Coming Through

Monday, March 19, 2012 Road Junkies 1 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 5

CUMBERLAND GAP, Kentucky...& Tennessee...& Virginia— After locating a couple of letterboxes in Williamsburg, KY, our layover for last night, we meandered along KY-92 toward the Cumberland Gap.  Through valleys dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, hardscrabble houses teetered on the banks of the Cumberland River, reminding us that 29 of the nation's 100 poorest counties are located in eastern Kentucky.

Civil War era cannon in Cumberland Gap park

Arriving at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in the early afternoon, we stopped at the visitor center, where we learned a lot about this convenient geographical feature which played such a prominent role in the expansion of the American colonies westward.  Extending 150 miles wide from Canada to Alabama, the Appalachian Mountains presented a daunting obstacle to early settlers who yearned to move west.

Thanks to the efforts of surveyor Thomas Walker in 1750, European settlers discovered what herds of bison and parties of Cherokee and Shawnee natives had known for hundreds of years— a gap leading to the rich Ohio River bottomlands.  As the first Englishman to document his exploration of the area, Walker claimed naming rights and designated the cleft Cumberland Gap in honor of England's Duke of Cumberland, a military hero.

Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap (image from National Park Service)

After a 1775 treaty secured a large portion of present-day Kentucky from the Cherokee, Daniel Boone, a renowned hunter who was familiar with the area, was hired by colonial officials to blaze a trail west.  With a party of about 30 workers, Boone marked a path through the Cumberland Gap.

Eager settlers flooded into the Ohio Valley on this trail, which became known as the Wilderness Road.  By 1810, more than 300,000 pioneers had migrated westward by way of Boone's artery to the Kaintuck Territory.  Although a major highway was paved through the gap many years later, preservation efforts succeeded in rerouting US-25E through a Cumberland Gap tunnel and the gap was restored to its 1810 condition.

Cumberland Gap in 2012

As we hiked through the gap in our comfortable hiking boots, carrying our bottled water and cell phones, and knowing our automobile was nearby, we couldn't help marveling at the courage and fortitude of those who packed up all their belongings and set out on this journey of hundreds of miles on foot, not knowing what awaited them. Our hike led us only as far as the Tri-State Peak where the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. 


The round trip to the summit was a mere 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of 700 feet, the return trip being considerably more relaxed than the uphill climb.  Views from the top provided suitable rewards, and we took the obligatory photos of ourselves spanning three states at the commemorative gazebo.

Spanning three states
DAILY STATS:

Started in Williamsburg, KY; ended in Asheville, NC
Miles driven:  217
Weather:  57° to 84°, clear (too hot for March!)
States today:  4 (KY, TN, VA, NC)
States this year:  12 (only 36 to go!)
Letterboxes found:  3
Pioneers encountered:  0 real, 35 imaginary
Friendly park rangers:  3
Encounters with a family from NJ:  4