best I can and hope that I don’t inconvenience others in the process of extricating myself. 


What happened?  It’s this simple:  my keys were in my pocket when I went into church and they were gone when I left.  I covered every avenue in order to find them, even going so far as to check the pew twice to make sure I hadn’t left them there – I hadn’t.  So what did I end up doing?  I walked 5 miles back home in my church shoes.  Ouch!  Then I spent Monday waiting for one locksmith to open my car and then for another to mold me a new key.  Fate had cost me $155 and I still need to get the other keys made!  My apartments keys were also on the chain that I lost.


Anyway, my fortune is always better once I get out on the water, so I drove down the street (Tate’s Creek Road) and put in at Donaldson Park on the Jessamine county side of the Kentucky River.  This is the point at which the Valley View Ferry crosses the water. 


More on the ferry in just a sec, but I'll note here that the drive to this put-in is simply beautiful.  Tate’s Creek Road winds through the rolling acres of many horse farms and while the area is getting built up with a few new subdivisions, there are still some nice old farmhouses too.  This is same the way you'd go to reach the Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, by the way.   Raven Run is a great place to hike just south of Lexington  In fact, I’d pass under their overlook in my kayak later on this day.


As for the Valley View Ferry, it was established in 1785 and it’s the oldest operating business in Kentucky.  There used to be dozens of these ferries on the river but this is the only one left.  In fact, every time I see an easy slope to the riverbank that’s been cleared out I automatically look on the other side to see if there’s another one.  If there is, I wonder if it was an old ferry site – like I had back at the Red River.


Anyway, Valley View is so pleasant that I hear they once filmed a movie scene here.  I haven’t yet been on the other side of the river to see what it’s like over there yet, but I could see part of it from the park.  Donaldson has, by the way, some amazing flood makers, and it’s stunning to see how far the river has risen in years past!


I started down to dam 9 to get that in first, because last year I ran out of daylight when I started this stretch at about this same time (10AM).  I also got the side creeks in, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s do this in order. 


I paddled up to the I75 Bridge and immediately downriver from this was the boat that I mentioned in the last entry.  I got some more shots of this and looked for a name, but it didn’t appear to have one – at least not that I could tell.  This could have been a ferry boat but I’m not sure.  It also had a gas pump on the side, so it may have been a convenience store too at some point.  Likewise, I noticed that there’s a paved ramp that comes in nearby here, and so I now see that there’s a nice ramp on the right bank on either side of the I75 Bridge.



Prior to paddling on, I turned the map in the direction that I’d begin kayaking the river today and looked at it.  Ladies and gentlemen we have a…nose!?!  This shape would form the outline of a person looking to the right, and I’d paddle it from the bottom base.


You’ll know you’re fully in the palisades region on this trip because for about the first 5 miles (169 – 165) a rock face will come in perfectly from a different side at just about every mile mark.  A rocky side alternates for 3 more miles after this too, though there’s no palisade.  Mile 161 is then skipped, and  a full mile of palisades follows.  What can I say?  This place rocks!


Anyhow, as you start out from the bridge the rocky bank will be the left one.  It’ll begin with just a rocky bottom but it’ll end at a full palisade which contains a fault line.  Yes, a fault line!  Check out the curves the rocks make – especially at the bottom center!  They seem to arch downward at a 90 degree angle.  There are caves in here which I’d love to explore, but I think I’ll pass! 


This cliff here is called the Bull Hell Cliff, and the community of Clays Ferry will be on the right as you make the curve.  There are quite a few houses with boat docks here.



Nearing the end of mile 169, a family of little ducks posed for me.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune on this!  In fact, my luck with animals on this particular trip was quite extraordinary.  (As I said, my fortune on the water is much better than it otherwise is on land!)  I felt like Dr. Doolittle!  These ducks were all just standing in a row on this log preening themselves.



It was right after this that the minnows appeared again.  I JUST missed getting an ideal picture of them swimming in a perfect circular formation.  I also saw 2 deer, numerous gar, my first wild turkeys of the year, a few squirrels and more herons and other birds which I couldn’t properly identify.


The Elk Lick Creek comes in at about the nostril of the nose shape, but it was dry over a large shoal today.  This would have been a great place to stop but there were signs which discouraged doing so, and just before the next palisades at the tip of the nose at mile 167, you’ll see the Kentucky American Water intake.  This facility is truly amazing and I’ve been known to describe this as something out of some kind of science fiction movie.  Here’s how I described it last year (I don’t think I can do any better): 


“What you’re looking at is the side of a very steep forested mountain.  The woods have been cut out so that they could put in piping to take water in from the river.  There are at least 4 things going up this mountain.  The water intake itself, another pipeline which apparently returns some water back to the river (I know this simply because there was a flow of water coming out at the time), a staircase and a kind of rail line.  This is all accompanied by the hum of the machinery.  This time when I paddled by I got an unexpected surprise when I was able to actually see a guy coming down the mountain in a little cart on the rail!  Taken together, this is something that has to be seen to be believed.  I’ll simply have to look into taking a tour of this place.  Unreal!”




