Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Big Bone Lick First Day Hike

As we traveled along I-75 between Lexington and Cincinnati we have noticed signs for Big Bone Lick State Historical Site and have wondered what was there.  A few months ago we looked the place up online and learned that it has a lot of history for the salt seeps and the fossilized remains of prehistoric mammals who visited for the salt.  Our desire to visit was stoked after Mary visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and saw a number of fossils that were collected at Kentucky’s Big Bone Lick.  We check the State Park’s website where we learned that they host a “First Day Hike” each year on New Year’s Day and decided that we would make our first visit to the area.
Salt seeps at Big Bone Lick State Historical Site
The hike was scheduled to start at 1 pm so we left at 10:30 for the hour drive up I-75.  We were happy that Ian and Emily were able to join us for the day.  Ian had been recovering from a stomach virus but was feeling much better and was anxious for a walk outside.  Emily got a new pair of hiking shoes for Christmas and was looking forward to trying them out on a trail.  They had been to Big Bone Lick before to see the bison herd so they knew a little of what to expect. 
Since we were a little early we walked through the displays in the visitor center learning that the area has long been used as a source of salt by Paleo-Indians as far back as 15,000 years ago.  The area continued to be used even by early settlers to the area.  It was here in the 1750s that Mary Ingles escaped from her Shawnee captors and began her 500 mile journey back to Draper’s Meadow, Virginia. 
For centuries the salt seeps have been recognized for the abundance of mammal fossils.  President Thomas Jefferson was so impressed with the fossils that he received from Big Bone Lick that, in 1807, he dispatched a collecting party led by General William Clark to gather more of the large ice age mammal fossils.  Some of these specimens remained in Jefferson’s personal collection at Monticello while some were distributed to museums in the Northeast. 
Bison at Big Bone Lick
Because of the reputed curative value of the salt baths, Big Bone Lick became a health resort in the early 1800s.  The Clay Hotel was a luxury resort catering to wealthy visitors.  The hotel closed in the 1850s and few visitors came to the area.
Fossils found at Big Bone Lick Historical Site include mastodon, mammoth and two types of ground sloth. 
As 1 pm neared we gathered outside for the 2 mile hike.  Photos from the 2018 First Day Hike showed about a dozen attendees so we were shocked when we saw over 100 people present for the walk.  The beautiful weather was almost certainly a major reason for the large turnout.  The temperature was in the mid 50s with a light wind and plenty of diffuse sunshine.  It was great to see the event so well attended and that residents are taking advantage of the natural beauty of the area.  However, there was much evidence of poor judgement on the part of many attendees.  Perhaps the most frustrating for me was the number of people who brought their dogs.  While bringing the family dog on a trail walk on most days would be a great idea, having it along with a group of that size was not a good idea.  Dogs were constantly growling at each other and even fighting from time to time.  Owners were constantly trying to keep the dogs under control in the crowd with leashes wrapping around people’s legs and dogs underfoot. 
Salt seep at Big Bone Lick
The same applies to young children.  It would be great to bring the kids or grandkids here where there wasn’t a group hike.  When the pace of the group depended on the speed of the slowest member, the progress of the walk was frustrating.  There were a number of older hikers there as well who would really enjoy the trip when they weren’t feeling pressed to keep up with the pace of the group. 
The first part of the hike was up a hill with a number of switchbacks in the muddy trail.  There had been record rain earlier in the week leaving the trail a muddy mess.  Several prospective hikers came with shoes that were poorly suited for the steep and muddy trail.  Conversely, we saw a few hikers who were equipped as though they were log trekking the Appalachian Trail.  Camel-Packs, carbon fiber walking sticks and high end gear abounded on many of the inexperienced but well equipped day hikers. 
The walk up the trail was difficult because of the mandatory slow start and stop pace and the condition of the muddy trail after so many visitors had gone up.  As we were going up to the field where the bison herd is kept the trip leader heard from the “bison coordinator” that the herd was near the trail and visible from the path.  We were amused by the title “bison coordinator” and wondered where that career path was when we were at our high school career days. 
We saw nine bison of differing sizes and ages there in the well maintained pasture.  They were obviously accustomed to visitors on the trail since they readily came to the fence.  They were beautiful animals and made the walk up the muddy trail worth the trek. 
After watching the bison for a while we continued on the path back to the visitor center where were took the short paved path to the salt seeps where many ice age mega fauna fossils were found.  As we approached we could smell the salt-sulfur stench of the seep.  There was a oily film on the shallow seep and a little crystalized mineral deposit along the water’s edge.  There were a number of informative signs around the mineral seep that described the geology and history of the area.  We didn’t stay long and moved back toward to the visitor center away from the smell.
Rabbit Hash General Store
Back at the car we decided to drive the short distance to the small historic town of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky on the Indiana border.
The main building remaining at Rabbit Hash is the general store that was built in 1831 but was destroyed by fire in 2016.  The store was rebuilt with reclaimed lumber allowing it to retain status on the Register of Historic Places.  The population of Rabbit Hash have capitalized on the campy reputation of the town and have even elected a dog as the town’s mayor every election since 1998.
The town attracts many more visitors than the towns 300 or so residents.  It is very popular among motorcyclists as well as groups of seniors.  It is the kind of place that visitors can sit on the porch of the general store and have one of the vintage snacks from the store’s offerings.  Hats and T-shirts from Rabbit Hash are very popular. 
Ian and Emily at Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
There are apparently fairs or festivals in the small town since it seemed that the place was equipped for large groups of visitors.  There is a rustic inn, the Hashienda and a local art gallery in addition to the general store. 
We took a few snapshots and browsed the general store before gathering for our drive back to Georgetown.

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