#15  Black Mountain, Kentucky (4,039 ft.)

The highpoint of Kentucky is more hole than hill. The land, which is currently owned by a coal company, is riddled with mines. The coal company makes you sign a waiver and carry it "on your person" before accessing the site. On the waiver you pledge not to assert at any time that it is a "public park." Does that mean no swingsets?

Miners on Black Mountain

Black Mountain is also, sadly, a candidate for  ugliest highpoint. My father and I drove the road up to the summit from the Virginia side, which rises precipitously and circuitously above the town of Appalachia. Ever been to Appalachia? Not an unpretty town, but you can taste the black-lung litigation. The road winds around several strip mines as it goes up and eventually over the Kentucky border. As most of the sources on the highpoint will tell you, if you see the sign for the state border, then you have gone too far, at least coming from the Virginia side. Near the top you glimpse the sign for the FAA en route radar station at Lynch, Kentucky; you park there, at the base of the road, and walk along the rut the rest of the way.

The radar station is an enormous dome you pass by before hitting the highpoint itself, home to a derelict cable TV broadcast tower and a plaque honoring the man who put it there. Part of me remembers a gentle buzzing sound emanating from nowhere in particular, but maybe I was channeling a Beckett play once seen and never forgotten. This is when you start to watch for open mine shafts and six-fingered banjo players. My father, a man of infamous impatience and antipathy to uphill walks, stayed behind at the car. Several passers-by stopped and asked him if he needed help. Stopping at the top of Black Mountain, apparently, is something a native would do only if his or her fuel pump went belly up on a slag heap.

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