2018 Travel Blog

Known as the "Niagara of the South," the Cumberland Falls is a 125-foot wide curtain of water and quite dramatic, day or night. But it's only at night and only during a full moon that you can see the "moonbow", a phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.

The Blonde - I'm up early and eager to see the falls and fidgety after a long day driving yesterday. Without a park map I walk to the falls along the road. David stays back to do some routine checks on Big Henry. It seems a very long 1.25 miles but eventually I reach the riverside complex of paths and walls, a shop and visitor centre which then leads me to the falls. I want to scope out our position for tonight's moonbow. We were too pooped to come last night. I meet a lovely man who’s also photographing. He clearly knows the area well, tells me the trail numbers to follow to get back to our campground, mentions some of the other waterfalls nearby, the Blue Heron Mine a few miles from here. He also says there will be a photographer called Tony who will be at the falls tonight who will help with any shooting questions! (Said with a twinkle in his eyes perhaps??). I play for a while, see a rainbow over the falls as the sun starts to rise and and photograph a heron on the river.

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I could have played longer but I’d promised David I’d back by 9.30am and I had no phone reception to say I’d be longer. So I found the trails my new friend had mentioned and headed up a fabulous stone staircase built by the CCC in the 1930’s to the DuPont Lodge. I have phone reception there and I’m able to let David know I’ll be a while longer. I get a trail map too. The forest is peaceful and I don’t want to hurry.

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Heron posing on the river and The Blonde posing by the Gaitliff Bridge.

Back at camp we fluff around and use the fast internet for a while. It’s going to be a long day as the moon doesn’t rise until almost 9pm tonight and the moonbow is promised sometime up till 11pm - well past our usual bedtime! Some neighbours come by and we stand and chat for almost 2 hours. Why on earth we didn’t pull up chairs instead of constantly moving out of the sun under the trees I really don't know! Nelson, a retired policeman and wedding photographer and Susan, a retired accountant from Illinois are just lovely people and are to become dear friends. We had a lot to talk about and enjoyed their company. Pity we got busy later with photographing the moonbow, which unfortunately didn’t really happen for us, instead of sharing a campfire and a glass or two of wine!

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The "woodland stone staircase" to Cumberland Falls and another Gaitliff Bridge view in the late afternoon.

We spent the late afternoon camped by the river near the Gatliff Bridge just lazing and dozing and watching the fishermen - the feathered kind as well as a local fly fisherman! At 8pm we staked our claim at the waterfall lookout and prepared to wait. Funny thing happened though. I had no sooner set up my tripod than a voice behind me said “f/14, ISO 100”!!! I looked around to see another tripod bearing photographer. I asked if his name was Tony. It was!! He asked how I knew. I just answered that I had been told to expect him! And I clearly had the spot he wanted. He kept saying I’d get a better shot of the moonbow from up above the falls. But I wasn’t going anywhere until I had a shot from here! He started showing me some photos on his camera, then more and more and then some more until I realised this was not a card he just happened to have in his camera but his “powerpoint presentation and his showcase”! The seasons jumped around from colourful fall to snow and back to summer. I was his audience tonight! No problem, the photos were good and interesting. He mentioned the nearby Gatliff Bridge and that I should photograph that.

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The Blonde at the lookout to Cumberland Falls.

I showed him my shots from earlier. He barely blinked and said, “do you mind if I critique that? Can I be brutal?” Go for it! “You need to cut out the sky”. You mean like this, I say and show him another. But he’s lost interest already! We talk about other places and stuff. Bears come up in conversation and whoa, don’t we just have another card in the backpack with photos of Grizzlies in Yellowtone NP. He even knew where to scroll to the one grey hair on the bear’s back. Impressive until he told me he had baited the bears with sardines. Idiot. I gave him the cold shoulder after that and as the moonbow didn’t appear and we were weary of the constant flash of cameras, phones and torches we called it a day.

It was fun to think we could have seen our first moonbow and as we left and climbed the stairs there were a hundred or more people - all with torches and flashes and bright LCD screens on. How to get a photo I don’t know! But I do know the sky is still blue at night and is that Orion way up there? And this is what I might have been able to get if we’d moved upstairs like my friend Tony suggested! Nelson sent this taken at 8.15pm just as the moon came over the horizon.

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Photo of "The Moonbow" by courtesy of our dear friend Nelson Ferry.

