Forget Disneyland, Give me Raw Earth

The Red River Gorge. The name itself gets my heart pumping faster and fiercer!  I was first introduced to this wondrous place in Kentucky when I was 18 years old. That was over half a lifetime ago. Pre-motherhood, I would drive the 3 hours to “The Gorge” whenever I could. Some months, it would be every weekend. Hot summer days, gorgeous autumn weekends, cold and snowy nights… It was my sanctuary and my playground.

My Gorge was filled with climbing, caving, dangerous heights, and pushing my body to keep up with my thrilled spirit! Days spent hiking/climbing rigorous trails that left me speechless and empty of thought at the top… Meditation at it’s finest. Nights under stars, watching storms from recess caves, under waterfalls, where the Adena Indians once slept…At one with all.

Now I am a mother of teenagers. I did spend time at The Gorge when my 3 kiddie cats were little, on the low trails, frolicking with butterflies. We slept in a tent.  But my soul and body craved more. I craved My Gorge. Now that 2 of my children are teens, I am able to go re-wild! Re connect. This month, I took my 15 year old daughter on her first backpacking trip there, sleeping in a recess cave. It was my son’s second trip. We now live almost 5 hours away in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Still, nothing compares.

Some teens just crave adventure and risk taking. A way to escape the insanity of  schooling and anxiety of becoming an adult in a monotonous, pointless society. Some teens turn to drugs and alcohol and reckless behavior to find it.  My children have found it in roughing it in the wild.  They have found it in Their Gorge.

Camping in itself is always a great family bonding experience.  Backpacking  all of your gear down a crevice with class 5 climbing moves  into a recess cave AKA “rock house” to spend the night safe from the windstorm picking up, can lead to serious bonding.  Building a “wall” to protect us from the dust waves during the windstorm was a good time.  My daughter providing relief (to me AND her brother and uncle) in the form of sparkling, peppermint lotion and lemon lip balm as our skin dried up like prunes in the dusty wind, was hilarious.


This is the view  from my sleeping bag in a secret rock house.  In the summer, it is an amazing feeling with the cool air from the rocks catching the warm breezes as you settle in your nest just as the birds do.  This time it got down to 30 degrees.  We have pretty decent sleeping bags but it wasn’t the most comfortable night…and our toothpaste was frozen in the morning.

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Chimney climb                                    Half Moon rock scramble


Indian Stairway (handholds carved by native Americans long ago) and a crevice leading to a cave on top of a mountain called Cloud Splitter.

And then there’s The River Cave…. What a rush, what a feeling, deep down in the earth…pitch black. Working your body in ways it has never been worked before…twisting, and climbing, and slithering… wet, damp, cool, quiet… knowing that pounds and pounds of earth sit above you… people hike far above you… Truly in the heart of the earth, you can feel it beat… hear your own join in sync….




…and then the moment you see the light at the end…feel a warm breeze touch your cheek… and see the climb out… do you really want to leave this sacred space to rejoin the rest of the world?