The weather never cooperates. Our original plan had been to spend three days and two nights exploring the Auxier Ridge area of Red River Gorge. Faced with a 90% chance of rain for most of the day Friday we decided at the last minute to book a hotel room, sleep dry, then get an early start Saturday morning. As it turned out, this was a wise decision.
Our first order of business upon arriving at the Gorge was to obtain our backcountry camping permit. I’m sure there are more convenient ways to purchase one of these permits, but I decided to get ours from the Gladie Visitor Center in the heart of the gorge. The drive through the park is nice, I wanted to go through the Nada Tunnel, and we had plenty of time to kill.
Normally I’d put a picture of the visitor center here, but I’m not very good at this.
Because we would only be camping for one night our permit was a modest three dollars. While we were at the visitor center we walked around and looked at some of the displays, read some interesting local folklore, and I studied the shape of black bear tracks. Five toes makes them easy to identify.
After spending the twenty minutes required to fully experience the Gladie Visitor Center (Is there a larger nature center somewhere?) it was time to head to our luxurious accommodations at the Black Bear Lodge. On the way we passed through the Nada Tunnel. Originally constructed to get logging trains in and out of the gorge, the tunnel is now open to traffic. The eastern portal had a fairly substantial waterfall due to all the rain.
On the way to check-in we stopped off at a small shop to see if there was anything we could get my mom for Mother’s Day. Amanda went inside while I stayed in the car and tried to get enough cell signal to determine where we actually needed to go to get our room keys. After crawling along with one bar of 3G service I realized that the office I was looking for was inside the building I was parked in front of. So that was handy.
The two ladies working the check-in counter were very friendly and the lodge we were staying at was only an eighth of a mile down the road. We came up empty on Mother’s Day gifts so we gave up and headed to the room. It was about what you would expect for $80/night, but it was clean and had a roof and a TV so I wasn’t complaining.
It didn’t take long for us to get bored of sitting at the lodge. Not many other people had shown up and the ones who were there didn’t seem overly social. Since the rain had nearly stopped we decided to drive down the road to the Natural Bridge State Park and walk around a bit.
We parked across the river from the Hemlock Lodge and started down the gravel trail to the suspension bridge. The long-distance Sheltowee Trace trail also follows this same path on its route through the park. I, in my infinite wisdom, had worn my tennis shoes rather than putting on my hiking boots like Amanda did. I had to exercise some creative problem-solving skills to get around the puddles without getting my feet wet, but I managed.
Around the time we crossed the bridge the rain decided it wasn’t done with us. We took shelter on Hoedown Island for a minute (seriously, who named that?) to decide what to do next. We didn’t want to go back to the hotel already, so we headed up the 200 steps that wind their way up the hillside to the Hemlock Lodge to see if there was anything interesting to see.
There were a handful of people staying at the lodge and from the deck we could see the buffet set up in the dining room. We walked a little farther and found the hotel bar, so we went in for a beer. The bartender was extremely eager and friendly. A young kid, only 22, he said he was from nearby Stanton and had opened the bar himself. I have no idea if this was true or just a story he tells tourists to get better tips, but he was entertaining to talk to. I hope his bar does well.
After finishing our drinks and paying our tab we made a run for it to get back to the car. I don’t have what I would consider a runner’s physique, so it must have been a sight for the people on the balcony.
For dinner we had intended to try the Rock House, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about. By this point we were starting to feel lazy so rather than drive all the way to the other side of the gorge we went to a small Mexican place called La Cabana, right beside our hotel. The food was solid. Standard fare for just about any small town Mexican place. I’d go back.
We returned to our room and I started slipping into a food-coma. There was no sense in fighting it. We had two big days ahead of us. I was out by 9:30 and Amanda was asleep shortly afterward. We would end up sleeping for nearly ten hours before waking up to start our adventure.