Cumberland Gap and Vicinity

This spring break we decided to head down to Kentucky to spend a few days checking out Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and whatever else we could find in the area. We made our home base Pine Mountain State Resort Park and explored from there.

Cumberland Gap

Pine Mountain State Resort Park
View from our hotel room

Day 1 – Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

We spent our first day exploring the visitor’s center at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, where we learned about the 300,000 pioneers and settlers who traveled through this part of the country in the 1800s. We also learned that, although there was no battle fought here, Civil War soldiers used the Cumberland Gap as a strategic point.

After checking out the museum and the informational movies at the visitor’s center, the kids were all set to fill out their Junior Ranger activity books and earn their badges from this ranger with the coolest beard ever.

Cumberland Gap Ranger
Ranger with cool beard who gave us a helpful hint in case we were confronted by a black bear – rattle a plastic shopping bag. The noise scares bears! Who knew?

After the kids became official Junior Rangers, we embarked on a hike down Object Lesson Road and up Tri-State peak. The latter half of this hike was way more challenging than we had anticipated, but it was worth it.

Object Lesson Road
Object Lesson Road
Hiking down Object Lesson Road

At the top of Tri-State Peak we got to sign the registry (like REAL hikers) and had views of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Tri-State Peak
One foot in Tennessee
Tri-state peak
One foot in Kentucky
Tri-state Peak
One foot in Virginia

After that exhausting hike, we drove up to Pinnacle Overlook (also at Cumberland Gap) for an overview of where we were.

Pinnacle overlook

Day 2 – Gatlinburg, TN

The next day, we took a 2.5-hour drive to Gatlinburg, TN. We didn’t realize how touristy this place was — very.

I like to do things in locations that you can’t do anywhere else, so I didn’t want to visit the aquarium or any of the other touristy things around. So we decided to take the Ober tram up the mountain for lunch.

After lunch, we rode a ski lift up Mt. Harrison for a beautiful view of the Smoky Mountains. And we rode a mountain coaster down the side of another mountain. The kids loved it.



Gatlinburg smoky mountains

Day 3 – Cumberland Falls

On day 3, we took an hour and 15 minute drive to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, KY, to check out the “Niagara of the South.” Well, I can easily say that this was one of the best hikes we’ve ever been on. And the waterfalls (especially the one you reach via Eagle Falls trail) were very impressive. I recommend a walking stick, a snack, and plenty of water for this hike.

Cumberland Falls


Cumberland Falls


Day 4 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We were totally exhausted from our amazing hike the day before, so we decided to take another car trip to check out the visitor’s center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This visitor’s center was totally crowded and the informational movie wasn’t working. And the kids had little motivation to pursue getting a Junior Ranger badge here (they were exhausted from the previous day’s hike as well). FYI: you have to purchase a Junior Ranger workbook at this location.

After checking out the museum at the visitor’s center, we decided to take a drive down the main road through the park to take in the sights without getting our sore legs out of the car.

We stopped for a quick pit-stop along the way and just happened upon a trailhead to the Appalachian Trail. None of us could pass up the opportunity to hike the Appalachian Trail (even just a tiny bit of it). So, with our daughter in the lead, we embarked on the trail.

Appalachian Trail

We weren’t prepared for a long hike and the hour was getting late, so we convinced our 7-year-old that we needed to turn around and head back to the car. She was reluctant to stop because, as she said, even though her brain said to stop “my legs just want to keep going.”

Maybe someday we’ll hike all 2,175 miles of it.

Appalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail. Maybe someday we’ll hike all 2,175 miles of it.

Appalachian Trail


Day 5 – Big South Fork National Park

On our last day, we took a day trip to Big South Fork National Park in Tennessee. We went out there to see the Twin Arches, two grand sandstone arches formed by thousands of years of erosion. It was a truly awesome sight to see.

North Arch Big South Fork National Park
North Arch Big South Fork National Park
Searching for a signal in the middle of nowhere.

Twin arches big south fork

Close-up of a sandstone arch.


Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Maple Sugar Time

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park System. Being from the Chicago area, I’ve been visiting the Indiana Dunes since I was a kid. This year, we took the kids to Chellburg Farm (part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) for Maple Sugar Time, where we learned first-hand how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup.


We started with a ranger-led hike down a trail from the visitor’s center. The ranger made sure we all understood how trees got their nourishment. Early spring is maple sugar time because the trees have sucked all the nourishment from the ground and haven’t used it yet to make leaves or start growing in the new season.


