Sunday, September 24, 2006

Madison, IN - Clifty Falls State Park - Carrollton, KY

September 22-23, 2006
Madison, IN - Clifty Falls State Park - Carrollton, KY

I wanted to treat my wife to quick weekend getaway without the kids to wrap up a summer that saw me on the road frequently for business. We chose to visit Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Indiana - about 2 hours from our home in Indianapolis.

We drove down on a Friday, and since it was after the peak season and a bit rainy, it seemed like we had the park to ourselves. We spent about three hours hiking on various trails. The park has 10 total - mostly rated moderately rugged or rugged, although most of the park's four waterfalls are fairly close to trail heads.

The hiking was very peaceful with the sound of rushing water often nearby. As for nature, we saw a large pileated woodpecker, a group of four wild turkeys, a 4-foot long rat snake and a rabbit - not to mention numerous squirrels eating walnuts. Along trail 5, which leads past Tunnel Falls, there is a 60-foot tunnel of rock that remains from a railroad abandoned in the 1850s. The tunnel is passable on foot with a flashlight. Lining Trail 5 was a very interesting flower, the Pale Touch Me Not, a yellow flower with three petals hanging by a thin stem.

After hiking, we headed to the park's Nature Center only to find that it's hours of operation are only from 12-4 on Wednesdays-Sundays. We took the trail from the center to the observation tower, affording us a view of the park, the Ohio River and the city of Madison.

We drove into Madison late in the afternoon. Seems like the town is home to at least a dozen antique shops. The main strip downtown features a 4-5 block historic shopping district. Several stores closed at 5, but some remained open until 6. The courthouse features a replica Statue of Liberty dedicated by a group of Boy Scouts as well as a memorial to the area's war heroes.

Ovo Cafe is located on Main Street in the heart of the shopping district. It's relatively small with only six to eight tables, and has a limited menu of 8-10 entrees, but the food was outstanding. We shared a portabella mushroom topped with tomato and mozzarella cheese as an appetizer. All entrees included a house or caesar salad and bread with an herb butter. I enjoyed Shrimp Scampi which featured a generous amount of jumbo shrimp on a bed of angel hair pasta in a white wine sauce. My wife had Capellini Mediterranean, a dish with artichokes, olives and tomatoes on angel hair pasta. The homemade desserts included a strawberry, chocolate chip cheesecake that we also shared. Everything was delicious. Cost was about $50.

After dinner we crossed the Ohio River and drove about 15 miles into Kentucky to a Hampton Inn in Carrollton. There are about a dozen Bed & Breakfasts and hotels in Madison, but all were either sold out or priced more than we were willing to spend for this weekend (an art festival was in town - more about that later).

The Hampton in Carrollton is right off I-71, which connects Louisville and Cincinnati. It was recently renovated and was very nice. As we checked in, I asked if they had a hot tub. We were hoping to soak after our day of hiking. The hotel does not, but it does offer a heated, indoor pool. No worry about the hot tub, when we got up to our room, it turned out to be one of five on the 60-room property with a jacuzzi tub - perfect to unwind in. The room also had a microwave, small refrigerator, free wireless internet access and full selection of cable TV channels.

On Saturday, we enjoyed the hotels free hot breakfast before departing for more sightseeing.

We stopped at the Butler Outlet Mall in Carrollton. It's small with only a half dozen stores, including Bon Worth, Dress Barn and Van Heusen.

Carrollton is also close to Kentucky's General Butler State Resort Park, which offers a variety of activities at the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers.

We drove back to Madison where we spent several hours walking around the Chautauqua Festival of Art. The festival included 280 booths of artists, craftsmen, food and musical entertainment. It gave us a great opportunity to pick up a couple of early Christmas gifts.

Early in the afternoon, we headed back to Clifty Falls State Park. First stop, the Nature Center that we had missed the day before. As we pulled up, we were shocked to see a raccoon sitting on a large platform designed for bird watching. He was enjoying a leisurely meal of various seeds. The platform was visible from the nature center's tinted observation window, so we spent quite a while watching him eat. A number of birds also joined in the feast, landing on the window ledge right in front of us. We saw cardinals, nut hatches, tufted titmouse, chickadees and a gold finch. Of course, the center includes information about the wildlife, plant life and geology of the area.

It was raining nearly constantly on Saturday, which meant the park was again nearly empty. We decided to make one more run to Clifty Falls - the falls at the North Gate entrance and literally just a 2-minute hike from the trail head. The area had gotten 4-5 inches of rain over night and the difference was unbelievable. The volume of water flowing over the falls seemed like 10 times what had been flowing over the day before. What had been the sound of peaceful, flowing water on Friday was a thunderous waterfall on Saturday. Adding to the experience was seeing the fog rising off the water and moving up the sides of the cliff.