Athens, OH


It’s been awhile. But it was nice returning to always hilly Athens, Ohio. The place has changed without changing and yes that does make sense. To me anyways. Besides walking aimlessly around campus (where I regaled Corey and Henna about my storied years at Ohio University) we also spent time hiking in nearby Hocking Hills State Park. If only I had spent more of my college years there instead of at The Pub…..


cemetery at OU

A short walk from campus is an early 19th century cemetery where several escaped slaves and Revolutionary War Veterans rest.


OU Graffiti

What is one person’s graffiti is another’s college tradition


Henna in the Tiny House

Our tiny house for two days. Only 3 miles from Court Street it was nonetheless deep in the hills and a fun place to wait out the rain.

Sign at Hocking Hills State Park

Waterfall at Hocking Hills State Park


Narrow Gorge

Early Spring rain made for high waters and running waterfalls. 

OU Green Gate





Renfro Valley, KY

I am taking a quick break from my Great City Parks series to talk about the Renfro Valley in Kentucky.  Why am I doing that?  Well, while taking Henna to school today a friend asked me for suggestions regarding their coming summer camping trip.  The poor guy had no idea what he was in for.  Anyways, I recommended the Cosby Campground of the Great Smokey National Park.  But it got me thinking about a place on the way to there…..

We do not know the Renfro Valley well, although we have driven through there many times.  Each time the Smokeys was the destination and each time I told Corey “some day we should just go here for a weekend.  I mean it is so much closer to Chicago.”  Well, a couple of summers ago while on a much larger trip we hung out with cousins at the Renfro Valley KOA in a Kamping Lodge.  What a deal:  $100 for four adults and a kid with a full kitchen, gas grill, and, given the near 100 degree heat this was a biggie, central AC and a swimming pool.  Nice.  This was our second time at this KOA (the other time was in a small Kabin also with AC) and I gotta say they have a nice place.

The next day we sought out the Cumberland Falls.  Cumberland Falls State Park is a “resort” state park meaning they do have a lodge, cabin, and a swimming pool.  It was a fun, country drive and a crowded state park.  Cumberland Falls is known for their moonbows which occur a few times each year (moonlight goes through the falls and creates a nocturnal rainbow).  There has to be a full moon, few clouds, and Kentucky has to be having a good basketball season.  I am just kidding about the full moon.

It was too hot and humid the day we were there to do any hiking.  But the falls are cool and we would like to come back in the fall. 

There is one more must see destination in that part of Kentucky; the KFC museum in Corbin which is a surprisingly interesting look into the Colonel’s efforts at bringing his secret recipe to you.  It also is attached to an actual KFC so you can sample his efforts afterwards.

Cosby Campground

Unfortunately one of our favorite spots in the world is also one of the world’s favorite spots.  I am talking about Great Smokey Mountain National Park which is but a day or two away from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other points east.  The park is beautiful in the fog, magical at twilight, and crowded whenever.  Car jams aplenty, crowded trails, and do not even think of going to Cades Cove on a weekend afternoon.  But there is a place on the periphery of this madness that is hardly ever too crowded.  Cosby Campground.  While other campgrounds fill up every night, our family was only one of two families in the entire campground loop the three nights we stayed.  This other family had a camper so we actually had the whole bathroom to ourselves (modern plumbing, no showers).  Every afternoon someone cleaned the bathroom.  This was maybe the nicest, most hygienic campground experience I have had in my 13 or so years of car camping.  That trip I also woke each morning to a mother Turkey leading her charges around the campground.  I am not sure why we only stayed three nights.

There are no shortages of trails leading from the Cosby Campground.  We enjoy the small (maybe a mile at the most) nature trail which crosses and re-crosses a stream over small bridges and wide logs.  Other hikes extend miles into the park in search of waterfalls and vantage points.  Our favorite hike leads to Hen Wallow Falls which is in fact named after our daughter Henna (not really).  You can also hike in to several backcountry campsites. There is also a small graveyard near the entrance of the campground that is worth exploring.

How to get there:  From Knoxville, you continue on I40 to, maybe, exit 440.  This route avoids Gatlinburg as well as many wax museums, water slides, and Christmas themed stores.  Once turning off the highway, prepare for a windy, up and down road with a lot of confusing signs that sort of lead to the campground.  GPS sort of helps but you might have to ask for directions too.  At the campground and/ or at the trailheads, expect enough people there so that you will not get too nervous (this is black bear country after all).  But you will probably never feel crowded in.  Last time we were there the campground host said that the only time he ever remembers the campground completely filling up was on July 4th.  The campground also gets a bigger crowd on summer weekends.   So come, enjoy the peace, the quiet, and the hiking.  Just please do not tell anyone about the place.  I don’t want it to get too popular.

Monticello and Douthat State Park

Ever wonder whose home that is on the back of the nickel?  It is Mr. Jefferson’s’, the one- two-three man (first vice president, second secretary of state, and third president of the United States).  Please do not confuse him with the one-two punch of Dernier and Sandberg of the 1984 Cubs.  After seeing recreated Colonial Williamsburg and very much alive Washington D.C., it was interesting to visit Monticello.  There are no actors dressed up in funny clothes here.  Just a wonderfully restored home of one the greatest men in American History.  For a few bucks one is treated to a tour of a classic architectural gem that offers insight into the celebrated man’s interests and talents.  No pictures were allowed inside the home, but I can tell you it is filled with original and replica fossils (President Jefferson was fascinated with mastadones), a lot of books, and very interesting details like a dumb-waiter that went to his wine cellar.  It should be noted too that upon his death Monticello went first to a daughter who then sold to a local before being purchased by Uriah P. Levy.  Mr. Levy was the first Jewish Commodore (Admiral) and very much admired the former president.  First him and then later his nephew took immaculate care of the home before selling it to a preservation society in the 1920s.

After our tour we found a cool apple farm nearby and then retired at the local KOA. The next day we took a gander at the University of VA (designed by Mr. Jefferson).  UVA is almost as picturesque as Ohio University but has better eating options nearby.  We then enjoyed camping at Douthat State Park.