Project Remote is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. Below is a written account of our foot based day expedition to document the Kentucky Remote Spot. This is our 33rd state Remote Spot documented as part of Project Remote.
Euclidean Distance to Nearest Road: 1.9 miles.
Cell Phone Coverage: Yes
Public Land: Yes, Big South Fork National Recreation Area
Travel Method: by foot
Travel Time One-Way: 5 hours (hiking pace of a 6-year old)
Something We Learned: Our young daughter, Skyla, has a greater hiking range than any of us thought before today…This region is a rugged, forested karst terrain formed by erosion. Rivers and streams are deeply incised into an ancient limestone plateau. Boulders and rock overhangs hide everywhere in the hills. The land undulates with ridges and valleys. Abandoned road beds, mining ruins, and sealed oil wells are scattered about–providing frequent reminders of past resource extraction.
In Ryan’s Words:
September 28, 2015. Can she do it? Rebecca and I are somewhat anxious that today’s route might be too long and challenging for Skyla (age 6). She walked 8 miles in a single day back in January 2015 during the Alabama Remote Spot expedition. That was on a flat sandy beach. But today looks like its going to be at least 4 or more miles one way to the KY Remote Spot, with two big ascents and descents of 600 feet elevation change apiece, and an off trail bushwhack.
We are at Ledbetter Trailhead, at the end of Bald Knob Hill Cemetery Trail. Our planned route is to strike out down slope via the Kentucky Trail to the Big South Fork Cumberland River, then follow the KY Trail westward about 4 miles to the top of a ridge close to where the KY Remote Spot resides. Then, we’ll do a short bushwhack to the remote spot.
We get started early, at 9:30 a.m., after breakfast and gear packing. Skyla starts out grumpy as all get-out, and requires high maintenance. The weather is cool-ish and humid, with occasional drizzle and the feeling that the sky could fall out any time…Skyla starts out very slow.
We start out along an old road bed. I look down only to spot tire tracks. Our hearts sink. We’re not sure if it’s from a truck or 4-wheeler, but it’s definitely motorized. This brings to mind the last time we attempted the Kentucky Remote Spot 4-years ago. We got all the way to our planned embarkation point only to find the existence of a road unknown in the data file. Many more hours were spent trying to recalculate the true KY Remote Spot after that failure. Here we are 4 years later finding tire tracks on a supposed-to-be closed road. We are not going to abandon this particular calculation this time. It will be done as such, and it’s part of the story of Project Remote. It may very well be impossible to calculate some state remote spots because of inaccuracies in their roads database. Some states are way better than others at keeping tabs on their roads. Kentucky isn’t particularly good at it.
Our planned route today to the KY Remote Spot heavily utilizes old abandoned roads. We encounter a bridge over Oil Well Branch. Bridges over creeks can be nice, but they do detract qualitatively from the remoteness of the area. I suppose that, if we wanted to select an off-trail route to get the KY Remote Spot, we could have…But that’s not our reality, with time being an issue and Skyla not being physically capable of off-trail, overland foot travel through rugged terrain yet…Bridge across Oil Well Branch
It’s not called Oil Well Branch for nothing. In the photo below, one of the oldest oil wells in the history of our great nation lies sealed and preserved by the Big South Fork NRA. It is a significant historical location. The date on the Beatty Oil Well is 1818. Apparently there was a very early period of oil extraction here. We were told that some old wells along this creek were recently re-sealed. After learning this, somehow, this beautiful area doesn’t seem quite as clean or pristine.
The conundrum is that we all use oil…Now we are living with the impacts of its extraction and combustion–climate change, pollution, and wilderness fragmentation. It’s not too late to ameliorate these impacts. Seems to us that if we can create America, then we can create a sustainable, environmentally compatible America. We must figure out how to ween ourselves off oil and construct a new economy powered by clean, plentiful solar and wind energy. It’s out there. It’s everywhere. The technology exists. What’s the hold-up, America?
