Wendy and I took a trip on Saturday. We’d been invited by the wonderfully eccentric poet Jim Webb to visit his mountaintop campground “Wiley’s Last Resort,” just outside Whitesburg over the line in Kentucky.
Jim proved both interesting and indulgent, giving us a grand tour of his extensive facility – replete with a whole collection of Airstreams (for me, a real American icon). Every nook and cranny that didn’t have an Airstream had a cabin or a tent. Everywhere we looked there were quirky signs with jokey messages or directions, including “Walled-In Pond,” surrounded by a dirt trail called the ‘Henri David Thoreau-fare’.
We enjoyed the visit and we will be back!
With the rest of the afternoon before us and no rush to get home, qe headed out very much like two parents who have a babysitter for the day, giddy and slightly frisky. We decided on a leisurely loop up to Hazard and eventually down over Black Mountain towards Big Stone, with numerous stops on the way for sightseeing and necking.
We had wrongly thought that Hazard KY was the setting for The Dukes of Hazard (we later found it was another Hazard in Georgia), so we wanted to find out how they had capitalized on the series and the movie spin-offs to benefit the town. I still think they could have gotten some benefit from ‘The Dukes’, and there was no doubt they needed to capitalize on something – anything! I have rarely seen a more depressing downtown in my life.
What I got out of the visit was a terrible picture of what Big Stone could become if we don’t start looking ahead and trying to broaden the local economy (and benefit from the movie that WAS made here).
But there was one amazing thing to be seen in Hazard. Leaving a particularly depressing second-hand store I looked across the parking lot to yet another closed-up storefront and glimpsed through the window a beautifully restored British MGA sports car in immaculate condition. If I remember correctly The Dukes had a car called ‘The General’ and that’s what I’d not have been surprised to see. But an MGA?! Wendy took several pictures of my astonished face.
Leaving Hazard we headed down to Cumberland (named for ‘The Butcher of Cumberland’ who slaughtered the Jacobite clansmen at Culloden Moor in 1746) and onward to Black Mountain. I have wanted to drive that road ever since we were visited by the sisters from Kansas who came to us got a little spooked on it; we’ve had other visitors since then, including a 40-seat bus out of Berea, who took that route, so we wanted to as well.
Coming over the highest point we arrived at an overlook and pulled in to admire the view. To our horror we were looking straight at a demolished mountain looking for all the world like a moonscape! I was stunned because I found I was looking at a mountain removal site that close to Big Stone Gap; I hadn’t realized how near it had come. The site looked abandoned, but I saw no evidence of any attempt to restore it in any way. There’s nothing inherently wrong with coal; it keeps our lights on and our neighbors employed. But there is something wrong with destroying a mountain to get it.
Shaken, we got back in our car. But the day was not yet done, and the last experience was much more uplifting. Careening around a corner (Wendy was driving) we saw a black shape at the side of the road and slowed to watch as it stood up and became a bear – the first I’d ever seen in the wild. He watched us and we watched him, until eventually he got bored and trotted off into the undergrowth.
Wise County, you never fail to surprise me!