A lot happens between mile 167 and 166.  First, the rock faces end at the mouth of Raven Run Creek (which I know from my hikes to be really nice).  This creek comes in from the right and the navigation here is quite hazardous.  A power boat would have to get almost all the way over to the left because a rocky shoal juts out about 75 feet from the shore - almost to mid-river.   This shoal lies just under the surface of the water, and although I’ve paddled here before, it still nearly caught me today. 


Bill Lail Island (said to be the only island on this river) is located immediately after Tate’s Creek on the right close to shore, although it seldom really looks like one except at very high water.  Today its channel was blocked by debris on both ends so it wasn’t navigable all the way around. 


Raven Bar is a narrow, sandy beach across the river from Raven Run, and also on this left side is the ominously named Devil’s Meat House Cave which lies in the midst of the palisade at mile 166.  I believe this to be the very large chasm in the rock that I could only just make out through all the trees, although in all my times out here I can never seem to decipher exactly where the actual cave might be.  There could be many possibilities. 


As the rocky character of the left side ends, the Hines Creek comes in after some power lines over the river, but it was choked off with debris from the onset.  On the other side, and down to mile 165, was a cleared out landing on the right which looked like it would be a perfect spot for a summer camp.  It ended at what looked like the semblance of an old ramp which was complete with a U.S. flag at the top.  Nice touch! 


As I continued on the straightaway from mile 165 to 164, there was a super nice farm visible on the left side immediately past Hines Creek which had its own ramp.  There were also quite a few homes and/or getaways on this side after the farm, and on the right there was an interesting stick of metal protruding from the ground which had a metal wheel midway up.  If this wheel had been at the top, it would appear as if a pinwheel.  Please forgive my ignorance, but I have no idea what this is.  The mile ends on the right with a little dock that contains a nice shady river overlook at the top of the bank.


At a curve right after mile 164 the Jacks Creek comes in on the left.  I got in for a 100 count, which would be about 200 feet according to my “paddle” method (described in a previous entry), and while I was heading in I noticed what looked to me like a hunters perch.  There were wooden steps up a tree which ended at the platform.  Paddling this stream was irritating though…  How could gnats do something so utterly disgusting as to fly directly into your eye! 


It was just after emerging from this creek that a spontaneous stream of flowing water erupted from the left side out of a culvert as I looked back into the mouth.  There were also many more fish visible here (as there seem to be at the mouth of every incoming stream on this river), along with another really nice looking farm.  In fact, there was a series of buildings on the left which appeared to be of the same kind of construction (log cabins with red metallic roofs?), and it was on my last trip through here that I noticed a “for sale” sign in one yard.  Since the sign was no longer visible, however, I assumed that someone had quickly snatched it up. 


Across from this location is the Jack’s Creek Bar on the right, and there could have been a ferry here too, as there appears to be an area cleared out on both sides. 


The charts now go to another page ...  Time for another shape maybe?  Well, well, well!  We’ve got another nose!  This one is slightly more inclined than the last, but the “person” is still looking to the right, and this shape would extend from between mile 163 and 162 all the way down to dam 9. 


The area now clears from out here to mile 162, thus revealing some nice rolling farmland, so I was beginning to see more and more of this heretofore elusive scenery.  In fact, I felt as though I was making up for lost time having missed so much of it upriver.  At about mile 162 the rocky shorelines emerge again on the left. 


Halfway between miles 162 and 161, the Dry Branch enters on the right.  It’s dry (how bout that!  Dry Branch – dry!), but on my way upriver I ran into a really friendly couple just downriver from this.  They were just hanging out enjoying the scenery.  The woman mentioned that she had been on a boat ride in the 70’s that went from Boonesborough all the way to Cincinnati.  Wouldn’t this have been nice!  I can only imagine it.  It really seems that those who experience this river develop quite a fondness for it that they’re always ready to relate, and I’m always happy to meet these people and share a mutual interest in the river with them. 


