The Big EndSwan Lake in Ballard County is a must-see before the end is upon us.
The basic story is simple and straightforward, if a bit disconcerting.
The ancient Maya, who apparently were a pretty sophisticated bunch, came up with a Great Cycle of the Long Count calendar that began in 3114 B.C. and ends Dec. 21, 2012 A.D.
This has led some people to believe that Christmas plans should be celebrated early this year because when the Mayan calendar ends, so will end the world.
The Big End.
End of the world forecasts aren’t new, of course, having been boldly predicted since before biblical times by an eclectic collection of forecasters ranging from theologians to radio talk show hosts—apparently no fishermen in the group. So far they have shared the favorable trait of having been wrong. But the Maya, unlike Harold Camping and hundreds of other doomsayers, weren’t predicting the end of times. They just ended their calendar, which probably should be called into question anyway by the absence of the Solunar Tables.
But Solunar Tables omission aside, the Mayan calendar wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, hang-on-the-kitchen wall January to December docket marked with birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, along with opening dates for deer, turkey, dove, duck, squirrel, rabbit, quail, grouse, frog and baseball seasons, with a week reserved in May for a trip to Kentucky Lake to fish for shellcracker and another week in late September to visit Yellowstone for trout. The Mayan calendar cycled through 13 baktums—about 394 years each—and lasted for more than five millennia, ending this month. The number 13 was apparently a big deal to the Maya, although details remain fuzzy on this point.
While the terminus of the Mayan calendar has some people concerned that the world will end Dec. 21, opinions vary about just how the end will arrive. I would generally favor the theory that a galactic alignment will trigger a reversal of Earth’s magnetic fields, perhaps not ending the world but certainly lessening the load.
Some folks, including me, are skeptical of this don’t-worry-about-next-year-because-the world-won’t-be-here doomsday strategy. My doubt is based on my reading of Mark 13:32. If angels aren’t privy to this knowledge, then I doubt the Maya would have had inside information.
But it is possible, at least in theory. So just in case Saturday, Dec. 22, dawns dark, if at all, here are a couple of places you might want to visit before time expires.
Cumberland Gap—For all Kentuckians, natives and transplants (like me), this is where it all began. It’s difficult to imagine today, but for Europeans, who had only been here a relatively brief time, traveling on foot and carrying only what they could strap to a horse, mule or on their backs, the Appalachian Mountains formed an imposing, impenetrable barrier. The pioneers then discovered what Native Americans and the buffalo they followed had known for centuries: There was a path through the mountains. Thomas Walker, a surveyor, was probably the first European to explore and document the Gap. The long hunters led by Daniel Boone followed, eventually marking and opening the Wilderness Trail. Two centuries later, U.S. 25 East followed Walker’s and Boone’s route. Today, traffic is rerouted through the Cumberland Gap tunnel. The foot trail through the Gap has been more or less reproduced; the roadbed was removed and replaced with rock and earth sculpted to resemble the terrain and appearance of the 1810 trail. It’s also home to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park nps.gov/cuga.
Swan Lake—Four hundred miles and another time zone away, Ballard County’s Swan Lake remains one of the wildest spots in the state. Swan Lake’s wildness isn’t tied to remoteness—it’s only about a mile north of U.S. 51 near Wickliffe and surrounded by manicured agricultural fields—but to its naturalness. At about 300 acres, Swan is the largest natural lake in Kentucky and is unencumbered by dams or spillways and subject only to the whims of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, floodwaters from which regularly swallow Swan and the surrounding sloughs, replenishing, refreshing and renewing this natural slice of Kentucky few tourists ever see.
There are dozens more spots you should visit before the end, but if the Maya are correct, time is running short, limiting travel options. Before making final, end-of-the-world plans, though, one nagging question should be considered: If the Maya were so damn smart, what happened to them?
Readers may contact Gary Garth at email@example.com