If we did it, not only would we improve living conditions globally for both humans and wildlife, but we could be a beacon of shining light and hope to the rest of the world as to how to live sustainably.
We push on at Skyla’s pace. She spots a really cool and large wasp-like fly on a log. Later, we discover that it is called a horntail wasp. It actually is a wasp, but it doesn’t sting. Instead, it uses the long anteriorly protruding structure out its rear end as an ovipositor. What a fascinating creature. Insects are mind-blowing. The diversity of body forms is endless. Chitinous exoskeletons are a perfect canvas for evolutionary art.
Skyla learns to read a map as we navigate down trail. We simultaneously approach the Kentucky Remote Spot while journeying through the wilderness of parenthood. Watching Skyla learn and be interested is one of the best parts of both journeys.
An eastern box turtle scoots across the trail. I wouldn’t have seen it had it not been for the rustling sound in the leaves. This one is rather outgoing. It never sucks its head inside its close-able shell, which is what most of them do when approached. Instead, this one keeps chugging despite our proximity.
It wouldn’t be fitting if we didn’t spot at least one newt during a whole day spent in the moist, forested, terrain of the East…This is a subspecies of the Eastern Newt referred to as a Red-Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens). They are fairly easy to spot and so gentle to handle. Newts are salamanders with a fascinating, complicated life cycle involving both terrestrial and aquatic phases. This individual is in the terrestrial eft phase. An eft is a lung breather with dry granular skin. Efts walk overland very slowly while foraging for food.
Our day drags on at the pace of a gentle stroll, for an adult. But it’s rather taxing for 6-year-old legs. We reach the point in the trail where we decide to strike off-trail the remaining 0.2 straight line miles to the KY Remote Spot. Yep, it’s just 0.2 miles from a hiking trail. Thus far in Project Remote, every single state remote spot that has involved a hike to reach it has been located a mile or less from a hiking trail, and some just within a few feet. This observation indicates that many of our nation’s roadless areas are laced with an abundance of hiking trails. We don’t view this as a bad thing. It’s just a thing. It’s part of the story of Project Remote. The real story, however, is roads, and the difficulty that it is in most states to get away from them or their influence…We’ve heard the distant hum of terrestrial motors intermittently all day as we approach the KY Remote Spot.
We are in a rugged Karst terrain. Dense forest cloaks the undulating land. The large hills have all been fashoined by stream erosion instead of uplift. Rivers and streams have cut deep, sometimes canyon-like ravines into the ancient limestone plateau. Almost nowhere is flat. Limestone cliffs and boulders hide everywhere in the emerald forest.
Even though our euclidean distance from trail to the Kentucky Remote Spot is short (0.2 miles), it still takes us over a half hour to make the jaunt. It’s all steeply uphill and densely forested. We must move at a 6-year-old’s pace. And she continues to deteriorate. Both parents eyeball her frequently for signs of distress. We keep her moving using a combination of food rewards, hand holding, and trail humor. Bless her young heart, she just simply keeps going, because she knows she has to. But more than that, she really really wants to. All of us are beat from 5 hours on our feet.
At last, after our 5-hour, 5.2-mile hike, the GPS unit goes beep-beep-beep…and we have arrived at the exact coordinates of the Kentucky Remote Spot. I flinch at the distance traveled, because I know Skyla has to nearly duplicate it on the way back. Today now obligatorily becomes Skyla’s longest day hike… Can she do it? What will we do if she breaks down?
The moment of arrival to a state remote spot is always special, but includes mix bags of emotions. We are always tired, there is never enough time to soak in the accomplishment, Skyla needs attention….and, very few state remote spots actually qualify or quantify as being truly remote. We don’t have a definition of “truly remote” yet, but we are working on it!
