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2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek

 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

 

Dam 7 to Froman’s Branch (Mile 106.5)

 

 

Archaeology – a search to uncover and study what remains of the past in order to get a better understanding of how things used to be.  At least that’s my definition.  To me, the “past” in such regard doesn’t have to be millions of years ago; it can also pertain to uncovering something from only a few decades back. 

 

In speaking to that point, I’d say that on this trek I’ve come to quite a few places that have had a lot of history to discover.   At this point, however, I might have to rank the area around Brooklyn, Kentucky as possibly the most fascinating of these.  The thing that gets me here is that the history is so close!  I’ve just missed it by only those few decades, if even that. 

 

For starters, just on the north side of the river at the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll see a tunnel through a cliff which is just visible through the trees.  This tunnel was the very first one built for highway traffic in Kentucky!  There would be much more to see…

  

 

 

Getting to the ramp was really confusing though, because the navigation charts had it in the wrong spot.  The directions to it were correct, but its’ physical location was off by about ¾ of a river mile.  The ramp is actually located upriver from the Brooklyn Bridge at about mile 113.5, not downriver as indicated. 

 

Adding to the confusion was the fact that you’d never even have a clue there was a ramp here unless you were really looking for it!  As you drive in and cross the bridge from the north (or before you cross it from the south) there will be a furniture store on the north side of US68 (it seems this used to be the restaurant called Wards Landing).  It’s right after this that you have to keep a keen eye out for an unsigned road heading to the ramp (also on the north side of the road).  You’ll drive back down this little gravel road, and in a clearing you’ll make a left turn which will take you down to the ramp.  It’s adjacent to the old boat hull that lies abandoned.

 

This ramp once belonged to a place called the Palisades Adventures Marina which was still on the charts although it appeared as if it had been out of business for quite a long time.  I saw an old sign which indicated that they also used to run cruises. 

 

The restaurant too, looked like it must have been quite nice when it was in business – as nice as any on the river.  It’s currently a furniture store as I mentioned, but there are some nice grounds and a gazebo here which indicate that the restaurant might have once had some outside seating capacity as well.  It must have been a classic. 

 

Across from this is a fenced in area that covers up a couple tunnels through the rock.  Incredibly, there used to be a gas station and convenience store here called Chinn’s Cave House!  The store was in the cave!  You can still see the ruins of it on the side of the road, but I have seen old post cards showing what it used to look like online (although they’re quite expensive because they’re so rare).   It looks like this place was absolutely incredible to see!

 

In fact, this whole area is absolutely fascinating, and it’s certainly one place I would give anything to have seen 50 years ago, yet it now has the feel of a once thriving but now forgotten location - which only adds to the intrigue!  There’s an interesting half finished building once you get to the ramp which typifies this too.  It looks like it was meant to be a house but I’m not totally sure.  It’s got 3 stories and it was obviously meant to be something quite grand.  It could actually have been Palisades Adventures main building at one time, or at least what was meant to be a reconstruction, but it has the look of something that was started with great hope and expectation only to succumb to a lack of money to finish it or a lack of business to support its continued construction.  I wonder what happened to Palisades Adventures…

 

Anyway, once at the ramp it became clear that the parking would be kind of willy-nilly.  First, however, I had to find a level spot at which to get my boat and gear down and I, like the last time, had to park my car at an angle partially blocking the ramp in order to do so.  No problem.  This ramp seemed kind of remote…  Well, as I was coming back up, guess what?  A truck and trailer was already backing down the ramp!  The moment was a bit awkward, and as the driver stopped and got out and I apologized to him.  Luckily, he ended up being quite nice, and we’d end up seeing each other on the water a couple more times during the day.

 

Dam 7 at river mile 117 is the one with the hydroelectric plant I described in the previous entry but, once up there, I noticed that it couldn’t have been garnering too much energy since there wasn’t much water coming over the dam.  There were the 2 boats and another fisherman on the bank at the lock side when I arrived (this one has another nice beach). 

