From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rattlesnake Road

A back-road in rural Todd County, Kentucky


Rattlesnake Road, at
its intersection with
Allegre Road (Hwy. 171)
Last winter, I posted a photo I had taken of a creek ford on a rural road in northwestern Todd County, Kentucky. A visitor to the blog asked if the ford was on Rattlesnake Road. It wasn't -- it was on Flat Rock Road -- but the question planted a seed of curiosity in the wanderlust corner of my heart.

I decided that I would like to travel Rattlesnake Road when the weather dried up, and I said as much to the visitor. He (or she) replied:

Oh...then just trust me, Rattlesnake Road looks just about like your Flat Rock Road. I mean, you don't have to GO THERE...Rattlesnakes...and all...

My only trip there was in the summer years ago, the creek was incredibly high and there was no safe way to have crossed it. There was a roadway to the water's edge (and through it I presume) and a roadway came out the other side.

You could not have paid me any amount of money to get out of my car. Just the thought of it even today gives me the heebie jeebies!

Those words convinced me that I had to visit Rattlesnake Road and see its creek ford with my own eyes.

The right day for Rattlesnake Road


Sunday afternoon, I decided that the creeks were surely dried up enough now for my adventure. Dennis was settled in for a long nap that looked it could be an all-nighter, so before I left, I posted a message about my destination on Facebook. I figured the clue would come in handy if I disappeared. Otherwise, no one would ever think to look for me on Rattlesnake Road!



View Larger Map. Just to the south of Rattlesnake Road is 
Flat Rock Road, the subject of a previous post! Google has
misspelled Ovil Road -- it needs an "i", not an "a".

Mount Tabor Baptist Church
I decided that I would drive over to Allegre Road (Highway 171) to look for the turn-off for Rattlesnake Road. I thought the road might be a little easier to find on that end because it was a 4-way intersection. I drove slowly so I could see any road signs, and I found the road exactly where it was supposed to be -- near Mt. Tabor.

Mt. Tabor once may have had a school, a store, and/or a post office, but the Mt. Tabor Baptist church and cemetery are all that seem to remain. They sit directly across the highway from the Rattlesnake Road sign.

Farms and homes


I turned onto Rattlesnake Road and stopped to photograph its sign and the narrow strip of asphalt that led westward. Despite its exciting name, it looked much like hundreds of rural roads I've seen as I've zoomed along the highways of Kentucky.

As I followed Rattlesnake Road, I passed fields of corn, tobacco, and young soybeans. The corn was visibly suffering from lack of rain. When I stepped out of the car near a cornfield, I could hear dry corn leaves rattling in the breeze.

Rattlesnake Road near the
Allegre Road (Hwy. 171)
Young soybeans along
Rattlesnake Road

Along the way, I passed about half a dozen houses. A couple of them were headquarters for farms. They were surrounded by barns and sheds, and the yards were full of farm equipment, parked in no particular order. Several of the houses looked like they had been farm houses previously, but maybe the people who lived there now were not farmers. A couple of the places were very neatly kept with American flags flying out front. One house was completely surrounded with broken-down cars and piles of rusty metal and trash. In short, the residences of Rattlesnake Road are the odd mix that one often finds along a rural Kentucky road.

Part of Rattlesnake Road runs along the top of a ridge. I could tell that there was a ravine below, but I couldn't see into it because of the foliage. I didn't feel like getting out of my car and trying to peer over the edge because, to be honest, I was afraid there might be a rattlesnake¹!


Trees at the road's edge
hide the deep ravine
that lies below.

Big sinkhole on
top of the ridge
Private driveway --
maybe a hunter's cabin?
A beautiful, peaceful valley 

The first stream crossing


The bridge on Rattlesnake Road
Finally, I came to a little bridge over a small stream.  There isn't much water in the stream at present, but little creeks can rise dramatically after heavy rains. This bridge sits low, so floodwaters may sometimes run over it. It is made of heavy steel grating that allows water to flow through it without much impediment.

I wondered if this bridge might have taken the place of the ford on Rattlesnake Road. That was not the case! The stream ford was yet to come.

I consulted the map when I got home and learned that this little stream is a tributary of the Buck Fork of the Pond River. I also read a newspaper article from 2006 that described an emergency allocation of funds by Kentucky's Transportation Cabinet for "bridge repair work over Pond River on Rattlesnake Road, located 7.5 miles west of KY 171". This would seem to be that bridge.

Rattlesnake Road gets a little rougher



As I came out of that creek valley and over the next ridge, I noticed some large outcroppings of rock. This definitely looked like rattlesnake country to me -- quiet and remote, with ample rock for winter dens and for basking in the sunshine on early spring days.

By now, the blacktop road had changed to gravel, and it had been a while since I passed any houses. As I headed into the next valley, the road became very narrow indeed. In fact, I would not call it a gravel road any longer. It was a dirt road, and I didn't have to be an Indian scout to see that no one had driven there since the last sprinkle of rain, whenever that was.

Narrow gravel road
Even narrower dirt road

Most sensible folks would have turned around at that point. My husband certainly would have insisted on turning around, had he been with me. I looked down the road as far as I could see. I didn't notice any deep ruts or protruding rocks that would "high-center" my car, so I decided to go on. I drove cautiously down a long, rather gentle descent, and at its bottom, I came at last to what I had really come to see.