The spot happens to be nestled right on top of a narrow ridge line with steep slopes on either side. Elevation is 1427 feet. Guess what happens to be up there? An old abandoned road bed, no doubt left over from the logging era. Even though our qualitative sense of remoteness somewhat takes a hit, we must say that unused roads restoring back to natural habitat are our favorite kind of road! We’ve encountered this a lot in Project Remote. It shows that we, as conservationists, have the ability to terminate the use of unnecessary roads and successfully restore them back to habitat. Remote Footprints believes that America should be doing much more of this to ensure preservation of remote roadless areas. We applaud the Big South Fork NRA for doing much of this kind of work within its boundaries.
I glance to my left momentarily and see what I have seen much too often at state remote spots. A glass jar filled with leaves rests on the ground. Sardonically I smirk and let forth an expletive. Why can’t there be just one freaking state remote spot without trash or human sign?
Rebecca and I must separate while we conduct our documentary work at a given state remote spot. She conducts our 15-minute Remote Spot Assessment while being out of view of the camerawork that I must conduct. Our remote spot assessments are designed to measure the extent to which human influences can be observed from any given state remote spot. At the KY Remote Spot, we observe airplane noise, a low hum of machinery probably from either a giant road or mining operation, human trash present, and an old roadbed just meters from the R-spot. Not to mention, there’s cell service. In a comparison to other state remote spots, we’d say that Kentucky’s Remote Spot is not very remote, in either a quantitative or qualitative way. It’s on par with many eastern U.S. remote spots, and not nearly as remote as most western U.S. state remote spots. This is the story unfolding across America as we attempt to scientifically document the remotest locations in all 50 States and interpret what’s left of our nation’s remote heritage.
Seems like there’s always a little rustle in the deep leafy mattress covering the ground…I look down and discover a foraging American toad. The home range of this toad is the Kentucky Remote Spot. Even though our quest for true remoteness comes up short, I gaze into the amphibian’s eye and discover wilderness once again. This toad may never see another human being.
Remotest American toad in Kentucky
After our documentary work at the Kentucky Remote Spot, we set out on a bushwhack route back to our hiking trail. It involves a steep descent down a rocky, forested hillside.
Some of the limestone cliffs overhang to form shallow caverns. We discover one such overhang on our bushwhack descent back to the trail, within 0.2 miles from the KY Remote Spot. Many such structures were utilized as “rock shelters” by ancient native Americans as well as by more modern European settlers who moved in after the native Americans were pushed out. In fact, a rock shelter much like this in Pennsylvania, just a few hundred clicks to the northeast, called Meadowcroft Rockshelter, has produced archaeological evidence for one of the earliest known human occupations in the Western Hemishpere–dating back to approximately 20,000 calendar years ago.
We notice an old rock ring on the floor of the cavern where a campfire presumably was contained. Who knows how old it might have been. We rest briefly under the ceiling, wonder what it might be like to raise a wild family here, and take in the primitive ambience. This, quite possibly, is the remotest rock shelter in all of Kentucky. At least, in this day and age, it is.
Once back on the trail, we head back to camp and try to beat the setting sun. Skyla’s progress waxes and wanes based on the same things mentioned earlier. She’s dog tired, but if her mood is good, then she pushes onward. If something crashes the mood, then her hiking progress greatly reduces. She finds a snake in the trail and screams with excitement. So we take 5 minutes to handle it…This is a northern redbelly snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)…Completely harmless and a joy to hold.
Our bodies push on until 6:30 pm, and we slowly make the final 600-foot ascent to the top of the hill where we left camp. The GPS measures 9.4 total hiking miles for today’s out-and-back jaunt. That makes it Skyla’s new daily record, and beats her old Alabama record by 1.4 miles. We praise her almost ad nauseam. Feelings of pride in her accomplishment flicker faintly in her face, but mainly she’s just excited to be back to camp! If she hasn’t already, she’ll learn about pride soon enough, I reckon…
Reality sets in. We’re tired from a month in transit to 4 state remote spots. We decide to pack up and roll, beginning our journey southward through the eastern U.S. matrix of roads and cities that will follow us all the way home. Project Remote 2015 has concluded. We’re already thinking about the next remote spotting campaign…