The First Annual Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon Was A Triumph!

The Appalachia region has been a victim of poverty for time immemorial. We are trying to help ourselves make a new vision, a new future, that maintains our environment and culture but bring us up to being more economically stable. We were told by the State of Kentucky to put on events to bring in people for tourism; use the breathtaking landscape to our advantage, not destroy it with mining and rock quarries.

We took their advice to heart and began planning for The Rugged Red trail half marathon in the Red River Gorge and mostly on the Sheltowee Trace trail. We had a few glitches, which is to be expected when you are doing something for the first time. However, to hear the runners, it was a tremendous success. They have posted all over the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We did get some negative reporting from Lexington News Channels and the runners were on it responding positively about all that went right about the event; how beautiful the Gorge is and the pride they took in facing the challenge of The Rugged Red. The Wolfe County Search and Rescue Team were correcting their story about those who required aid. We are eternally grateful for the Tri-County (Wolfe, Powell, and Menifee) Search and Rescue Teams, EMS, etc involved in this race. They came through for the runners who were having difficulties in muscle strains, sprains, and overheating; which is typical for this kind of event. This is not your granny’s stroll in the park, this is The RUGGED Red.

We had Gerry Seavo James of @ExploreKentucky down taking photos of the race. He posted on Instagram about his involvement with a photo of me starting the runners off. Check out his great endeavor of getting more people involved in exploring Kentucky at


Gerry Seavo James IG Rugged Red



Andrew Carter blogged about his experience with The Rugged Red at his website Infinite MPG….


“All year I’ve been looking forward to going to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge to run the inaugural Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon. Yesterday, it finally happened! My first trail half marathon – and it was certainly rugged, as the name might suggest. More on that later.” Read more


One of our own locals Chris Chaney  had plenty to say on his blog at The Chainring Report…

Hare or Tortoise: Local Boy Represents!

“I saw the sign next to the trail:

Mile 12

The Rugged Red 

Half Marathon

Ever fiber of my being wanted to begin my kick.  I was on a downhill with a short creek crossing and insignificant climb out, then a gradual downhill, a short bit on the road and into Gladie Creek historic site to the finish.  I wanted to kick.  Actually there were some fibers of my being that didn’t want to kick.  My energy was gone.  My engine was boiling over and running hot; ready to ‘splode.” Read More

I’m Calling You Out

“It’s called the Rugged Red for the Red River Gorge.  The Gorge area is a rugged terrain that has thwarted persistent human settlement.  The landscape confounds even foot travel with its steep slopes under towering cliffs below rocky ridges choked with scrubby pines and greenbriars.  Some of us frequently walk in its shady hollows and along its rushing streams that crash all toward the Red River.  We drink it in.” Read More


Rick Hamon posted on his blog a video of the planning and subsequent action of the Search and Rescue Teams important role in The Rugged Red.


You can check out what others had to say at our Bowen Farm Bed and Breakfast Facebook page, The Rugged Red Facebook page, The Rugged Red Twitter and all through Instagram with the hashtag #ruggedred. Thank you to all those who helped us make this an adventure, especially the rescue workers, volunteers, runners, and their families.

Kickoff of The Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon

Kicking off the inaugural Rugged Red trail half marathon! We have been looking forward to all the runners, volunteers, family, and friends coming up to join us on this exciting adventure. We are rearing to go on all the fun to be had up here. Thanks to everyone for all your help and support in making this happen!!! Did we mention that we named The Rugged Red RUGGED for a reason? It’s gonna be rugged out there today. The rain came back forcing us to move parking; the trail is going to be muddy and wet making it true to its name. The race went off on time and we have 380 runners on the trail. They are running in what is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the South which boasts over 100 natural sandstone arches. We are stoked!!!

My Request of Diane Sawyer to Return to The Red River Gorge

In my life, I have been around the globe. I have done many a thing and have seen even more; nothing compares to my home of Eastern Kentucky. The Appalachian region has always struggled and we are trying to improve  our situation with grassroots projects. One such project is The Rugged Red. I was encouraged by, Ken Rowland, former News Director of Channel 32,  to write to Diane Sawyer, a native of Glasgow, Kentucky, and ask if she would be willing to help us build tourism to Eastern Kentucky.


She often tells fondly of the story of how she got her start. She kept begging the Ken Rowland to give her a chance at reporting; she was a weather girl at the time. Her big break came when Supreme Court Justice William Douglas came to the Red River Gorge to highlight the issue of a proposed dam on the Red River located at Jailhouse Rock. The dam proposal attracted a protest hike on November 18, 1967 to prevent the Red River Gorge from being transformed from a sanctuary of ruggedness, beauty, and serenity to a destructive wasteland.