The creek ford on Rattlesnake Road


The ford includes a short drive down the stream bed.

The ford was a bit intimidating, even though the water was shallow. I could understand why the commenter, quoted above, found it a memorable sight when the water was high. One must drive at the edge of the stream bed for about 50 or 60 feet, then turn slightly and cross the stream².

I got out of my car to analyze the situation, keeping a sharp eye out for rattlesnakes all the while. The rocky stream bed seemed firm and the water appeared to be shallow. I didn't see any high rocks or any deep holes. I decided to go forward, and for good measure, to go at a trot. A little inertia could do no harm. I got back in my car, put it in gear, and drove briskly through the water -- nothing to it! It was almost an anti-climax.

After a short trip down the stream bed,
the actual crossing of the stream

Back to the modern world


A half-mile or so past the creek ford, I drove out of the trees and bushes into a large valley with cultivated fields. I stopped to take a picture of the road behind and the road ahead. Clearly, I was getting back to civilization.

Looking back
Looking forward

I passed a field of tall grass that appeared to be in the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program, aka Soil Bank). I am not particularly good at identifying grasses, but I definitely recognized the six-foot-tall clumps with "turkey claw" blooms --they could only be big bluestem! What a nice surprise!

Clumps of big bluestem
Turkey claw blooms of big bluestem

Soon the road passed a farm house with a caution sign for "Children at play". Then I pulled up to a stop sign and realized that I had reached the west end of Rattlesnake Road. I thought momentarily about turning around and driving back through to experience it again, but I didn't do it. Instead, I turned onto the highway and dutifully drove to Hopkinsville to pick up my prescriptions at the drugstore before the pharmacy window closed.

The comment that inspired my visit to Rattlesnake Road mentioned "the heebie jeebies", and I do understand why. I never did see a snake of any sort, but I had an uneasy feeling that a snake could be nearby, during the entire time I was on that road. I don't think I could ever feel comfortable if I lived there.

Rattlesnake Road's junction with Ovil Road

¹  A testimony to the presence of rattlesnakes in the area:  "Having lived in North Todd all their adult lives, Mr. and Mrs. Powell have seen their share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. The biggest rattlesnake Robert Earl has ever killed was longer than he is tall, as big around as his arm, and had 16 rattles; and Sue has killed her share with a hoe, especially near the hog pen." (Source)

² After consulting the map, I believe that the ford crosses the true Buck Fork of Pond River (not just one of its tributaries). I am not 100% sure about that. Every little valley in northern Todd County has its own little creek. Even on my topographical map that shows many details, sometimes it's hard to tell which creek is the branch and which is the twig.

6 comments:

Stitchy Mc Floss said...

You are far braver than I....just reading that you got out of your car on that road gave me the heebie jeebies. The word Rattlesnake would have been enough for me to not go down that road, and then I would have missed the adventure. I love reading your blog because I know it will always lead to somewhere I have never been before. Thank you for the adventure. :)

Genevieve said...

Thanks for reading, Stitchy. I enjoyed the adventure, and I'm glad you did, too. I love driving down country roads. You never know what you're going to see!

I was glad I didn't have to back my car up that little road from the ford and try to find a wide spot to turn around. That would have been the only alternative if I had decided not to cross the creek!

Pushka said...

Wow! I live in a city where true wilderness is something you just never come across. I love nature and I look forward to more stories.
Susan

Genevieve said...

Thanks for visiting, Pushka. I'd say that Rattlesnake Road around the ford is one of the least-traveled stretches of road in Todd County, KY. But if it were a true wilderness, it probably wouldn't have a road at all!

M Deanie Brown said...

Hi there, Just wanted to leave you a little note and say thanks for quoting my little article from the Todd County Family History book. Robert Earl Powell is my father, and I personally lived on Rattlesnake Road for a few years. While there are plenty of rattlesnakes out there, there are no more there than on in any other area in that end of the county. I do remember well that huge rattlesnake my daddy killed, though. He killed it on Hurricane Hill Road, and it was actually on the front page of the Kentucky New Era, Daddy holding it. He still has the picture somewhere. Also, I thought you might be interested in knowing that the ford crossing on the other side, the Flat Rock Road that you mentioned in the other post, is known locally as "Booty Creek." I'm not sure why or where it got that name, but many of the locals take their kids wading in the always cold water of Booty Creek in the summer. I took my grandson there last summer myself. So, if you're ever in the mood for a little wading, go back down to Booty Creek on Flat Rock Road, across on the other side of the bridge from Ovil Road, roll up your pants, kick off your shoes (or better yet, wear flip-flops, and go wading. Be prepared for the shock of the COLD water. Oh, and you can drive through it on that side just as easily as you did on Rattlesnake Road. I follow your posts quite frequently and admire that you've documented the local history. Thank you. I have just started blogging, as in this week just started, but feel free to visit me at AgingWrite on wordpress.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your comments, Deanie. Now I am curious about Hurricane Hill Road! :D I appreciate your visits here, and I hope your blog goes well.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.