Continuing on the trail, we saw a demonstration of how Native Americans made maple sugar from the sap of the maple tree. They would tap the tree with a wooden spigot and collect the sap in a bark basket. The sap would be transferred to a rock with a bowl-shape, into which a fiery rock would be submerged to boil off the water, leaving the syrupy sap behind. This was further processed into dry sugar for easy transport.

Bark basket

charred wood

Further down the trail we saw how early settlers boiled the sap down to syrup in a succession of hanging cauldrons.

maple sugar time

We were then given an opportunity to “tap” a tree just to see if we could do it.


We then visited the boilery that the Chellburgs used to process the sap into maple syrup. They used a succession of metal pans.

In the Chellburg farmhouse, we were given a taste test to see if we could tell the difference between real maple syrup and the fake stuff from the grocery store. We could definitely taste the difference!

After learning all about the process of making maple syrup, the children earned their Junior Ranger badges.

Junior Ranger Indiana Dunes

And the family took a hike to enjoy the natural beauty and history of the Indiana Dunes.





Book Review (Gr 1-3): The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks

With the National Park Service being in the news lately for finding a way to tweet around President Trump’s recent gag order, and with Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) House Bill 621 (H.R.621), the recently introduced bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal lands, it was hard for me not to review the book: The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein.

If you click on a recommended book link and purchase, I will get a percentage as an Amazon Affiliate.

Aimed for 1st-3rd graders, this book tells the story of what, in 1903, inspired Theodore Roosevelt to protect America’s wilderness. The narrative starts off with Roosevelt in his favorite chair enjoying a book about adventures in the California mountains by naturalist John Muir. Roosevelt is surprised, at the end of the book, when Muir makes a plea to the government to help save wilderness.

Roosevelt is not only surprised, but also puzzled by this plea. So he pens a letter to Muir and asks to join him on a camping trip in Yosemite.

On the camping trip, the men enjoy the majesty and freedom of the outdoors. Muir tells Roosevelt tales of his adventures. Muir also relays the ecological history of the U.S., starting with the seas that covered the soil, through volcanos and glaciers, to the natural environment that gives us the diversity of wildlife we have today (or back in 1903).

Roosevelt sleeps the first night on “forty thick wool blankets” and Muir sleeps on a bed of twigs. By the end of the camping trip, Roosevelt also sleeps on a bed of twigs. Both men wake up exhilarated one morning after being blanketed by a spring snow storm. “Bully!” Roosevelt says to this.

Unfortunately, as Muir explains, industry is coming to take over the land in the name of profit, leaving little left for future citizens and natural inhabitants of the U.S. to enjoy. Roosevelt will not have this and enacts legislation that protects these lands forever.

This book is a great way to introduce young children to an issue of significance today. It’s a personal story of two men enjoying the great outdoors, reveling in its beauty and its importance, and doing their best to protect it from this:

Badlands tweet NPS oil

Have you and your family visited any National Parks lately?

What do you think of the bill to sell off federal lands?

Comment below.

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Trump Gags NPS, NPS Tweets Anyway

Last Friday, President Trump’s administration put a gag order on the Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service, limiting their ability to communicate to the public through social media. This was in response to an NPS retweet comparing crowd size at Obama’s 2009 inaugural to Trump’s inaugural. See the original tweet below (the NPS retweet has been deleted and a public apology was issued):

Last night, someone at @BadlandsNPS went rogue and started tweeting out climate change facts. These tweets were subsequently deleted. Below are screenshots of the tweets that I retweeted yesterday afternoon. My retweets have disappeared as well.



This led to the formation of an unofficial NPS twitter handle @AltNatParkServ (UPTDATE: changed to @NotAltWorld), along with @BadHombreNPS and @BadIandsNPS – the L had been replaced with a capital I to create a new twitter handle. (Also, it seems @BadIandsNPS has been changed to @BadlandsNPSfans – see screen shots from last night below.)


Here are some of the tweets:

Climate change science is bad for Donald Trump. He wants to make a profit for himself and his cronies, and those pesky science facts will keep him from doing so. He’s working diligently to try to wipe climate change facts out of reach of the public, recently barring the Environmental Protection Agency from mentioning climate change on its website.

I recommend you check out the aforementioned twitter feeds before they’re taken down as well. And teach your kids about climate science!

Please share.

Comment below.