In the book, Diane Sawyer by Gerda Gallop Goodman, it says that “…her first assignment was to interview the civil rights supporter and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. However, the assignment proved more challenging than she expected. Diane had to trail behind Douglas while he undertook a five mile hike through the Red River Gorge in the eastern part of Kentucky. The terrain was rugged, yet Diane managed to carry her own camera and equipment and complete the interview.” Diane recounts in the book,  “I had to stand ahead of the hikers, then stand and shoot until they passed by, then race ahead to be in front of them again. It was really a vigorous hike for me.”

At one point of her interview, Diane Sawyer, slipped on an embankment at which Douglas quipped, “This must be her first time.”

I was there that day. I finally sent the letter to Diane Sawyer just last week. My friends,Gerry Seavo James of Explore Kentucky and Jeb Smith of SkyDroneStudios, suggested creating this video to present to Diane Sawyer…. but now I need your help to share it far and wide so that hopefully Diane Sawyer will see it and come help us by presenting the trophy to the winner of the Rugged Red trail half marathon this September 6.

Side note: The dam was never built. The trail that Supreme Court Justice William Douglas hiked that day is now known among the locals as Douglas Trail. In 1993, Red River Gorge was declared a National Forest under the USDA and now we are pushing it to become a National Landmark to ensure its protection from even felling the trees.

A Visit Through History

I am a travelling man at heart. I cannot sit still in one place for very long before my need to go, to see, to explore starts tickling me to scratch the itch to travel. I decided to relieve the itch by taking my exchange student Jan and grandson Kyle on a tour through American History. We went left out May 5th and returned May 9th.

The first place we headed to was a 140 year old German Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. We had an authentic German lunch. Our exchange student Jan is from Germany and he attested to its authenticity. We forbade him to order a cheeseburger and french fries. From there we visited the “Y” bridge on the “National Highway” of US 40 in Panesville, Ohio. The bridge actually intersects in the middle of the Muskingum River in the confluence of the Muskingum and Licking Rivers. It was originally builst in the late 1800’s as a “Y” covered bridge and rebuilt in 1974 to continue bridging all three pieces of land at the confluence.

Off to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we visited the Civil War site, Battle of Gettysburg. We got to visit the newly opened visitors center where we viewed a movie about what led up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle itself and the different players involved. President Lincoln with his Gettysburg address and Robert E. Lee as the commanding General of the confederate enabled the boys to understand the significance of the 22 year old General Custer; youngest General at the time. While here we saw the cyclorama that was painted and used in Boston, Massachusetts shortly after the battle. It has been restored and is hanging in the theater of Gettysburg.

From Gettysburg, we went to the Battle Field of Antietam in Maryland. We watched a movie of the story where the commanding General McClellan beat Robert E. Lee in battle. He also “rested” and let Robert E. Lee and his army cross back south over the Potomac River. President Lincoln was so upset by this failure of General McClellan he actually went to Antietam and asked McClellan if he could borrow his army because he had a war to win. Due to this incident, Lincoln eventually fired McClellan who later ran against Lincoln for president in 1863.

Kyle, Jan, and I went on to visit Haper’s Ferry, West Virginia where John Brown, a self appointed abolitionist. He planned to end slavery by himself bytaking over a U.S. Arsenal in Harper’s Ferry. This act got many people killed, himself hung, and according to some, started the Civil War. The boys got to see where this happened. They also got to see the rock on the mountain where Thomas Jefferson stood and viewed the confluence of the two great American Rivers: the Potomac and the Shenandoah. Jefferson wrote about this experience in his journal. In Harper’s Ferry, the boys crossed (the first time of this trip) the infamous Appalachian Trail.

We visited the Ohio canal and Towpath. This Chesapeake and Ohio canal and Towpath was saved and became part of the National Parks system because of the work of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Justice Douglas came and visited the Red River Gorge in Kentucky in November of 1967. He ended the dam project proposal in the Red River at North Folk just upstream from Bowen.

Washington, D.C. was our next stop. There we saw the statues of great men and women, walked the Great Lawn of The Mall. On this visit we went to the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, WWII memorial, see the White House, visit the Washington Monument, Korean War Memorial, and see the U.S. Capitol Building. We visited the Arlington Cemetery. We visited the graves of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Robert Todd Lincoln (s0n of Abraham Lincoln), and the guard and tomb of the unknown soldier. We also visited the grave sites and Pentagon Tombstone of all the people killed during the plane crashing into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Most importantly, we visited the grave of John David Morton who lived and went to school in Powell County (our county). He went to PCHS and died in combat in Afghanistan.

