Photo Friday: Kentucky State Parks

With version 2.0 of this blog up and running (with only a few snags), I’m going to join in on one of my favorite blog events, Photo Friday. Though I’d love to tell you I plan to participate every week, I can’t promise that. I will try though.

For my inaugural Photo Friday post, I decided to honor the suggested theme of state parks, especially since I spent this past summer touring all 51 of Kentucky’s state parks. State parks are a huge asset to any community, and in Kentucky they’re especially great, since admission to all Kentucky parks is absolutely free. In other states, admission is usually quite nominal, so what are you waiting for? Go check out your parks.

As it’s fall, I’m going to focus on four of my favorite Kentucky parks for hiking.

First up, Cumberland Falls, the only place in the Western hemisphere to see a moonbow, which is essentially a nighttime rainbow created by the light from a full moon and the mist of the falls. Remaining viewing dates for 2010 are November 19-23 and December 19-23. While viewing the falls is the most popular activity, you can also go rafting, hike in the surrounding forest, and camp.

South of Cumberland Falls and just a few miles north of the Cumberland Gap, where Daniel Boone entered Kentucky and blazed the Wilderness Trail, is Pine Mountain State Park. The hiking here is gorgeous, thanks to lush thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurels.

Another popular hiking destination is Natural Bridge State Park, where you can follow a rhododendron-lined trail up to a huge natural stone bridge that you can observe from below before walking across. If you’re feeling lazy, take the chair lift up and then hike back down.

Carter Caves, in northeastern Kentucky, is not nearly as well known as Natural Bridge, but it also has many cool rock formations. Those looking for hiking opportunities without the crowds will want to put this park on their itinerary.

Visit the Kentucky State Parks website to find out more information on all 51 of the parks in the Bluegrass State.

Three Reasons I Hate iPhones

Okay, I admit it, I’ve always been late to the technology game. I didn’t get a cell phone until after college (and I graduated in 2003) and I still have your basic flip phone, where if I want to send a text and the word I want to write starts with, say, “C,” I have to press the 2 button three times to get that C. I have a Twitter account, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to post on it. I read other people’s posts, and I think, “Huh. I didn’t realize that was worth sharing.” Same goes with Facebook, where I maybe update my own status twice a week and where I’ve hidden a good portion of my so-called friends because their posts annoy the bejeezus out of me. Clearly I am not a technology geek. I admit it. But I’m not going to apologize for it. No, sirree. Instead, I’m going to tell you flat out why I hate iPhones. And Droids. And Blackberries. And every single other smartphone out there. Because I have good reasons, I swear. And because, well, I’m a curmudgeon, and I’m not afraid to admit that either.

So, without further ado, the three reasons I hate iPhones.

1. We’re losing our ability to socialize with the people right in front of us.
Admit it, you’ve gone out to dinner or to the bar with friends, and at least one person in your group spends more time on their phone (texting, checking Facebook, Tweeting) with someone not there than with you. Or you check in to a hostel, go to the common room, and find it completely silent as everyone uses their smartphone to update their website, get suggestions on where to eat from Twitter, or chat with their friends back at home. Or you’re sitting at the airport waiting for your delayed flight to take off, and instead of talking to you, your traveling partner turns on his smartphone and plays Scrabble against the computer. Once upon a time, we used to talk to people live and in person, not just through clever 140 character posts or via comments or through iPhone video chat. Once upon a time, instead of asking the Internet, we asked people at our hostel where they had been and what they’d recommend; we asked the lady at the corner how to get where we were going; we asked the local person next to us on the subway where they’d suggest going for dinner. Once upon a time, when we left our house and our computer behind, we were *gasp* on our own. And guess what? We did just fine.

2.We know everything, but we don’t talk about anything.
You’re at the bar, and a song comes on that you know but you can’t remember who sings it. Used to be that you’d talk it over with your friends, remembering the first time you heard it, or how it came on the radio while you were on that date with that girl and it seemed perfect. Eventually the artist comes to someone, who blurts it out, and you all nod and smile, and say “Yeah, that’s right.” But it wasn’t just about the artist. It was about everything else that song somehow contained. Now, ten beats in, we’ve typed the lyrics into our phone and we’ve got the artist. Conversation over. As I heard said recently, smartphones have absolutely killed bar arguments. As soon as there is a disagreement or even a question, everyone’s on their phone, and the discussion is settled before it can actually become a discussion. We all now *know* a hundred million things (i.e. the Bing commercials), but I’m not sure we’re really knowledgeable about anything. As multiple studies have shown, all our multitasking is changing the way we think, and it’s not in a way that’s increasing our IQs.

3. Everything has become the-house-is-on-fire important.
The smartphone vibrates. Incoming message. Must check now. Oh look, my brother just updated his status on Facebook. He just saw M.C. Hammer walking down the street. Isn’t that awesome? Isn’t your life so much better because you know that, and because you know it now, and not in two hours when you go home and get on your computer? Ohh, another vibration. Email from my mom. She wants me to forward her my Christmas flight info when I get a chance. Better do it now, even though Christmas is 273 days away. Let me do a quick search through my email, type her a short note, and send it. Won’t take but a minute. Ohh, something else. A tweet from that guy who writes that one blog that I read one time. He wants me to vote for his photo, so he can win a free trip to the moon. Just give me one sec while I do that, and then we can order dinner. Seriously, people? Seriously. Let me be clear. You are not that important. The world will not end if you fail to respond to a message within the first ten seconds of receiving it.  Get over yourself. Please. And thank you.

There you go. That’s what I have to say. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. I’m used to hearing it. (But don’t think you’re going to change my mind.)

Not a Drop to Drink: Blog Action Day 2010

On our travels, we’ve seen more times than I can count people carrying water in canisters atop their head. Usually the people we see are women or children, some so small that the jugs they carry are almost as big as them. Sometimes they don’t have to walk far with their load, just from the village well to their home. Other times they have to walk miles—literally, miles—with these heavy containers of water. It’s also not unusual for us to see women squatting aside a stream, their laundry laid out on nearby rocks, or to see children taking a bath in the river.

It makes for good photos, but it makes for a terrible reality.

The horrible truth of our world is that an enormous number of people in our world do not have access to clean, safe water. Unlike me, they can’t turn on the faucet and take a sip. Some because they don’t have the luxury of running water; others because the water that comes out of their faucets is contaminated. Ice makers, washing machines, yard sprinklers, daily showers, and swimming pools are fantasies, not only because many of the world’s people can’t afford them, but because even if they could, they’d be useless without the water to power them.

Did you know that 38,000 children under the age of five die each week due to consumption of contaminated water? That two million tons of human waste are disposed in water sources every single day? That African women spend a collective 40 billion hours each year carrying water, much of which is still not safe to drink?

And here we are in America, turning our backs on the perfectly wonderful water we have coming right out of our faucets to buy bottled water. How ridiculous we are. How frivolous we are. How unbelievably privileged we are.

Access to clean water is not currently a right for all people in our world, but it should be. Really, if you sit a minute and think about it, you’ll be astounded. This isn’t world peace we’re asking for. It’s clean water–something we already know how to obtain, something that is absolutely 100% vital to life. So today, on Blog Action Day, I ask you to take action. I challenge you to take the money that you spend on bottled water—or other frivolities—and donate it to organizations such as or Charity: Water. This is a problem that we can solve.