Blazing Bluegrass Festival, Whitley City, Kentucky - Three strikes and you’re out! Well today started with two. I hiked from camp to the Eagle Falls Trailhead to get a photo of Cumberland Falls and its early morning rainbow. Pfut! The trailhead was closed. I’d hiked already 40 minutes and David wasn’t due to pick me up for another hour. Strike one. Ho-kay. I found another heron and played with him for a while. Then we tried to drive on a forest road to get closer to Dog Slaughter Falls. We were dancing under branches that got lower and lower until we had to saw one of them down. David was too quick for me to get a photo of Big Henry in a compromising position. Strike two.

So we cross the beautiful Gatliff Bridge and head for Big South Fork River National Recreation Area and Blue Heron Mine. Now, when we came into Cumberland Falls State Park I saw a number of hand painted roadside signs saying "Blazin' Bluegrass Festival". We had asked the campground host what it was about but she drew a blank and David’s googling turned up something way, way down the road. But now we had more signs and the last one said 6.7 miles away. We gotta go check it out. It could be Strike three. It could be not! We pootled along for what seemed much more than 6.7 miles with nada...the road seemed to get narrower somehow and Big Henry was getting wider. Then we saw a lot of VERY run down shacks with loads of..... crap out the front. Not looking very promising…… and then! Whooppee! We see the event! Loads of campers, RV’s, tents, food stalls, car parking flaggers, golf buggy shuttles. Oh, yes we have to give this a go!

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Crowd starting to build at "Blazin' Bluegrass" for the late morning gospel set.

Now for me I have NO idea what Bluegrass Music is but I’m liking what I hear already and we haven't even left the car park. We are greeted by three ladies with gorgeous accents and full of flirtation to David who laps it up! They have just had two English guests followed by two Canadians and now for the first time....two Australians. They can’t believe their little county park festival has attracted such an International crowd. The word goes around! The golf buggy shuttles are running tours to view Big Henry across the road and we are photographed and interviewed by the local press and welcomed by dozens of people! It is just lovely.

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Being photographed as "special guests" was something new for us, they loved the Akubra's...and "Night Flyer" one of our favourite groups.

The audience is a little heavy towards the senior end of the scale. There are one or two people drifting off to sleep (one lady actually slept through the National Anthem which as we know here is a big thing, everyone stands and removes their hats and put their hand to their chest/heart). But the main thing is EVERYONE is having fun. We are told there are a lot of Bluegrass festivals on at this time of year and the bands do the circuits. But the bigger shows are a bit more pushy and moonshine will definitely colour the event! Bluegrass derives from the Irish and Scottish who landed here with their mandolines and fiddles. The banjo came from the African Americans. The Irish and Scottish didn’t just influence the music they also brought their moonshine! And my new found ex-policeman friend was going to give us a sample later on! He guaranteed my photos would be blurry after that!

"Blazing Bluegrass" is three days of great bluegrass and gospel music, crafts, food and much more and the Sandhill County Park is taken over to offer camping on site too! The food was a choice of...fried and fried and fried. Although David did manage to find me a “tater” which I now know is a jacket potato. It was stuffed with pinto beans (sweet), pulled pork (sweet), “cheese” from a can...and the most authentic ingredient apart from the potato,..... jalapeno peppers! When David asked at the "chuckwagon" if there was any vegetarian dishes available, the ‘chef’ furled his eyebrows, scratched his chin,...cogitated for a moment and then in his very thick southern drawl said... “well y'all, I don’t think I ever shot me one of those yet”!!!!

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Fried, fried, fried........and David with the man yet to shoot a "vegetarian"!

The day was really well organised. The bands played for 45 minutes and the changeover to the next band took less than 5 minutes with a couple of comperes reminding everyone about the food concessions outside. It was better organised than any high ticket venue with a good sound system and a man at the back making sure it all went well. Our favourite bands were "Night Flyer", "Shadow Ridge" and the "Baker Family", the latter featuring the best fiddle payer we’ve ever heard and the youngest member of the family...well, he was just good enough to eat! Carina on the mandoline (15 years old only with a dynamite voice!) sang the National Anthem. Choked me up as always! The double bass member of the Baker family, Elijah, is only 12 years old...and already a pro!

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The Baker Family....plus the little fella on the spoons..."good enough to eat".

It was a fabulous day. We enjoyed the Kentucky hospitality and friendship, the respect everyone had for each other and the hugs and handshakes. We chatted with so many people, other photographers (Terry who posted the photo of David and me sharing the joke about "shooting a vegetarian") and the moonshine drinking ex-policeman. Older people came by just to say welcome and to make sure we were having fun. My introduction to Bluegrass music has made me want more like this! What a lucky find today.


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Amanda & David Wood

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For the next five years or so we will become true earthroamers as we drive around the world.

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