We went on to Mount Vernon. This was the home of President George Washington in his adult years. We visited the Pope Plantation and the Tide waters of the Potomac. We also saw the place that George Washington was born. There we watched a film that talked about Washington’s early years and his family.

Next, we went to the Stratford Hall. The Stratford Hall plantation is where Robert E. Lee was born and grew up. The 1,900 acre estate was the same place where the only two brothers that signed the Declaration of Independence was born and raised; Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee.

The Civil War Battlefield at Chancellorsville, Virginia was our next stop. At this site, Robert E. Lee beat the Union so bad that it gave him the courage to go on to Gettysburg. Lee knew he had to win a major battle in the north. We visited museums and saw a lot of marble and bronze art.

We went on to visit the home of President James Madison who is known as the father of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was the only sitting President that picked up arms and fought while serving. He did so in the War of 1812.

The home of Thomas Jefferson was our next stop. Jefferson was the third U.S. President. We also saw the Plantation of President James Monroe; the fifth President. His home was near Thomas Jefferson’s.

The most incredible visit was to Appomattox Court House where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant that ended the Civil War. During this visit, we saw and understood how this chapter in U.S. History played out. We stood in General Lee’s camp on the east side of town and General Grant’s camp on the west side of this little town. After this event happened the town was abandoned; therefore we saw it much like it was in April 9, 1865. We visited the McClean home about 300 feet from the Courthouse. We stood in the room where both men signed the agreement. We saw where Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, stood near General Grant while the signing took place. We were reminded that five days after this signing, President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C. at the Ford Theater.

We traveled across the Blue Ridge Mountains, across the Shenandoah Valley, saw the Allegany and back across West Virginia on our way back home. I know I enjoyed the trip, but I feel it really sparked a great respect and interest in history in my grandson Kyle. He lapped up all that he learned on the trip and really intrigued to learn more.


The Derby Marathon Registration

I am excited about this Rugged Red race! I am so excited that I pulled the boys out of school for two days and headed to Louisville, Kentucky. We headed to the Convention Center for the Derby Marathon registration pick up. We were not going to be racing, but we were going to convince those runners to come and race in our Rugged Red. Eric Patrick Marr came through for us with a great set up to attract attention… a 10 foot banner of the Red River Gorge. It is just a half marathon in comparison, but it is much more challenging in the fact that it is on a trail in the Red River Gorge from Chimney Top, through Rough Trail, Koomer Ridge, Buck Trail, Sheltowee Trace and Bison Way to finish at the Gladie Center.

My boys, Kyle and Jan, put on the charm and helped me get signatures. It was a two day event and we got there just after noon on the first day. Registration did not start until 4:00pm. To cool the boredom from the boys grunts and moans, we took a tour of downtown Louisville. I showed them a few neat places in the city, and made a return tourist trip the next morning before we needed to set up the booth for the Rugged Red. At the end of the registration pick-up, we went to my daughter, Natalie’s home to sleep, but not before socializing with two of my daughters and letting one of them, Lonna, and four of her kids spend some time with her fifth, my grandson Kyle. She has been gracious enough to let him stay with me and keep me company.

My daughters suggested that we visit the 21c hotel down on Main Street for some eye opening art. Boy they were not wrong! In front of the hotel stands a golden 30 foot statue of David. The David of Michelangelo. It was incredible and the art in the museum (part of the hotel) was unforgettable. We definitely got our culture for the day.

After our tour of the city and art, we headed back to the convention center to promote the Rugged Red some more. We got 500 interested people. I really believe this will be a success and annual event. It is an adventure, challenge and a divine way to commune with the earth.


Running Yourself Rugged by Chris Chaney


IMG_1052One of my dear friends, Janice Odom, General Manager of ReFocus magazine, has been kind enough to let me share with you an article from my friend, Chris Chaney. Chris Chaney is preparing to run The Rugged Red and gives a fascinating insight into trail running. If you want to visit ReFocus Magazine, please click here.

I love to run Whittleton Trail in the rain. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. There’s just something about running that particular trail in a good steady downpour that appeals to a primitive place in my brain. It doesn’t matter why. It just makes me happy. I’ll shuffle to a stop next to my car, splattered in mud, clung to by wet leaves, shoes oozing water and mud…and wearing a big stupid grin somewhere under all the muck. 

