International Writers Magazine: US Road Journeys
Stewart County Thanksgiving
Ari Kaufman drives 1000 miles for dinner
day before American Thanksgiving, my girlfriend and I set out
on a roughly 1,000 mile trek from Terre Haute, Indiana, to her
parents home in the northeast Orlando, Florida, suburb of
Oviedo. We'd head right back three short days after arrival.
While time was naturally
of the essence since the turkey would be served sometime Thursday evening,
I had little choice but to do the mundane and pedestrian with
our rental car: drive down the way everyone else would, via Interstate.
Boredom of the driving variety infiltrated my mind each day preceding
the trip, thus I had to make some detours. After all, why drive down
if you're just going to see trees, a few hills, fast food places and
be stuck sitting in the same traffic as every other Turkey Day
So, for the first half of Wednesday, I used our point of entry on the
western edge of the Hoosier State for a slight detour that would prove
to be - thanks to map research - well worth the extra few hours and
Maria and I sailed west a dozen miles into Illinois, then picked up
the Eastern portion of the "Lincoln Heritage Trail" (Illinois
Highway 1) along the eastern spine of the state, just across the Wabash
River from my state of Indiana, cruising southward about 100 miles through
three or four cute small towns like Lawrenceville, Mount Carmel
and Carmi; the latter is pronounced "Car-my." All this
occurred prior to this mostly-languid road entering the Shawnee
National Forest, a beautiful enshrinement of the final 20 miles or so of
the otherwise dull state of Illinois. (Yeah, I've developed a bit
of a "rivalry" with me neighbors to the west since I
became a Hoosier.)
The Shawnee National Forest engulfs the entire southern portion of Illinois,
hovering over the Ohio River. As we drove through the eastern part of
the forest, which was now called the "Southern Portion" of
the Lincoln Heritage trail, we didn't pass any Lincoln haunts, but did
see immaculate farms, hills, streams and even a penitentiary. Then,
as we leveled off, approaching the Ohio River and the Kentucky state
line, we came upon the small town of "Cave-in-Rock." I had
noticed the signs for this intriguing-sounding town for many miles,
thus had looked forward to making its acquaintance.
With a population of 346 at the 2000 census, Cave-In-Rock
is a village in Hardin County, Illinois. Its principal feature is a
55-foot-wide cave on the Ohio River.
According to Wikipedia, "Cave-in-Rock was originally a stronghold
for outlaws including the bandit Logan Belt, Philip Alston the Counterfeiter,
the pirate Samuel Mason, and the Sturdivant Gang." Boy, those names
may be out of vogue now, but they are pretty unique. "Philip Alston
the Counterfeiter"! Love it.
After a short detour to see some of the quaint town's sites (there were
only a few), Maria and I planned to go over the Ohio River into Western
Kentucky via some sort of bridge, I assumed. But then the hilly road
that had been a rolling state highway just a few miles back before we
hit this town ended at the muddy Ohio River. Thankfully, before we were
submerged, I stopped as I saw a ferry coming back North across the river
toward us. A man with overalls was coming out of a small restaurant
with a toothpick ingrained in his teeth, so I got out and inquired
to him as to what the deal was. He told me we'd have to take the
ferry, so we plopped back into the car, followed him down to the river
(I supposed he crossed the river and state line for lunch) and
did so. And it was free. This was a good surprise, and only a tad longer
than the old Iron Ferry I had taken in the Northern Michigan town of
Boyne City this past July.
After we crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky and exited the barge,
we were about 40 miles of the east of Western Kentucky's largest
city of Paducah, and roughly 55 miles or so from the confluence of the
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at the town of Cairo (pronounced "Cay-ro"),
Another 20 miles or so down a windy, barren state highway, we hit the
town of Marion. It was, as you might expect, quaint. Most towns
in this region of my country are slightly antebellum, often built in
Fifteen minutes later, Lyon and then Lake County, Kentucky presented
themselves. These are the proverbial "gateways" to Land Between
the Lakes National Recreation Area, and the entrance to the park is
a few miles west of Interstate 24 and the town of Eddyville.
Just after passing the imposing Kentucky Dam, we stopped at the foot
of Land between Lakes Memorial Bridge, grabbing a seat near an area
called "canal overlook." It was serene and gorgeous. Doubtlessly,
a 60 degree, sunny late afternoon in the hills and rivers of Western
Kentucky would serve little interest to wealthy folks along America's
"fringe" coasts, but Maria and I plucked out some sandwiches
and soda, and enjoyed a wonderful 25 minute stop after a long drive
down, and with a longer drive ahead.
