Author Archives: Betsy and Jerry

Lexington, KY and the Bourbon trail

The Bourbon trail….Jerry has talked about checking out some distilleries for years and we had a few days before we need to be at the Entegra factory (final warranty check up for the bus) so here we are. You could easily spend a couple weeks visiting all the distilleries but we decided to limit it to two days.

“All Bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon”. What makes bourbon bourbon? The three components that make whiskey bourbon are: at least 51% corn is used; it must be aged in a virgin charred white oak barrel; no additives for color, flavor or anything else. It also has to be made in the U.S., although over 95% of it is made in Kentucky. There are more bourbon barrels in Kentucky than people! Why Kentucky? Apparently the natural limestone in the area filters out many of the impurities in the water that can affect taste. Corn also grows really, really well here. The early farmers use to ship whole grain, but quickly realized it was much more efficient to ship bourbon (and it tastes better also 😊)image

Makers Mark the first and largest volume distillery we visited. Beautiful grounds, huge operation, and large tour groups. The key things here are they use only wheat as their other grain (not rye or barley as many others use).

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Water, grain and yeast bubbling in the primary fermenting vat. We were encouraged to dip in a finger and have a taste. Very sour! 😖

MM manually moves each barrel through the different floors during the aging process so they are all exposed to different temperature conditions. While very labor intensive, it results in more consistency in their Bourbon. The tasting was interesting. We were walked into a large room. In front of each chair sat 4 glasses….starting with the clear “white dog” just as it came out of the still before it goes in the barrel. Interesting, but not something we’d buy! The second was the regular, fully matured Makers Mark, the third was Makers 46 which has some additional charred oak staves added to the barrel, and the last was “Cask Strength”, just as it came out of the barrel, unfiltered and full strength. The cask strength was our favorite, so we bought a bottle of that one.

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Copper doublers. 

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Tasting!

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Jerry got to dip our bottle top in wax. Touristy but still fun. 

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Part of the Chihuly ceiling at Makers Mark

Willett was our second visit. A complete opposite of Maker’s Mark. Small, family owned distillery, a bit rough with a very interesting history. While there were 26 people on the tour of MM, there were 5 on this tour. Differences were they use rye, wheat and barley as additional grains to the corn and they do not rotate barrels. They do not move the barrels from different areas in the aging buildings, and where the barrel is located can result in dramatic differences. They also have several different labels they bottle under. Depending on where the barrel was aged, the length of the aging, and obviously the flavor profile, it determines if it is the “standard” (still a very good bourbon), or a higher end bourbon. Tasting started with their Pot Still Reserve which was great, then the guide brought about 12 more bottles, explained the differences and flavor and said we could pick one (!!) to taste. Some very, very good bourbons!

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The beautiful still at Willett. 

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Hams aging among the bourbon barrels. 

Two tours in the day were enough for us….not from drinking, but the driving and taste buds getting worn out. Contrary to what many believe, tasting can be hard work! Seriously, each taste is less than a thimble…really just enough to smell and coat your tongue.

We were going to take the next day off, but it was cool, overcast and a bit drizzly, so we decided to visit a couple of distilleries closer to Lexington. First up was Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace is another family owned distillery which is unusual, but this one was huge! Interesting tidbit about the name….apparently there use to be a very large Buffalo population in the area and the large “trails” they left behind while migrating are called “traces”. Buffalo Trace was built along one of the traces, hence the name.

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Bronze buffalo at Buffalo Trace. All of the distilleries had a bit of art on their grounds.

Another great tour. Centuries old buildings still in use today and many listed on the national list of historic buildings. This distillery has the reputation of making some of the best bourbons in the country. Some of which are so rare, you need to pay $300 to enter a lottery where, if you “win”, you can purchase a bottle for another $300+.

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Display of the really $$$ stuff

Needless to say, the high end bourbons were not available for tasting, or even for purchase on site. We did like their bourbon though, so we did buy a bottle.

Last up for the week was Four Roses. Like Maker’s Mark, this one is owned today by a huge Japanese conglomerate. History of this one was also interesting. They went from family owned to being owned by a Canadian conglomerate. During 70s and 80s, the Japanese found interest in Bourbons while the US was switching over to drinking clear liquor (partially brought on by James Bond). So, they started shipping most of the bourbon to Japan. So what to do in the US? The company had the brilliant idea to start selling rot gut stuff under the Four Roses name. Luckily, the Canadian company decided to get out of the bourbon business and sold to Sapporo company. Quality quickly picked up and today Four Roses now makes some very, very nice bourbons. Unlike most places which use one proprietary yeast, this one has 10 different ones.image The regular Four Roses bourbon uses all 10, and while decent, we weren’t impressed enough to buy it. The individual yeast bottling though were amazing. Each bottle has the yeast “recipe” on it which matches to the flavor profile…from spicy and bold to flowery to herbal and more.

