When we travel, I enjoy setting our GPS to our destination and telling it to avoid highways. On our way to West Virginia we found ourselves in the middle of Kentucky Coal country. Near Paintsville, we came across a sign that said “Loretta Lynn Birthplace”. As it was getting close to dark, we stopped to get gas and we were told it was about 10 miles away. Well I had to see where the Coal Miners Daughter grew up….
We followed the signs and with each new turn the width of the road narrowed. We arrived at a small coal mining town called Van Lear and got a little lost. The roads we were on were barely paved and about a lane and a half wide and getting smaller. An older woman was in her yard and we stopped and asked if we were heading in the right direction. She informed us that we were and that after we passed the web grocery store we were to look for a rock pointing left to the holler.
The Webb Grocery store is, as we were told by some slightly inebriated young adults, was owned by Loretta Lynn’s brother. Of course these were the same folks that told me Loretta had personally given them a piece of wood from her home and they were willing to pass it on for an undisclosed sum of cash. My quick thinking asked if they took credit cards which put a stop to any further transaction. The store does say Webb’s Grocery and that was Ms. Lynn’s maiden name so maybe that part was true.
We drove further down the road to where the pavement disappeared and did in fact find a rock that said Butcher Holler. We took a left and found an extremely narrow and winding road to which I was able to obtain a top speed of about 10 miles per hour. The corners were exciting wondering if some local in a beat up truck was going to run into us. Running off he road was not an option as there was no off-road, just trees. We came across the home and a hand-painted sign said to call for tours which makes incredible sense since no cell tower existed for hundreds of miles or so it seemed. We drove down the road looking for a place to turn around which probably took 15 minutes and then another 10 minutes to execute a perfect 27 point turn in the small clearing we found. Small clearing means a 5 foot by 5 foot place where no trees were growing.
I took a few picture and we continued on with our adventure while the song Coal Miners Daughter needled its way into my brain and stayed awhile.
Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter
In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler
We were poor but we had love
That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of
He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar
My daddy worked all night in the Van Leer coal mine
And all day long in the field a’ hoeing corn
Momma rocked the babies at night and read the Bible by the coal oil light
And everything would start all over come break of morn’
Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner’s pay
Mommy scrubbed our clothes on a washboard every day
Well, I seen her fingers bleed, to complain there was no need,
She’d smile in mommy’s understanding way
In the summertime we didn’t have shoes to wear
But in the wintertime we’d all get a brand new pair
From a mail order catalog, money made from selling a hog
Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere
Yeah, I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter
I remember well the well where I drew water
The work we done was hard, at night we’d sleep ’cause we were tired
I never thought of ever leaving Butcher Holler
Well, a lot of things have changed since way back then
And it’s so good to be back home again
Not much left but the floors, nothing lives here anymore
Except the memories of a coal miner’s daughter
Driving through middle Kentucky at 55 miles per hour, my wife pointed out deer just off the road. I quickly turned around and pulled into a gravel road leading up the mountain. I parked the car and this big guy was down a small hill and could only see his head and antlers. There were several other lurking about including a few calves.
When this guy came up to the road about 50 feet from me (I was leaning on the hood of the car) I thought he was awfully large for a deer and my wife thought they were elk. Being the city boy I am, I had no clue. I showed the photo to my uncle who said it in fact was an elk and we what we came across was a very rare find.
We made a short stop in this quaint River Town heading towards Illinois which was just across the river. We were hoping to find a nice restaurant downtown for dinner with a view of the river. Unfortunately, as with many river towns we came across, flood walls deflected any view and actually gave an imprisoned feeling. They did have interesting murals on their flood walls. Downtown Paducah was a pretty area although, as other small towns across America, there were a lot of vacant buildings.
Land Between the Lakes is located in Kentucky and Tennessee between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake and is a National Recreation Area. Here we found the Elk & Bison Prairie, a 700 acre enclosure where visitors travel by vehicle via a 3.5-mile paved loop road to view elk and bison that have been re-introduced.
We have seen elk in the wild so were more interested in the Bison and they were spectacular. We did have a close encounter with one who did not want to get out of the road and as we drove about four feet from him he gave us the “eye”! It was a very beautiful place…