Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kentucky Places: Blue Licks Battlefield

Blue Licks Battlefield State Park is a great place to visit if you are a Kentucky history buff, ecologist, or fan of mismanagement. Let's start at the beginning, which is several thousand years ago. Huge bison herds, thousands of head strong, congregated at the Licking River mineral licks near what is now the park. These big critters ate most everything in their path and stomped on the rest, creating a pretty barren landscape at this ox-bow. The habitat was so harsh that only pretty specialized plants could survive here. One plant in particular, the Short's goldenrod, is a federally endangered species and is only found in the Blue Licks area (in Kentucky anyway). Jump forward a few centuries to 1782, and this becomes the site of the battle of Blue Licks, the last battle of the Revolutionary War. Daniel Boone led a company of pioneers into a rout at the hands of Shawnee allied with the British, right at the very same spot as the mineral springs and the goldenrod. Most of the pioneers were killed . All of the bison were wiped out at about the same time, and without the heavy grazing and trampling the barren openings started to turn in scrubby woodlands. Jump ahead another century to the Gilded Age and some enterprising locals realized they had something special on their hands. They started bottling "Blue Licks Springs Mineral Water", and tourists came to soak in the springs for a little natural spa rejuvenation. So in this one little spot we have a unique endangered species, a battle featuring Kentucky's most famous pioneer, and an historic tourist attraction.

And now for the mismanagement...

You can't see the mineral springs any more. Because they aren't there anymore. They were blown up and the US Highway 68 bridge across the Licking River was built right on top of them. The bison were slaughtered long ago, as I mentioned, but there are still a few Short's golenrod plants left for you to see. Not many though, because in the 1960s the state bulldozed most of them and built a campground, which is also sitting on top of most of the actual "battlefield" where the fighting took place. RVs with sattelite dishes are now parked where the Shawnee whipped the pioneers. There is a bathroom, with showers, on the spot where Boone's son was killed. You can visit a monument to the fallen Kentuckians at the park, although it isn't at the site where they are buried. They built a parking lot on top the graves long ago.

I should say that most of these horrible deeds were done decades ago. The state park has recently renovated their museum and it is first rate. Their trail system preserves a portion of the bison trace, the trail that migrating buffalo gouged into the earth, and you can still see the Short's goldenrod along it. If you can, the best time to go an visit is during their annual battle reenactment, which coincides with the blooming of the goldenrod. While the preservation of the history and the natural habitats has pretty much been a disaster in the past, they are making efforts to preserve what they have left. And the fried chicken in the lodge buffet isn't bad. Just an hour from Lexington, it's worth the trip on a lazy afternoon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kentucky Food: The Dixie Cafe in Tollesboro

There is probably no reason you will ever find yourself in Tollesboro, KY, unless you were born there. Best I can tell the population is about 100. It's about 20 minutes east of Maysville right off the AA parkway, which connects Maysville to Ashland with not much in between except beautiful country. But I find myself driving through there on business several times a year, and when I do I always make sure and hit the Dixie Cafe. It's just a typical small-town diner with good country eatin', good prices, and lots of local color. Every time I go inside the place is pretty full, and the customers all stop eating and stare at me from the time I enter until I sit down. Now, I'm not the most attractive feller in the world, but I'm pretty sure they do that to everybody. But after you start eating they go back to their business. Expect to hear a lot of talking about deer and turkey, and how granny is doing since she got out of the hospital. One time an old feller came up to me and showed me his old driver's liscence, just because the picture was funny. Didn't even try and bum a dime from me or anything, just being friendly. The waitresses are always nice, and cute, which is pretty important to get my return business.

As far as the food goes, I suggest either trying the liver and onions or soup beans and cornbread. Their cornbread is a sign of Kentucky authenticity. It isn't one of those stupid muffins, it's the real thing - fried in a skillet and soaked in butter. Anyplace that tries to serve you a hard muffin and calls it "corn bread" is either owned by a corporation or a Buckeye. I've had some of their specials, which are usually a meat-and-three and come with Sweet Tea (of course) for $5.95 or so. A bargain. Both the fried and baked chicken are pretty good, but you need to get beans and cornbread as sides whatever you get.

I travel all over the state, and these little places are getting harder to find. They are either squeezed out by chains or try to cater to "red hat ladies" and are too fancy and expensive. The Dixie is just right. Of course, I noticed as I ate lunch there today that they have a "For Sale" sign in the window. If you want to enjoy some real Kentucky fixin's you better get there fast before it becomes a Subway.

Kehoe's Dixie Cafe on Urbanspoon