 

On the opposite side was a fairly large rocky shoal at the base of a palisade, and as I headed back downriver from the dam this palisade began to recede a little bit to let in some trees.  Conspicuous in its absence, however, was the middle layer of this little forest.  There was underbrush with the trees but not much mid-level growth and, from up against the shoreline, this enabled me to see right through to the cliff base.  The area reminded me of the one at Wagers Bend way back at mile 222 in Ravenna, but with cliffs visible instead of farmland.

  

 

 

Roughly a mile down from the dam on the right you’ll see a rock fence by the waters edge which is interesting.  There’s also a wall made of wood.  Part of the rock fence is now submerged but maybe this was some kind of retaining structure?  Both look like they’ve been around for quite a while and the stone wall, in particular, seems to have been very well put together.  Atop the bank it appears that there are a few dwellings between the river and the Cliffside which lies not too far back.

 

At about mile 115.5 the palisade on the left begins to recede, ushering in a line of houses 2 miles long which reaches all the way past the boat ramp and to the Brooklyn Bridge.  From the road you wouldn’t even know that they’re here.  Just like the houses back in High Bridge – a stealth community!  I assume this is the south side of Brooklyn, Kentucky (the Brooklyn in Jessamine/Mercer County that is – there are 2 Brooklyn’s in Kentucky) because past the bridge there are more houses on the other side (the north side of Brooklyn?). 

 

Once again, I noticed that a lot of these houses had boats, but quite a few also had either a kayak or a canoe - some had both.  I even saw another paddler!  As a side note, I half attempted to drive down the road which leads to these houses on my way out, but access to them seemed rather restricted with “Keep Out” signs visible. The place had the feel of a gated community where, if you enter, you’d defintately feel like an intruder.  I decided not to press the matter.

 

Mile 114 contains the Wilmore Water Intake along with some more of the Jessamine historical markers on both sides of the river.  This point was apparently a buffalo crossing at first; later to be used by another ferry called the Fulkerson Ferry which was alternatively used and owned by the Shakers for a time.  When that happened, that ferry became known as the “Shaker Ferry” proper, while this one became the site of the “Lower Shaker Ferry”.  Very enterprising, these Shakers!  They also had a warehouse on the left side here.

 

When I got to Brooklyn Bridge I saw another historical marker.  It would be the last one too, as I was to enter another county after this.  I’d miss these historical markers!  The reader will again have to bear with my naivety on river history, but I’ll do my best.  (I did, by the way, win an auction for a book called “The Kentucky” by Thomas D. Clark.  It was written in 1942, and I’m hoping that once I’ve read it, I’ll have had my river knowledge bolstered.)

  

 

 

Anyway, the marker was used to point out the location of the old bridge which used to go through the tunnel in the mountain I’d noticed on the drive in.  This bridge was used until 1955, and the shoal immediately downriver from this location was known as Singleton Landing.  Yet another ferry (the Cogar Ferry) operated here. 

 

It sure seems like there were a ton of ferries on the river, doesn’t it?  At first this seemed odd to me, but I eventually came to realize that these were the only ways to get across the river way back when.  The people who ran them charged tolls to make a living, and there were other businesses that sprang up around them to support the needs of the people who came through.  Sometimes there was even more than that – this particular spot once had a meat packing facility.

 

It looked like a fairly easy climb up the bank to get to the bridge tunnel so I tried it.  (I later found out that this hadn’t really been worth the trouble.  You can drive right back to this point on your way in or out and get a better look without having to go through this.)  While I didn’t quite reach tunnel, the side jaunt did end up being a good break and stretch period.  There were trails up there along the riverbank too.  I wondered just how far they went…  How far down this river could you actually hike????  In fact, I know that the Sheltowee Trace touches along the river in Heidelberg right near the ramp I used when I was there.  Very interesting… 

 

Coming back down to my boat I spotted a little lobster (crayfish or crawdad) on a rock in the water.  The picture makes it look larger than it was - it might have been about an inch and a half long.

   

 

 

For the next 2 miles or so, the rock faces were receded from the river.  I knew they were back there, of course, but they were hiding from me under a veil of trees that would slowly but surely gain more and more color as the days moved on toward October.  The banks, for they’re part, were both now forested, and for the first mile or so after the bridge you’ll see houses on the right bank.