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The huge fermentation room at Four Roses

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Beer still, the first stop in distillation. 

We were lucky enough to taste two different versions and what a difference!! Very cool. We had to buy a bottle of the flowery version and scored with a bottle signed by the Master Distiller.

Very fun tours, but our liquor budget is blown for about the next two years 😊. Plus side we have some great bourbons, so if you enjoy bourbon and see us, ask about trying some!

We made one final stop in the area. Back in 1986 I bought my first bouvier “Toby” from Pat Last. Pat also had a passion for horses and in the mid 1990’s moved to Versailles KY with her American Saddle Bred horses and set up a lovely horse farm. In 2008 Pat went missing and property from her farm was also missing. Long story short, after searching for several months Pat’s body was found dumped in a ravine a few miles from her farm. One of her hired hands had the missing stuff and it’s presumed he murdered Pat although there was never enough evidence to charge him. RIP Pat.

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The top of the ravine where Pat was found. 

 

 

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Asheville, NC

This is our first visit to North Carolina and while it was short, and fairly limited in what we could see in the area, we found it spectacular. The Asheville area will be a definite must stop for 2017, although probably a month later when all the rhododendrons are in bloom! We stayed at a private campground just east of Asheville which was nice and convenient, but the sites where a lot smaller than what we’ve been use to. Our site was about half way up the mountain and the view was beautiful, but the drive up the narrow twisty road was a bit hairy!

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View from our site

The coolest part of this stop way getting to see and spend time with Robin, a military friend of Jerry’s from their Okinawa days. They hadn’t seen each other in 37 years (7,705 miles away 😳). It could have been weird, but they reconnected like it was yesterday.

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Jerry and Robin ~1978

Our only big hike was at Craggy gardens, a 30 minute drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway took us to the trailhead. We had hoped to make it to Douglas Falls to see the 70′ waterfalls, but the threatening thunderstorm and a little common sense made us turn back a mile early. Of course the dire warning from three local hikers coming up while we were heading down did help in our decision. The hike was beautiful, but going over slippery moss covered rocks and tree roots was tough enough without being extra slick with rainfall.

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Hiking at Craggy Gardens

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The hillsides were covered in wild flowers 

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We drove south toward Hendersonville to check out the homestead of Carl Sandberg. Again we found spectacular scenery and a lovely hike to “bald rock” that looked over the valley below. The homestead is now owned by the NPS and still has gardens and a working goat farm (the babies were adorable). The home is open for tours, but is currently being restored (which, from the outside looked it was in major need of), so we skipped that.

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View from bald rock

On the other end of the homestead spectrum we spent a day at Biltmore, the estate of George Vanderbilt. This estate is still a private residence, but is now opened up to the public for tours. We almost skipped the visit due to the admission price, but the architecture, art, and antiques, not to mention the size and grandness makes it a MUST stop if in the area. While the home is amazing (think Downton Abby on steroids), the grounds and especially the gardens and huge greenhouse are awe inspiring. Many miles of hiking trails, and the grounds are dog friendly! We also visited the winery (which surprising to us, had some decent wines) and Cedric’s Pub (named for the family St. Bernard) where we had a light lunch of some amazingly good local cheeses and a beer. We’ll be back and depending on how long we stay in the area, may purchase a year pass (great deal compared to daily pass).

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View of Biltmore house from the garden area

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Gargoyles everywhere

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The back yard 

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Beautiful orchids in the greenhouse

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Cedric

Given the rise in quality breweries in the area, we of course had to visit a few of those as well. Yes, we do have a tough life! From the small, funky and not fancy “Wedge” to the large and incredibly elaborate Sierra Nevada brewery, and a couple in between, we did not have one beer that wasn’t good to great or outstanding. We liked Sierra Nevada so much that we went back for a second visit with Robin and her husband Don for lunch. Not only good beers, but great food as well. The beers aged in bourbon barrels where incredible!

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A little bit of the copper at Seirra Nevada

Another day was spent visiting some local mountain towns in the area….Black Mountain, Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure are all lovely areas, but very touristy. Betsy made the comment “how do you know your in a tourist town? By the number of fudge shops”.

