One of the best things about my recent trip to the Appalachians was that the ballparks are all close together, so I had time to do a bit of touring during the day instead of driving six hours to the next stadium. Here are a few of the places I went.
Although none of the stadiums I visited are in Kentucky, I did drive through the state between Kingsport and Charleston, making a stop in Pikeville. This place is famous as one of the sites of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, particularly the courthouse where several Hatfields were sentenced and Ellison Mounts was hanged. There are several historic markers around town and a small museum that includes a display on the feud. There is also a university whose teams play in the NAIA, known as the Bears. Perhaps for this reason, there are bear statues in odd costumes all around the town, including Banjo Bear (below).
The area around the West Virginia Capitol building (below) is reasonably nice, but the main attraction is the State Museum just next door. It's free, very well designed and extremely informative, with a path taking you from the state's beginnings right up to present day. Each decade is clearly presented, and I learned a lot about a state that gets little press nationally. West Virginia has had more than its share of disasters (particularly mine collapses) and they are presented in detail here, so if you have a morbid side, you will enjoy this museum.
Pipestem State Park
Just north of Princeton, WV is Pipestem State Park, which includes an aerial tramway that takes you to the Bluestone River Gorge, a National Scenic River. There are several hiking trails here, the shortest of which takes you the top of a hill where you can walk up a lookout tower that has 360 degree views from 3,000 feet above sea level. The view of the surrounding countryside is incredible, though the picture below does not do it justice. There is also a lodge for overnight staying and a small nature center for kids. All in all, a nice quiet afternoon can be spent here without spending a dime.
Andrew Johnson Historic Site
Andrew Johnson was vice-president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, thus becoming the 17th president. He spent most of his adult life in Greeneville, TN, and the National Park Service now has an impressive historic site in his honour. There are four parts, including his old home (below), his original tailor shop next to the visitor center (a brick structure surrounds it to protect it from the elements), his homestead that he used after his presidency, and his grave, which lies atop a hill and is part of a national cemetery. There are several other historic homes in town, so take your time before an Astros game and drive around for a bit of a history lesson.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park
The first settlement outside of the 13 colonies was at Sycamore Shoals, on the Watauga River in what is now Elizabethton, TN. Later on, it was the muster site for the Overmountain Men, who won a key battle in the American Revolution at Kings Mountain in South Carolina. These days, it is a state park with a small hiking trail and a few reconstructed buildings that tell the story of the area. The river is quite scenic and worth the short walk from the visitor center.
Another interesting spot in Elizabethton is the covered bridge just east of downtown. Well, interesting might be a stretch, but you can wade or swim in the river there, and just a block away is Jiggy Ray's, an excellent pizza place.
Bristol Motor Speedway
History is everywhere in the Appalachians, but there is plenty of sport too, with racing one of the highlights. Perhaps the biggest attraction is the Bristol Motor Speedway, where two NASCAR races are held every year. When there are no races being held, you can take a tour for $5.46, a bargain even with the tax included.
Out front are some plaques honouring past NASCAR stars, such as Dale Earnhardt.
The tour begins in the suite level, where you get a great view of the track. Bristol is a short track, so you can see the entire race from any seat.
You are then brought down to the track itself and the van, which seats 10 tourists plus the driver, does a few laps, which is quite fun even at 50 MPH or so. The track is banked quite steeply on the turns, a feeling that you don't get on regular roads.
On this day, the dragway was closed as they were preparing for the Junior Nationals, so the tour was slightly abbreviated at about 45 minutes. Afterward, you can enter the seating bowl by yourself and snap a few more pictures.
You might notice the football field layout in the middle of the track; there will be a college football game held here in September between Virginia Tech and Tennessee (Bristol is on the border of those two states). Already 150,000 tickets have been sold, so it will be the largest crowd to see a college football game in history and quite the spectacle.