I discovered my love for trail running in the late 1990’s when I lived in Slade. My beater car kept me from zipping to Stanton to run at the track; and why would I want to? The city park was okay then (fantastic these days), but I had access to the entire Red River Gorge trail system.

Being in my early twenties I was young enough to scoff at the notion that there was risk associated with running the trails alone. I’d been hiking them alone for a few years by then and was comfortable heading out on long jaunts with only my thoughts for company. Since then I’ve run hundreds of miles with only one twisted ankle. It was enough to make me more aware of notifying my loved ones of where I’d be running and trying to go with a partner whenever I could, but even after all these years I still feel the pull of an empty trail and will take off regardless of whether or not I can get someone else to go with me. 

My first real trail running experience was magical. The first time I visited Courthouse Rock, I was near the end of Auxier Ridge and getting a little antsy to see the big rock formation so I picked up the pace a little. As I jogged easily along in my hiking boots I noticed some kind of  bird of prey gliding along parallel to the ridge and my path. I paced it, running faster to try and keep up with the majestic bird as the ridge itself narrowed around me. I remember having the distinct feeling that the ridge was going to dome to an abrupt end and I wound’t be able to fly on along with the bird. And I was right. I stood at the overlook for Courthouse, chest heaving with shortened breaths as the raptor continued on over the valley below.

In later years the Auxier Ridge to Auxier Branch to Tunnel Ridge Road loop has been my go-to trail running destination. Only recently have I been comfortable running four miles, and at just over four the loop is tough considering you descend from the top of Auxier Ridge into Auxier Branch and then climb steeply out of the drainage back to Tunnel Ridge. I confess I do end up walking a lot on the climb out. Someday I’ll be able to run the entire loop without stopping. 

If you know me, you know I don’t look like an Olympic marathon runner. I’m not skinny. I am not a gazelle. I’m more like an old nag horse. Oh, I can run. It just ain’t pretty. To enjoy running you don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to be in peak physical shape. You just have to condition yourself to run.

I love mountain biking, but you can’t mountain bike on the trails of the Red River Gorge. this past Fall, as I was trying to get in shape for my first half marathon–The Iron Horse in Midway–I started at the suspension bridge on the Sheltowee Trace Trail below Chimney Top and ran north on the Sheltowee. As I ran along the tricky section of trail west of Cloudsplitter I began to experience the same kind of sensory input I git from mountain biking. It took a little finesse to surmount some short rocky and rooty sections of trail. And as I ran on up the Sheltowee toward the Bison Way Trail, which connects back over to the main paved road in the Gorge, I started to see running on the trails as a fair substitute for biking them.

The day I ran that part of the Sheltowee Trace and unofficial run was going on just a little later in the day along the same section of trail. It was the inaugural Sheltowee Challenge 50K and half marathon. The Sheltowee Challenge was put on as a fundraiser for the Sheltowee Trace Association, which is a non-profit group dedicated to maintaining and improving the 307 mile trail across its entire length through the Daniel Boone National Forest. I opted not to do the run because by the time I heard about it, I didn’t have time to train for a 50K trail run. “K” is kilometers. What that means in American is 31 miles. 

I only ran eight miles the day of the Sheltowee Challenge, but I vowed that in 2014, I would get in shape and do the full 50 kilometer run. A few weeks later I participated in the Iron Horse and finished in two hours and fourteen minutes. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but I was happy it being my first-ever long run.

Not too long after that, I heard about The Rugged Red. Joe Bowen told me about plans to put on a trail half marathon in the Red River Gorge. I said, “count me in.” How could I not participate in the first official half marathon on the trails of the Gorge? I’ve got a few months to get ready. The Rugged Red will be run on September 6, 2014. 

Running in the rain keeps me cool. My engine burns pretty hot. I get overheated easily. The other thing about running in the rain is going out knowing I’m going to get soaked to the bone and not caring. On a rainy trail you stomp along, splitting puddles with the same joy you felt as a kid stomping in them. It’s a way to reclaim lost moments of childhood, playing in the dirt and mud, running for the fun of it, tromping through the woods, and loving each moment of movement as if it were a lifetime unto itself.

