Cliffhanger Ranch and the Wonders of Capitalism: McDonalds in the Appalachian Mountains

The American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day in Coeburn, Virginia is an annual event that takes place in the heart of Wise County. It’s in this location that a good friend of mine is building the Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost on the front door of the Jefferson National Forest heavily used by equestrians all over the eastern United States. The designated weekend set for this celebration of outdoor endeavors was June 1st through the 3rd 2012 and I was invited to come and perform several bullwhip shows for the groups of horse riders, mountain bikers, hikers, kayakers and many others who found their way to the ranch as an oasis of adventure.

It was a pleasure to attend this event. While doing shows in remote places like the Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost there is always a real opportunity to witness life the way America was always intended. The people who participate in events like The American Hiking Society National Trails Day are typically those who appreciate the kind of adventure the outdoors brings, and it’s refreshing to speak with such people. For my wife and I the trip to the Ranch was a wonderful experience as it took us through the heart of America in the land of Appalachia.

From Cincinnati the best way to get to the remote portion of Virginia that houses the Cliffhanger Ranch is the Mountain Parkway through Eastern Kentucky. My wife and I stopped at a McDonalds on the journey through Stanton, the gateway town to the Daniel Boone National Forest. The next area just to the south is the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge locations. Everything south of that is a no man’s land for many in America. The locals know well about the majestic magic of the town Jackson nestled deep in the Appalachian Mountains about 25 miles south of the Red River Gorge area on Rt. 15. Then of course further south near the Kentucky/Virginia border is the historic town of Hazard.

It had been several years since I had been south of Red River Gorge so I warned my wife that she should enjoy this particular McDonalds, since I wasn’t sure if Jackson, or Hazard would have such places to eat.  Those towns are about as remote as anywhere on earth with only towns in Alaska and the upper states of America comparing. In small towns like Stanton the philosophy of America is alive and well. Washington politics seems like a remote concern. Three firefighters ate next to us at McDonalds and I noticed their t-shirts did not have the typical AFL-CIO emblem on them. In towns like Stanton, Jackson, and Hazard the meaning of volunteerism is alive and well. These towns in the south do not like unions and the corrosive, mob like behavior of big city outsiders and their big government ideas connected to labor unions. The inhabitants along the Mountain Parkway are ruggedly independent and damn proud of it. Yet, they are also friendly to one another. When I hear labor unions in the north claim that the world would fall apart if not for their labor union membership, those advocates have not traveled in the south, which is home to most of the country’s right-to-work states.

On the way through Jackson there was a pretty serious accident. A pick-up truck had flipped over on its side in the middle of an intersection, the driver was seriously injured. On the scene were a couple of police cars, and the fire department, only the firefighters were obviously volunteers. Some of the firefighters directing traffic around the accident were dressed in the cloths of their professions, and had shown up because they were on call. The driver was being cut out of the car as we drove by and I noticed that all the emergency personal at the scene seemed to be very competent and were very composed functioning without panic. I saw a similar scene further south where there was another accident on Rt. 15 which is great road, but very dangerous if drivers aren’t paying attention as it winds through the Appalachian Mountains. Again there were many plain clothes emergency personal on the scene, a lack of union identification, and a genuine lack of panic. If the same accident had occurred in the northern states, the police and firefighters would make a much more audacious show of their emergency care. Compared to the same type of personnel in the mountains of Kentucky the public workers in the north are much more neurotic, and panic driven, since they tend to dramatize their heroics to drive home their “social” importance in order to pass tax levies.

As my wife and I pulled into the town of Coeburn, Virginia I was impressed to have passed at least three Wal-Mart’s from Stanton to the Cliffhanger Ranch and at least four McDonalds, which really surprised me. I tried to imagine executives at McDonalds planning to build restaurants in remote towns like Jefferson and Hazard, Kentucky far away from highway access. The miracles of capitalism become apparent in such places. I have often marveled at how many McDonalds restaurants exist along highway I-75 from Detroit to Miami, Florida and that by itself is a magnificent achievement on behalf of capitalism. Only capitalism allows such a convenience. An overabundance of McDonald’s restaurants will not be seen anywhere in China or in Siberia, Russia. Only in America can such things happen, because it is capitalism that made it so.