On a side note, I only recently realized that I was misspelling Booneborough!  The name has an “ugh” at the end of it!  Funny...  Nothing about this community would elicit this kind of response!  I’ll go back and make a spelling change to my prior journal entries…


After Dry Branch enters, you’ll see open hills of farmland on the right, while the rocky side of the river will be on the left all the way to mile 160.5.  After this, the rocks will switch to the right again at a palisade which will extend for another mile and a half all the way around the tip of the nose silhouette to mile 159.



There are 3 really nice little unnamed streams which come in on this stretch.  In the springtime I, and a friend of mine, paddled right into them and were able to see nice waterfalls in each one.  Today, however, I wasn’t even able to get in!  Lovers Leap lies atop this palisade, although I know that there are more spots with the same name further downriver.


As this palisade ends at about mile 159, a ramp comes in from the left side, and it appeared that there could have been another camp here as there’s a kind of shelter atop the bank, and looking into the distance I actually spotted a couple kayaks near the mouth of Tate’s Creek! 


Once I got down there I found 2 guys fishing out of these.  They didn’t seem to be too bothered by my appearance, but I’m always hesitant to greet fishermen out of fear that I’ll scare away their fish, so I paddle all the way over to the other side and don’t even say “hi” - I just wave.  These guys initiated a conversation though, and we ended up talking for quite a while.  In fact, it turned out that they had put in at Donaldson Park like I had, and were ready to go, so we all paddled back together relating river stories all the while. 


One of these gentlemen mentioned that there was once a crossing of civil war supplies near the mouth of Jack’s Creek – well I had just passed this creek without even knowing this!  On a side note, I just happened to run into the other guy the very next morning outside a Lexington coffee shop, and was once again amazed by chance encounters! 

Have you ever been surprised when, after never experiencing a certain thing before, you just happen to encounter it multiple times in a short span?  This could be a person you meet, something you see, or simply a word you hear; but it happens to me sometimes and it’s amazing!  Anyway, I learned quite a bit from both of these guys and I was grateful for the opportunity.


I ventured up Tate’s Creek at mile 158 for about ¾ mile.  The creek was apparently named by Daniel Boone for 2 boys named Tate who had escaped an Indian attack by running into this stream.


At this point I was now in Jessamine County (at least on the north side of the river), and I need to mention something else here.  The good people of this county have such affection for this river that they’ve put out a guide called the Jessamine County Kentucky River Boating Guide (available at the Chamber of Commerce and online at fantastic guide contains vintage photographs along with historical information for the entire stretch of river in this county (down to Brooklyn at mile 113) – and it’s available free of charge! 


Anyway, downriver from Tate’s Creek there’s a lot going on.  There’s a private boat dock and ramp on the right and the aforementioned Valley View Ferry runs over the river as well.  Work was being done on dam 9, which was viewable in the distance, along with some of those old bridge piers I’d been seeing all along the river this trip.  I had surmised that these were the remnants of old railroad bridges, but the guide I just mentioned provided the last clue to the mystery of these for me.   


There was once a railroad called the RINEY-B (an acronym for Richmond, Irvine, Nicholasville, and Beattyville – although you could also throw in Evelyn and Yellow Rock for the “E” and the “Y”) which used to run all along the river, and these old piers are apparently the last vestiges of that railroad. 


It all finally fell into place!  This railroad would have crossed the river at the old bridge pier remnants I saw in Heidelberg (mile 249) Evelyn (236.5), Irvine (217.5) and now Valley View (157.5)!  I’ll see if there will be more…


Anyway, with all this – the ferry, the railroad and the boat dock – it’s apparent that Valley View used to be quite a hub of activity!  This is especially true when you stop to consider that it’s the closest spot to Lexington on the river and that it would have been the point to cross the river if you wanted to head south from the city prior to the construction of the I75 Bridge.  One of the 2 gentlemen I met had also mentioned this.  There also used to be a saw mill here and a steamer line which ran all the way up the river to this point. 


Spears Branch enters the river just at the bridge piers on the right, but it wasn’t really evident, and at the dam it was obvious that they were doing quite a bit of work.  (By the way, I’ve found a website with more pictures and information on all of the lock and dams at  This is a great resource which I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled upon until now!)


Lock and dam 9 is, in fact, similar to lock and dam 10 in that both were washed out by the 1905 flood.  Thus, this location also has a sheltered pool like dam 10 which was apparently carved out by the debris from this flood.  We’ll have to see if there’s a large beach on the other side of this lock and dam like there was there, although it doesn’t seem so from looking at the map.  I’ll find out next time…




This is pretty easy.  Simply follow Tate’s Creek Road all the way (Spears is the last town you’ll pass) till it ends at the river.  There’s a small park on the right (Donaldson) with a few parking spaces.