Early spring in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields.  Pike County.  March 28, 2003.  11:10 a.m. EST.


     This picture was shot from the new US 460 bridge, which offered an angle down on the railroad bridge and old US 460, and a clear view of the mountains in the distance.
     The bridge crosses the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.  The Big Sandy with its many tributaries is the principal waterway of Eastern Kentucky, emptying into the Ohio River at Catlettsburg in Boyd County.  In this photo, the Levisa Fork is running low and clear; but like other streams in the mountains, it is prone to flash-flooding.  The narrow valley in this picture has been devastated many times by violent, muddy floodwaters.

     The bridge itself is part of the intricate rail network in Eastern Kentucky which was built to bring coal out of the mountains and to the outside world.  The bridge is at one end of a meandering loop which runs for miles around the mountains, services coal mines along the way, then rejoins the main line about 15 miles north at Coal Run Village.  It's worth noting that the tracks on the bridge have a heavy coating of rust; it has been many days or even weeks since a coal train passed over.  In recent years, trucks have replaced railroads in hauling coal from the mines.
     The light-blue buildings in the distance at center-right are a coal tipple, where coal from the local mines is collected, sorted and loaded onto railcars for distribution to the outside world.  Coal conveyors can be seen running in different directions from the tipple.  The tipple is located alongside the main rail line, which is barely visible in the photo, skirting the base of the mountains in the center distance.
     Some of the trees in the photo are beginning to show leaves and the grass is turning green, softening the outlines of the mountains which look so stark and cold in the dead of winter.  At lower right, a redbud tree is beginning to bloom.  Within a week or so, all the mountains will be dotted pink with thousands of redbuds.  A couple of weeks more and the white dogwoods will bloom, nearly as abundant.
     Old US 460 follows the path of the river, as do many roads in the mountains.  A small roadside grocery store is partially hidden from view by the trees in the foreground.
     The people riding in back of the pickup truck were breaking the law, though they probably didn't know it.  In most cases, it no longer is legal in Kentucky to ride in the bed of a pickup truck without an approved safety restraint; but the law is weak, vague, rarely enforced, and almost universally ignored. 
More location information:
Off US 460, near the community of Millard.  The first Pike County government was convened near this spot in 1822.
     Pike County is the largest county by area in the state and is Kentucky's leading coal producer.  It also is the easternmost county in Kentucky, bordering on the east with West Virginia and Virginia.
     37° 24.46'N, 82° 26.42'W.
Posted March 30, 2003.