   

 

 

Just before a power line coming over the river at mile 111, there’s supposed to be a rock formation called the Weeping Willow Stone House on the right.  I couldn’t quite see it through the forest.  Another mystery...   [Clarified thanks to George Dean of Jessamine County.  This was not a rock formation but an actual house.  Thank you, sir!] 

 

At mile 110 there was a fluorspar mine which I couldn’t see... 

 

I couldn’t see a calcite mine on the left side at mile 109.5… 

 

Curses!  Drat!  …  Oh, well...

 

Egad!

 

The Shawnee Run enters at mile 109.5.  I could see that!  Yay!  WHOO-HOO!  It’s really nice.  I got in 100 yards.  As you look at it, it has a nice flat and rocky spot which looks like it would be a nice overlook for Mundy’s Landing which is across the river here.  The palisades, for that matter, are back again too right against the shoreline of the river, and looking across the water as I came out of the Shawnee Run, I noticed a gravel boat ramp.

 

The sight which greeted me next (on the right at mile 109) was completely and totally unexpected.  It was what looked like a massive, old fashioned, southern plantation house – and it was right at the shoreline!  This is the old Chinn’s Homestead.  I had to look it up - William E. Ellis to the rescue!  I’m still using his book all the time (http://www.kentuckypress.com/viewbook.cfm?ID=1078&Group=48).  This house belonged to the owner of the Chinn Mineral Company, the one which operated the fluorspar and calcite mines that I couldn’t see.  The house is quite something!

  

 

 

½ mile down from this, the Rocky Run enters on the left side.  This looked to be yet another beauty, but I couldn’t paddle in far - only about 20 feet.  The stream was lush, green and inviting; and I was bummed I couldn’t get in much further, although it did look like it ended fairly quickly.  There was another invisible (to me) fluorspar mine across from this.

  

 

As you round a right curve in the river, the Twin Chimney Rock will become visible on the left.  All but the very top was blocked by foliage when I paddled by, but this is a stand-alone rock formation which has a crack right down the middle – hence the name.  This is at mile 107.5.  After this the river will curve left and once I got to Froman’s Branch (too shallow to navigate) at mile 106.5 I decided to stop and head back. 

 

There were several turkey buzzards here that were not scared off by my presence.  They were too intent on fishing it seems.  Some of them do a peculiar thing:  they’ll sit in a line atop a log looking down with their wings spread apart as if ready to take flight at the first sign of a fish.  They do this so closely together though, that the crowding would seem to take away any advantage that this would gain.

  

 

 

I saw another large bird on the way back.  Only its’ long neck protruded above the water, while the rest of it was submerged - kind of like some of the pictures I see of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster!).  It was kind of funny. 

 

There was a white goose too at the mouth of Shawnee Run and another bird that I’d not seen before.  It was blue and kind of plump looking as it sat on a tree branch preening itself.  I wondered what kind of bird this was?

 

 

 

When I got back and headed out in the car I took some more pictures of the area, and I also stopped to look at the bridge tunnel, as I mentioned.  There’s a little dirt road immediately after the bridge ends, and I drove in.  I was really careful coming out though.  The other side of the tunnel (you can’t drive through it) is even easier to access.  There’s a worn off spot on the side of the road where many people must have stopped to look at it just as I had.  This was one amazing day at one amazing location!

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

 

Take US68 to the river.  That’s the easy part.  It gets a little harder to describe after this because this city of Brooklyn (the Jessamine/Mercer county Brooklyn) is not on the maps I’ve looked at, so I’ll break it up by direction:

 

From the South:

 

If you’re coming in from the south via US68 East from Harrodsburg, you’ll want to turn right just before the river.  I didn’t see a sign, but this is apparently Palisades Road.  It’s just before BJ’s Furniture Store (the old restaurant) and it’s almost directly across from a chain link fence blocking access to the old Chinn’s Cave House on your left.  Drive into this and the first left you come to will be the ramp.

 

From the North:

 

If you’re coming in from the north via US68 West from Wilmore or Lexington, you’ll want to turn left just after crossing the river on the Brooklyn Bridge.  I didn’t see a sign but this is apparently Palisades Road.  It’s just after BJ’s Furniture Store (the old restaurant) and it’s almost directly across from a chain link fence blocking access to the cave on your right.  Drive into this and the first left you come to will be the ramp.