A lovely drive through the windy mountain roads to Hot Springs on the Appalachian Trail.

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The mark of the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs

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Hiking along the French Broad River

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All in all, a very beautiful area of the country, and an area that is now near the top of our list (so far!) for potentially settling in if/when we get tired of full time RVing.

Arkansas

We have just finished a two week stay in Arkansas. Oh my, what a beautiful state! Our first stop was in the Ozark National Forest at Lake Fort Smith state park. This was a beautiful park tucked in the forest hills in the NW part of the state 30 miles south of Fayetteville. We were only able to stay for four days as the place was booked up for the weekend. We enjoyed the hiking trails and on one rainy day we took a drive into Fayetteville, drove around the campus (Go Razorbacks!) and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich restaurant (washed down with local brew).

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Lake Fort Smith State park

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Our second stop was at a COE park on the west side of Little Rock. Busy park with no hiking, just walks around the park but we did have a giant field behind our campsite so the dogs were thrilled to play some frisbee for a change. We went into Little Rock to visit the Clinton Presidential Library. Our first time at a presidential library and we very impressed. So much history to take in, definitely a place we’d go again. We wandered around the river side park and downtown area too.

Our final stop was on the east side of the state at Village Creek state park, an hour drive west of Memphis. Lovely park that we had to ourselves until the weekend when we were joined by others. Spectacular hiking that reminded us of spring time MN hiking. The dogs were happy to swim in the lake after hiking.

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Village Creek State Park

We took two trips into Memphis, the first (sans dogs) was to the famous Pyramid Bass Pro Shop and Elmwood Cemetery. Seems like an odd combo but not for us. BPS was cool, boats displayed in water with fish swimming all through the store. Lots of stuff to buy, we left with a floating chuck-it frisbee and two Moon Pies 😉. Elmwood Cemetery, very old, lots of history and a level 2 arboretum. Pizza lunch in downtown Memphis!imageimageimageimageimage

Our second trip was a cool/cloudy day so the dogs joined us. We had hoped to see the National Civil Rights museum but as we pulled up so did about 10 bus loads of school kids….we decided to pass and get lunch instead. Fried chicken and local beer was fantastic. We took the dogs down to riverside park for a stroll along the Mississippi River and through a historic neighborhood.

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We couldn’t leave Memphis without a drive by of Graceland…..so we did.

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Palo Duro Canyon

We spent a lovely week at Palo Duro Canyon state park, just south of Amarillo TX. It’s not the Grand Canyon but it’s still pretty cool. Our campsite was at the base of the canyon with a view of the steep walls all around us.

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Sagebrush campground. Our bus is just behind the bath house.

We did several of the hiking trails, along the canyon walls and up to the rim. My favorite was to Lighthouse rock, one of the many hoodoos. The warnings on this 6 mile round trip hike are scary, the temps get very hot on summer days and people/dogs have died of dehydration. We did this hike on a cloudy day and started at 7:30am. We also carried about 8 liters of water for us and the dogs (snacks too)! The hike was wonderful and the views spectacular. We saw several bighorn sheep on the canyon rim and watched them run across the ridges.

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Lighthouse rock

 

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Colors and texture on the canyon wall

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Little hoodoo off to the left

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This bighorn kept a close watch on us and followed along as we moved along the trail, although we were 600 feet lower.

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The happy and handsome boys

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I love the way Tango looks so adoringly at Jerry. He is her adventure guide.

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The view toward the trailhead….somewhere down there.

Another great hike was the CCC trail, named for the bridges along the way constructed in the 1930’s by CCC workers. This campground, like so many others around the country was constructed mainly by men who took part in the CCC program during the depression. Side note here, my dad was one of those men and worked at Gooseberry Falls campground on the north shore of Lake Superior.

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On the CCC trail

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Yup, it’s a long way down!

We did a day drive to Amarillo for some Texas BBQ but mostly stayed around the park. I got to try out my idea for doing dog baths “at home” (success). We were entertained by the wildlife (turkey, roadrunners, lots of cardinals and zillions of pack rats).

We are again heading east, the plan is to spend a couple weeks in Arkansas!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

What an amazing place. Just a few miles from where we are staying near Cochiti Lake is the most amazing geology lesson. These “tents” are formed from wind erosion and the process is very evident as you hike below, between and above these spectacular rocks. No dogs allowed and for that we were thankful. Not a dog friendly hike at all!  Not to mention, if you’re caught with a dog at the monument, it could result in a large fine, and up to a year in prison! 😳

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The different layers seen are the result of a nearby volcanic eruption over 6 million years ago.

 

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Notice the giant boulder that appears to be stuck on the side of the rock. It’s actually a cap on a forming tent like the smaller one more formed on the lower right.

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This is a great illustration of new vs. old tent formation.

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Hiking through the canyon. Some areas the walking path was only a few inches. Thankfully the space between rocks was wider 😊

 

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At the very top.  Major wind and Betsy was a bit afraid of getting too close to the edge….it’s a long way down!

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A Caveat made by the Pueblo natives.   Carved out of the soft volcanic ash, you can still see the smoke residue on the ceiling.  Some of these dwellings were pretty elaborate.   

 

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See the tiny people sanding by the edge on top?  That’s where the previous photo was taken. A bit scary for me!  Even weirder, there were a bunch of school kids with limited supervision up there!

 

 

Spectacular views all around. We are thinking of going back for an early morning trip to see if we can get to the top in time for sunrise.

Elephant Butte New Mexico

Our plans as we left AZ was to spend some time at a couple of our favorite NM state parks (Rockhound and City of Rocks) but as we found it was spring break and the parks were overflowing with people. We spent one night parked at Rockhound in over, overflow (basically along the entrance road). It was quiet but dusty and not what we were hoping for. In the morning we set our sight toward Truth or Consequences to check out another state park (Caballo)…full too. Heading north we decided to try Elephant Butte, we were there last year and liked the north most camping area. We pulled into the main entrance to check things out and were followed in by Jerry’s brother Ken (who we had spent some time with in Tucson and again near Kartchner). We thought he’d be a day or so ahead of us but plans change and we were happy to spend a couple days camping together.

As expected the main campground was full so we headed north and happily found adjacent sites open as walk-ups. South Monticello campground is secluded, quiet and spots are huge. We had a pull-through that was about 100 feet long with electric and water ($14/night) is a great deal. While the park borders Elephant Butte lake we are high above the lake so while we had great views there wasn’t easy swimming for,the dogs. We did check the it one of the beach areas but the water was muddy and beaches were icky. No swimming here 😕. There were trails for walking, not really hiking but nice desert strolls.

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The dogs are always good about staying on the trail. Even when it’s not this obvious.

 

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Interesting “yield to” triangle. Can’t argue with that!

We took a day trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for waterfowl. This area has the Rio Grande running through it and boasts over 350 species of birds. We went late morning and saw several kinds of birds and lots of turtles resting on the shore.

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Looks like backwaters of the Mississippi

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We the drove a few miles south and did a little 2.5 mile hike into a canyon. The hike was a bit tough, deep, deep sand (agility friends, think Proctor AKC trial) uphill! Glad we brought lots of water for dogs and people!

We also spend days reading, walking and playing with the dogs. My personal highlight was the road block I met While going into town to do laundry.

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Please Moooooove! 

Kartchner Caverns state park

This will be our last Arizona stop for the winter. Nice little state park that is relatively new. The caverns were discovered in 1974 and have been carefully preserved and opened as a state park in 1999. The two cave discoverers kept the location secret fearing that the elaborate cavern system which is a sensitive bio domain would be damaged if too many people knew its existence. Eventually the state of Arizona established a state park and along with scientists developed the caverns to be accessible while still keeping it a pristine living cavern. The one area where bats annually have their babies is closed to tours during birthing season. We were able to tour that area during our stay, very interesting and beautiful but we had a dud of a tour guide so that was a bit of a bummer. Sorry, no photos were allowed 😕

Hiking is also lovely in this area. Nice to get out and stretch our legs, the dogs were happy to hike too and thankful for no snake sightings.

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Spectacular views

 

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The campground is at the bottom of the hills about 2 miles away.

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Happy dogs leading the way

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Water and snack break

We took a day trip to Bisbee AZ, famous for having the best temps year round….interesting little town, former mining village with all structures built into the hillsides. Lots of steep streets and stairways. Very touristy but we did get a yummy lunch.

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Houses stacked on the hillsides

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Lots of steep steps and cats!

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Creepy!

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Tasty fish tacos and $3 margaritas 

Today we drove over to Benson AZ and found a dumpy lunch place that had amazing reviews on Yelp. Very small place seats on 28….the food was fabulous. For sure a place to stop if ever passing through, only open M-F!

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Mi Casa in Benson AZ, seats 28. Seriously amazing food!

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Enchiladas Bandero. Beef, chicken, cheese.

We leave here Saturday and travel east into New Mexico. Not exactly sure where we’ll land.