When we set out to explore the great state of Kentucky, we promised ourselves we’d explore every inch, every shadow, every hidden corner of our home. Ladies and gentlemen, let it be said that we’ve stood on the western-most tippity-tip of Kentucky looking out over the grand Mississippi River, and we came away with two thoughts:
1. Man, this is a big corn field.
2. How in the world did we get here?
Let me start at the beginning.
To get to the most western point of Kentucky located in Fulton County, you have to really want to go there. Like really, really bad.
The Kentucky Bend (also called the New Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend, or Bubbleland by locals for its odd teardrop shape) is an exclave of the state. This means that it is a piece of land belonging to Kentucky, but separated from the rest of the state entirely. Surrounded by Tennessee and Missouri and without touching any other part of Kentucky, the Bend is only accessible by Tennessee State Route 22. The 17 residents of this far-southwestern peninsula claim Tiptonville, Tennessee as their mailing address because the town 8 miles south is the closest post office. To vote, they make the 40-mile trip south into Tennessee then north back into Kentucky to Hickman.
You’re not just going to stumble upon these 15,000 acres. Well, I suppose you could if you get really lost. Or if you make a wrong turn leaving Tennessee’s Northwest Correctional Complex. Or if you’re an escaped inmate. But other than that, if you’re going to Bubbleland, you’re going there on purpose.
I couldn’t tell you how we got there, except to say we took the Purchase Parkway to US-51 to KY-94 (which leads you through the adorable sleepy town of Hickman that is home to one of the most friendly ferry drivers around … he’ll take you across the Mighty Mississippi to Missouri and back for a couple of dollars if you ask real nice) to TN-78 and then through a round about of detours to TN-22 heading north. You’ll pass a few grave yards, tens of thousands of acres of corn and soybeans and sweet sorghum crops, a state jail, and some friendly locals. And to get back, you’ll retrace your steps and do it all again.
A Little History Lesson
Now, it wasn’t always an (almost) island unto itself. In 1812, this area of the Mississippi River was disrupted quite a bit by a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid fault line that occurred in 1811 and 1812. If you ask the locals, the Kentucky Bend was created “when the Mississippi flowed backwards,” and rerouted, cutting off this bit of land from the area that would become the Jackson Purchase in 1818. The Bend was claimed by Tennessee for a while (and was part of Obion County), but around 1848, our southern counterpart dropped its claim on the 17.56 square miles of mostly cropland, and it became part of the Bluegrass State.
So here’s the real question road-trippers: Is one giant corn field and a couple of houses worth the trip?
It’s always worth the trip. Like us, many of you are from central, northern, eastern, or various other hollers and hills across Kentucky. And many of you have never taken the Bluegrass Parkway down to Western Kentucky Parkway over to the Pennyrile Parkway and connected to the Purchase Parkway. On your way to Fulton County in far western Kentucky, you’re going to pass through a ton of map dots that are worth slowing down for. Half of the fun of this road trip for us was the trip itself. It’s the journey, you know? It’s the gettin’ there that is full of laughter and singalongs and memories. It’s always worth the trip.
Plus, you, too, will be able to say you’ve stood on the most western tippity-tip of Kentucky.
So grab an overnight bag and make the haul down to Bubbleland. Stop in Hickman on your way and take the ferry across the Mississippi River to stand on the banks of Missouri and look at your great state across the water. Introduce yourself to locals. They’re proud Kentuckians, too.
Just don’t forget to pack your map. Cell phone and GPS services are rare and unreliable.