Writer’s Workshop: Gurney Norman

March 1st was a first for us.  We hosted a writers workshop.  The author that ran the workshop was a famous Eastern Kentucky writer, Gurney Norman.  We had over 20 writers from all over Kentucky.  Janine Musser from Wolfe County brought the workshop to the Bowen Farm.  She and her husband David ran the web site and all of the many details of the 14,000 mile Unbridled Spirit bicycle trip throughout north America in 2005 and 2006. I had already enjoyed working with them and she did equally good job at putting together this writer’s workshop.

Gurney Norman is a native of southern Appalachian Mountains; has a degree in Journalism and English. He is a recipient of the  Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University;  studying with Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor and the literary critic Malcolm Cowley. He is the author of Kinfolks, a collection of short stories, which won the Berea College’s Weatherford award. He also penned the novel, Divine Right’s Trip. Gurney Norman is currently the Director of the English Department’s Creative Writing Program. He is also the Senior Writer-in-Residence at Hindman Settlement School‘s annual Appalachian Writers Workshop. Not only is he a writer, but also a filmmaker and cultural advocate for advancement of Appalachian culture and arts. Gurney Norman served as Poet Laureate  for the Commonwealth of Kentucky 2009-2010.

It was an extraordinary event and all that attended can attest to that. I am very honored to have had Gurney Norman and all the writers who attended. It was great to see the ideas steaming and words brewing in everyone’s mind as they put pen to paper. I hope this can be a yearly event or even a quarterly one.

Gurney Norman was kind enough to write in my guest book: “Joe, that was a great conversation last night; and I slept the best in years. Living in the city, you forget what fresh mountain air is… and the stars. They were so bright and seemed so near. They were vivid in the night sky, reminding me that our planet is just one more star floating in the universe. Your wonderful place here, and the peace we feel, allows our minds to rest so we have an environment that encourages us to think and feel deeply. We begin to recover something that gets lost in city life. I feel restored after just one night as your guest for which I thank you.”

Jan Is On Track…

No, literally he is on the track team. Our German exchange student is lean and mean like a greyhound. He had his first track meet and we were so proud. His assistant coach is our own cousin, Jacklyn Brown. She volunteers her time after school to train the Powell County track team.

It was a great day and looked like the girls were powerhouses. Really proud of our team and the dedication and hard work they are putting forth.

A Trip To Frankfort

Thanks to my dear lifelong friend, Brenda Crabtree, my boys (grandson Kyle and exchange student Jan) got to be pages for the Kentucky Senate in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and so thankful that they got to participate in the action in our state government.

They got to watch the heated debate of the House Bill 70. It was a perfect scenario to see the nitty gritty hashing out of different opinions on the floor. In case you are not familiar with HB70, it is a proposal to give convicted felons back the right to vote. If you want to learn more about the HB70, you can check it out here.

The boys even got to sit in on Kentucky State Senator Rand Paul’s news conference on the House Bill 70. They were able to meet with him and had a photo op. I believed they learned a lot from this experience and am thankful that they represented Eastern Kentucky in such a fine way.

jan, rand, kyle

Happy!! Spring Is Here !!!

Maintaining Grounds

We are excited to see Spring finally arrive. This winter has just about gotten the best of me. But, the sun has been shining and so three days this week my grandson, Kyle (whom I have enjoyed staying with me on the farm), and I started Spring cleaning the landscape; we started with the flower gardens because we are anxious for some blooms. It was so nice outside that Kyle was able to take off his shirt and get some sun and it felt good to get outside and sweat a little bit. Good for the soul. Now here on Sunday night there was yet another snow fall, so some of the yard and garden work will have to wait.

We have been walking the grounds and making plans for different projects we need to complete. Summer is the big wedding season and we have special projects to accomplish for the weddings we will be having here. However, the biggest project we have this year is planning for The Rugged Red trail half marathon in the Red River Gorge on September 5th and 6th. We are excited, but we know we got our work cut out for us.

The next event we have is the Kentucky Leukemia/Lymphoma Society’s fundraising hike through the Red River Gorge on April 12-13th. We will have their chili dinner brewing in time and a bonfire roasting on Saturday to kick-off their hike on Sunday. We look forward to meeting everyone coming in and will make them feel welcomed as we always do.

The Sparks Family Reunion is scheduled to congregate here on April 26, 2014. We look forward to the excellent food, friendship and family. We love for people to come to the farm; the more the merrier. We will be having Sparks coming from all over the country and excited to see some old faces, as well as the new. The Redbuds should be spectacular, in their blushing color, at that time.

We would love for you to come and visit. Please do call today to make your reservation for Spring time at 606-359-3366 or 606-481-4297. We can be found on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. You can also check us out on Pinterest.