Daniel Boone National Forest, KY
When was the last time you found yourself alone with the beauty of nature entirely to yourself? When the only other residents of the area are the chirping birds, croaking frogs, wandering deer, and pacing bobcats.
- Oliver Ambros
We were the guests, arriving seemingly late to the party at Daniel Boone National Forest, and with our late arrival nature just again realized that humans still existed in the world around them. It must be a habit by now, almost inherent in our minds. Driving out that late night, predictably later than we planned, the sunset and the darkness surrounded our car, with only the 15 feet of headlights giving a clue as to where we were. All that stood outside became irrelevant, and the only thing separating us from setting our feet in mossy Kentucky soil for the first time was a six and a half hour drive. A two shift, with a pit stop in Cincinnati put us inside Daniel Boone National Forest by 3:30 am.
The faint croaking of frogs and chirping of crickets became a symphony as we pitched our tent. As we looked up the stars that night, we knew we were a long way from home. The clear skies and beauty of a bright moon slowly put us to sleep, while the constant symphony guided us in our slumber.
And then it was the morning. Jumping out of the tent to finally see the Cumberland River that sat next to us, we grabbed the necessities for a long day-hike up the strangely shaped ledges of the mossy sandstone mountains. We began our trek walking alongside the river, passing waterfalls surrounded by thousands of skinny beech and dogwood trees beginning to bloom in the sunshine that Spring was just beginning to bring.
As the day continued and the sweat began beading up under our backpack straps, the current and reflections of the river became more and more enticing. When we rounded yet another bend, a rocky inlet from the river caught our eye as a premier cliff jumping site. Throwing our stuff down, the sound of Tivas against pure rock guided us until. Floating for a split second in the air was cut off by the quick rush of refreshing cold water, ridding ourselves of the warm sticky sweat that had been building up.
It was cold. It was damn cold. But boy was it worth it. Just as soon as we had dropped our stuff, we were back out of the water, ready and re-energized just in time to ascend the side of our adjacent mountain. With winter having just passed, we were able to craft our own trail as we went farther and farther up amongst the trees within the Upland forest until we reached the top. But we were not alone.
As we got our first glimpse of the blue sky through a clearing in the trees, a cast of twenty-five red tailed hawks circled up above, watching us with each step we took. They glided easily back and forth with pure relaxation until one by one they shot down with immense speed to the forest floor below, retrieving what could only be their lunch for the day.
Descending the side of the mountain, we came to a clearing where the river blocked our way forward. Hot, sweaty, and too stubborn to go around, only one solution came to mind: Ford the river. We took out our waterproof bag to protect our equipment and one by one jump off the ledge into the deep, cold water. After three rounds of moving our equipment, we had successfully forded our first Kentucky river. With a clear path back to our campsite and the taste of hot dogs only miles away, we finished our last leg of the hike in record setting time.
As the sun set and the red tailed hawks made their final gliding inspections, we were reminded that despite having covered miles of ground that day, we were guests in a bustling forest. Each star came out that night one by one, until a beautiful collage covered the sky. The symphony that greeted us the very first night became the perfect lullaby to fall asleep to.
We woke to a clear, crisp Kentucky morning, and to the sound of a small motorboat off in the distance, presumably a group of locals fishing in the depths of the Cumberland River that we had so proudly forded the day before. We ate a final bite, walked down to the shore one final time, and began to dismantle our tent. We bid farewell to the red tailed hawks gliding above our heads, and began the long drive home. And just like that, nature was able to once again forget that humans even existed...
Tip from Basecamp:
RockCastle campground is a beautiful site. With nearly all of their campsites directly adjacent to the Cumberland River, we can only imagine the place is bumping in the summer. We will most certainly be traveling back in a different season to Daniel Boone, but we highly recommend giving it a visit the first warm week of March, before other hikers, campers, or athletes visit. We were, however, very disappointed with the amount of trash that lay in the mud by the river. It was a sad reminder that our impact in these areas matters, and one's carelessness or laziness can quickly affect the lives of creatures both big and small.