I knew I needed to create my own fun when I chose to drive through an area that didn’t cater much to outsiders. The people of Appalachia were friendly and always seemed welcoming, so that wasn’t the issue. Tourism wasn’t a major preoccupation. It didn’t help that my adventure happened at a quiet time of year. Activities focused on the mountains, and I came at mid-March; too late for skiing and too early for hiking, rafting or fishing. I found a backup plan, though. Twelve Mile Circle featured thousands of individual oddities over the years so I turned to my Complete Index for some ideas. I knew I’d enjoy visiting spots that I’d only written about before. This was a golden opportunity. I noticed my path would take me directly past several of them.
The whole concept of Big Ugly delighted me as I described these places recently. It created a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario as I prepared my plans. I knew nothing of Big Ugly until I started investigating my Appalachian trip, which led to the article and the marker on my map, which then led me to an in-person visit. Thus, the mark on the map created an incentive for my visit although it never would have appeared on the map if I hadn’t started planning the route. What a Big Ugly situation!
In that earlier article I’d noted, "Big Ugly had been around for a long time. Internet book searches found results going back to the 1840’s, when West Virginia was still part of Virginia. This wasn’t simply a big ugly creek, it was an old ugly." I’d encountered and failed to penetrate its shrouded history, concluding that "We will probably never know exactly what might have been considered big or ugly to early Nineteenth Century settlers."
It was an amusing situation although not enough for me to adjust my path. I didn’t get to see the Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area or the Big Ugly Community Center at the former site of the Big Ugly Elementary School. Stopping at the sign for Big Ugly Creek Road on U.S. Route 119 (map) was good enough for me. The kids got a good laugh and I got a photo.
Crazy Border Road
Route 119 served as the optimal path between Charleston, West Virginia and Pikeville, Kentucky. A section near Williamson, West Virginia had been high on my list of places to visit ever since I wrote Bridge in a Haystack several years ago. A random search query suggested an anomaly and I uncovered it after many hours of squinting at maps, for more hours than I’d care to admit. The truth was even more interesting than the original query. It began simply as, "only ky bridge that leaves one state, crosses a river, comes back into the same state." In reality — and in a distance of only three miles (five kilometres) — heading south from West Virginia, the road crossed into Kentucky, then into West Virginia, then into Kentucky, back into West Virginia and finally into Kentucky. That was an astounding FIVE border crossings on a single short stretch of road (with four of them occurring in the first two miles).
It was the path of least resistance and it made perfect sense. The Tug Fork, constricted on both sides by mountains, followed a wildly crooked riverbed. The highway, designed for high-speed traffic, needed to follow a straighter route. That forced it to cross the river at various points. The river marked the boundary between the two states, creating multiple border crossings.
Photographs wouldn’t illustrate the point adequately so I reverted to video, a medium I hadn’t tried on 12MC in quite awhile. My videography skills hadn’t improved in the meantime either. I owned a dashboard camera mount and of course I forgot it, leaving it safely at home. I cruised down the highway with a steering wheel in my left hand, a camera in my right, viewing the GPS from the corner of my eye so I could see when I crossed a border, announcing each state as I proceeded, all while driving as safely as possible. I noticed that the video sometimes showed the GPS. It said I was speeding. Just a little bit. Nothing egregious. I knew I’d better confess before someone mentioned it in the comments.
I’ve now visited nearly every geo-oddity listed in that article.
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace
It might have been a stretch to place the Presidential Birthplaces article on the same list as the others because every single presidential birthplace appeared in it. That created forty-three distinct possibilities, with several of them in Virginia alone. Nonetheless, one of those happened to fall along our direct route, the house in Staunton where Woodrow Wilson was born in 1856 (map). His father served as a Presbyterian minister and the family moved whenever he accepted a new position every few years. In actuality Woodrow Wilson lived in Staunton for a single year before the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Still, that was enough for Virginia to claim Wilson as a native son deserving a Presidential Library and a Museum. Actually I’ve made his connection to Virginia sound overly tenuous. He did retain longtime connections to the commonwealth even as the family moved, attending Law School at the University of Virginia, and visited Staunton regularly over the years. This was as good a town as any for his library and museum.
I’ve seen other presidential libraries. This one was smaller than the those for more resent presidents although it was well done and certainly worth a visit.
Bath County appeared in Taking a Bath. I didn’t have anything more to say about it because we didn’t stop until we hit the border as we left. The path involved a long day of driving and I wanted to keep moving. We drove past The Homestead mentioned in that earlier article (map), waved, and pressed onward.
Mount Jackson Water Tower
I’d driven past the water tower rising next to Interstate 81 at Mount Jackson many times. I’d always been fascinated by its larger-than-life basket of apples hoisted high above the highway (map). It appeared in my article devoted entirely to Eric Henn Murals.
Some artists preferred oil on canvas as their medium. Not Eric Henn. He specialized in marine paint on outdoor structures, creating lifelike designs on water towers, petroleum storage tanks, the sides of brick buildings and anything with a flat vertical surface. Mount Jackson’s apple basked was an Eric Henn creation, painted by hand and replacing a weather-worn vinyl sticker someone else had affixed years earlier. This water tower, Meems Bottom Bridge, and Shenandoah Caverns all fell within a few miles of each other, making it easy to experience all three sites with minimal effort.
I already mentioned that reader Andy recommended several places for me to visit during the Appalachian Loop, and I made it to two of them: the Pikeville Overlook and Breaks Interstate Park. I hadn’t known about either one of them ahead of time and likely wouldn’t have discovered them on my own, so the suggestions were greatly appreciated. I brought that up to encourage readers to continue posting ideas for my 2016 Travel Plans. I still have trips coming up in the New England states in May and Michigan in July. There’s a good chance that some of your great ideas will make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle!
Appalachian Loop articles:
- Part 1 (The Quest)
- Part 2 (Vistas)
- Part 3 (Cultural Threads)
- Part 4 (Hatfield and McCoy)
- Part 5 (Bridges)
- Part 6 (Seeing is Believing)
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr