I walked in a hardwood forest today that measured up to my imaginations. One of my dreams for this trip was to experience the thick green life of a hardwood forest up close. I thought that would happen in Minnesota, or maybe New York, but instead it happened here in Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio River. The John James Audubon State Park in Henderson has several hundred acres of climax hardwoods, some more than 200 years old. The major trees are beeches, sugar maples, basswood, several varieties of oaks, tuliptree, catalpa, huge sycamores, ash, elm, and the Kentucky coffeetree.There are 61 varieties of trees here, including some rare species.
The museum was built by the CCC, another incredibly fine example craftsmanship and art. It houses the greatest number of original Audubon paintings of any museum in the world. There are original intact copies of all four volumes of the Birds of America, published in 1837. What I didn’t know until today is that these books are nearly 3 feet tall, in order to represent the birds at life size. In addition to the art, the museum had artifacts of his life and the displays told the story of his life work, his children, his devoted wife, his connections with people in power in the early 19th century. It is a fascinating story. You cannot imagine the incredible detail and beauty of an original Audubon painting without seeing it.
When we pulled into the state park campground last night, we were a bit disappointed. It seemed too close to the highway, too open, and a bit tattered. I had seen the park on Google Earth and was expecting something different, I guess. The night was warm and humid and when we went for a walk the sounds of crickets and other bugs was almost deafening. We slept well, though, and this morning our explorations of the museum and the rest of this gorgeous state park, which includes hiking trails, two small lakes, and a golf course, more than made up for the deficiencies of the campground.
This afternoon was warm and humid again, but not at all uncomfortable, and we drove back across the Ohio River to Evansville, just a few minutes north of our camping location here in Kentucky. Evansville has a thriving historic district, and we drove the streets ooohing and aaahing at every corner as more and more huge old homes came into view. I did wonder just how many photos I could take of these houses, but they are irresistible. We ended the day with a long walk along the greenbelt, a beautiful parkway punctuated with art and walkways, memorials, and bronze plaques detailing the long storied history of this river town.
Lewis and Clark passed by here on their voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and John Wesley Powell rowed past this town when he paddled the full length of the Ohio River before he became a geology professor and then later explored the Colorado River. Hardwoods and history. Our days have been filled with both in a part of our country that I never have experienced before this trip.
We talked about our last cross country trip, and how different this seemed to be. Somehow that trip, while interesting and wonderful, didn’t pass through landscapes that were so new to us. Texas still felt like the West, and I had been in Florida so the south wasn’t completely new to me either. Somehow this world, all the way from Eastern North Dakota, through the north country of the UP, to these woods of Kentucky, somehow they feel brand new. These are landscapes I have read about in the history books, in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. I’m glad for the chance to follow this river, the heartstream of a huge part of our country.
The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.