Last summer my boyfriend and I took a 4-week road trip around the Midwest and the Appalachians. This is my first post about the trip, although this occurred toward the end of the four weeks. Of all the places we visited, Cumberland Gap was the most memorable and story-worthy.
Cumberland Gap is essentially a valley passageway through the Appalachian mountains. Back in the good ole days it was one of the only viable ways to cross the mountains for Native Americans and European settlers. Daniel Boone was hired to put in place a Wilderness Road for covered wagons, and by the 1800s somewhere around 200,000 Ohio Valley settlers had wheeled their possessions across the gap. These days it’s a National Historic Park located on the tri-state border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
We arrived in the late afternoon and set up our tent in an immense, sparsely populated campground just across the Virginia border. Then we headed to Pinnacle Overlook to watch the sunset. It’s a stunning view looking eastward toward the rolling hills of Virginia, with a trail leading directly to the campground. Signs everywhere warn to remove your car by sunset otherwise you’ll be locked in overnight. I wanted to get some hiking in, so I brought my head lamp and hiked down while Ethan drove the car out.
Hiking in a place I’d never been, in the dark by myself, set the tone for the rest of the trip. I didn’t encounter anyone else on the trail, but on the way I heard endless noises echoing through the hills. Cows mooing, dogs barking, men yelling, gunshots. We’d encountered all kinds of people in the Appalachians, so I wasn’t surprised.
I arrived back at the site well after 10 PM and Ethan hadn’t started a fire or started on dinner. I was immediately annoyed and went to the car, which was locked.
“Can you unlock the car?” I asked.
He fumbled around for a minute before looking up guiltily and admitting he locked the keys in the car. It was too late to call a locksmith, so grumpy and hungry, I settled into the hammock and tried to sleep with my contacts in. The last thing I saw was Ethan sitting by the fire ring, reading with a dying head lamp.
I woke up sometime during the night and opened my eyes. First I was confused about being able to see – then I remembered I still had my contacts in. I lifted my head and looked around. I saw a dim light by the fire ring.
“What are you doing awake still?” I called.
From the tent in the opposite direction, I heard Ethan’s voice answer.
I stared at the disembodied light by the fire. It wasn’t a lightning bug, or any other type of bug. It was hovering, slowly bobbing. It had a white, artificial quality to it similar to the light from my REI headlamp. Eventually I watched it drift away into the trees.
Weird, I thought, and got up to use the bathroom. I heard more cows and dogs barking in the distance. It didn’t occur to me until later how strange it was to hear those kinds of noises so late at night.
The roads were gravel, and noisy when I walked. I looked around at dozens of empty sites and wondered if we could possibly be the only ones in this immense campground with 160 sites. As I was settling back into the hammock, I saw the shadows of a man and son walking down the path. I thought it strange that they didn’t have flashlights… and that they were making no noise walking, when my footsteps had been so noisy. That’s when the figures disappeared.
I stayed up for a while longer and nothing else happened. Finally I fell back asleep.
The next morning, Ethan was dying to tell me about his night. Apparently at some point during the night he’d also gone for a walk, and saw numerous floating orbs. He said the orbs floated around his head, seeming to accompany him to the bathroom, and then floated off into the woods. In the bathroom he also encountered a young boy. While he brushed his teeth, the boy walked in, saw him, and ran out… twice. The second time, he called out reassuringly that the kid could use the bathroom. While Ethan was in a stall, the boy ran into the bathroom, slammed a stall door, and scuffed around a little bit. When Ethan emerged, the kid was nowhere in sight. By the morning it was also clear that there were no other campers there besides us.
The locksmiths finally arrived to unlock the Fiat. They were two gruff-looking, burly Virginian men. They commented on how far out in the middle of nowhere we had chosen to lock the keys in the car.
“Sure seem to be a lot of cows around here,” I said, making conversation.
“Nah,” one of them replied. “Ain’t nothin’ much ’round these parts. No farms way out here.”
“Huh,” I said. “I was hearing cows, dogs, gunshots, and people’s voices all night!” They suddenly looked uneasy, and repeated that there wasn’t anything around there.
They pried open the driver’s side window with a crowbar or something, and started to stick a long wire thing in. Before the wire so much as touched a part of the car, suddenly we heard all the car doors unlock. All four of us stared at each other, confused.
“Awesome, looks like it’s open!” I said a bit too loudly. “Thanks so much for your help!”
“Well I don’t know how that happened…” one of them started to say, scratching his head. “Weird things goin’ on round these parts.” The other one agreed and told us that the other towing companies refused to even go out there, due to the “strange occurrences”.
I signed their paper and the guys rushed off, warning us to do the same. Instead, we stayed and hiked up to some cliffs, which rewarded us with more stunning views.
The experience was completely fascinating. My theory is that the noises I heard were the ghosts of the old settlers passing through the Gap. I hadn’t felt threatened by the orbs or the noises; in fact, from Ethan’s story it seemed like they were actually interested in us. I tried to research whether there were any other reports of hauntings in the area, but couldn’t find anything. But based on what the locksmiths told us, and the fact that the campground was completely empty, the area must have a reputation.
If you have a story of a haunting in this area, I’d love to hear it!