Run by the US Department of Agriculture, and not, like most national
park/recreation areas, the US Department of the Interior, Land Between
the Lakes is a United States National Recreation Area located in
both Kentucky and Tennessee and between Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
It is 44 miles from top to bottom, the last third or
so being in Tennessee. As we drove down the smooth pavement, I noted
to Maria that the drive "between the lakes" reminded me of
the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, though clearly not at the same elevation
as that "Highway in the Sky."
The area was designated a national recreation area by President Kennedy
in 1963. Originally managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, jurisdiction
has since been transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.
Near the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers
flow close to each other in the northwestern corner of Tennessee and
Western Kentucky, separated by narrow, low ridge. At first, back as
far as the 1830s, this area was known as "Between the
Rivers," but after a canal was constructed between the two lakes
in the 1960s, Land Between The Lakes (not Rivers) became the largest
inland peninsula in the United States.
As we drove southward through the area, I couldn't help but notice historical
markers and other signs referencing "furnaces." Thus,
I looked up some information about this curious entity when I returned
home. According to the "Kentucky Lake Explorations" website:
Western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee was once a major iron ore producer.
Although somewhat short-lived, iron made a significant economical impact
on the "Between the Rivers" area (now LBL).
It all started when the iron-producing potential was realized with the
discovery of iron ore, limestone, and timber in this area. Those
three elements are what are needed in the "smelting" process.
Furnaces quickly started popping up in the early 19th century.
By 1830, the "Between the Rivers" area was the third-largest
producer of iron ore in the United States.
Stewart County, Tennessee, which a part lies in the southern third of
the Land Between the Lakes, had 14 iron furnaces alone. These
were massive, pyramid-like structures made of stone with a pit in the
middle. To feed the fire, workers (many reportedly slaves) use
charcoal made from the abundant timber in the area. The so-called
"blast" was good enough to produce the iron ore. A by-product
of this process known as "slag" can be found strewn all throughout
LBL. Slag is easily identified as rocks with turquoise and deep
blue colors and can be spotted everywhere, especially in the vicinity
By the time of the Civil War, iron ore production is this area came
to a stand-still. The industry never really picked back up after
the war and by 1880 most the natural resources, once abundant, were
gone. The last furnace in Stewart County, TN, was shut down in
That was thorough enough for me, and although we never made it to the
Tennessee portion of the Recreation Area, we did see remnants of the
"furnaces" which were often just off the side of the main
road, occasionally near one of the surrounding lakes. There were dozens
of smaller lakes in the park, bordering the sides of the biggest ones:
Barkley and Kentucky, of course.
As the sun began to set, we exited east out of the park, traversed two
dozen miles through small Kentucky villages, back to Interstate 24--a
road that goes northeast to southwest from Carbondale, Ill, across Tennessee
to the southeastern, Lookout Mountain city of Chattanooga. We hopped
on and moved southwest into Tennessee, past Fort Campbell Military
Base, the hills of Northwestern Tennessee (insert Lee Greewood verse
from "Proud to be an American"), and headed for dinner and
brief sightseeing in the fun and unique town (and capital city)
We'd hit Nashville an hour later, Maria's aunt and uncle's lovely home
in the Atlanta suburbs (after a shortcut off interstate 75 just north
of Atlanta went awry that found us with the bears on a cold night in
Stone Mountain State Park for a few minutes) four hours later, and finally,
Oviedo, Florida, 24 hours later...just in time for sunset and turkey
with Maria's warm family.
Due to "time contraints," Sunday's northbound trek back to
the heartland and the Hooiser State was a one-day, interstate-infested,
traffic-laden, unending 1,000 mile, 18 hour drive. At least my
detour to avoid the length of Georgia and instead hit the western Florida
panhandle, the November foliage and sun of Southeastern then Central
Alabama and the pitch black terrain of hilly Tennessee, Kentucky
and Southern Indiana, presented some scenic diversions.
© Ari Kaufman December 2006
Ari Kauman on a Great Lakes Roadtrip
in the Fall
Lakes, hiking, camping
Indiana and Appalacia
on the road
Travel in Hacktreks
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