As my wife and I paused a couple of times to enjoy a sausage and egg McMuffin and enjoy the mountain air at several of these restaurants just for the pleasure of stopping, I suddenly felt a bit silly for being concerned that Stanton would be the last sign of such convenience for over 150 miles. When I was a kid and visited the site near Hazard, Kentucky where my grandma and grandpa grew up deep in the heart of moonshine country, gas and food was hard to get unless you killed it yourself. Now, there was a lot of new construction along Rt. 15 south of Mountain Parkway and there was no shortage of McDonalds restaurants. Since 1961 McDonalds has more than 12,804 locations and they open a new store every four hours. It is because of capitalism that remote places like Jackson and Hazard have the smell of coffee and hash browns waltzing with the misty aroma of mountain air early on a weekend morning as old men sit with their friends and read the paper, and traveling families relish the menu of their home towns with a familiarity that is refreshing and more than satisfying to their minds than the hunger of their stomachs. It is McDonalds that joins everyone under the umbrella of capitalism.

The will of capitalism and of mankind in general can be seen in full glory in that wonderful drive from Stanton to the Cliffhanger Ranch. Where human beings wished to build a Wal-Mart, if a mountain was in the way, they simply blasted through the mountainside. If mankind wished to put a road through a mountain, they simply removed the mountain. In Southern Kentucky, mankind had decided that it was not subservient to the power of earthquakes which made the mountains in the first place along the fault lines of geologic plates. Man had proclaimed itself as powerful as any force on earth by moving and shaping mountains in a more organized fashion than the chaos of Mother Nature and her temperamental neurosis.

And this is the beauty of places like the Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost. My friend is offering a permanent facility that preserves the ruggedness of nature and individual adventurers the ability to enjoy it. That is the responsibility of capitalism, to capture and preserve such places so they will not disappear. But it is also the responsibility of capitalism to build McDonalds in every corner of the globe if possible so the quality of life can be improved for all. Families instead of spending half the morning preparing for a large breakfast can now do more with their time since McDonalds has made it easy to get quick food while on the run, or just providing a wonderful gathering place for locals to stay in touch with each other. And when outdoorsman wish to get away and listen to the locusts singing their summer songs in the heat of an afternoon, it is the Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost that is there for the weary adventurer looking to enjoy the cold water of a river from their kayak, or the mastery over a majestic animal while horseback riding through the Jefferson National Forest. At the end of the day at the Cliffhanger Ranch high atop a hill looking down into the National Forest as a raging bon fire threw its heat to the night sky it was capitalism that made it all possible. Because these days, as opposed to only 30 years ago, such remote places are accessible to be enjoyed without giving up the benefits of productive human life.

Just a few miles from the location of that raging bon fire was a Pizza Hut, a Long John Silver’s, many gas stations, and the Lonesome Pine Raceway hosting races on Saturday night. In town the cars could be seen on their trailers heading to the track and it was capitalism that made it all possible, the cars, the restaurants, and the Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost. Those combinations are wonderful reminders of what America the beautiful really means. It’s not just the mountains, the forests, or the horses carrying their riders on glorious weekend adventures that make America the subject of song and jealous hatred the world over. It is capitalism that makes it all possible, and is why the rest of the world cannot enjoy these combinations, as it is in capitalism that the adventures of mankind’s mind can thrive and preserve the world not as mother nature handed it to the human being in her random, manic depressed state, but that the human being can carve the world into the image of their wildest imaginations.

The Cliffhanger Ranch and Adventure Outpost is the most recent endeavor in that far-flung part of the world to capture the great outdoors while still embracing the wonders of capitalism so that youth and families all over the Eastern United States will not forget the pioneering spirit that began to carve Virginia into the land of adventure that it is today. It is not intended to hang on to the past by stopping the future as most environmentalists attempt to do, but to serve as a reminder of who we are, and how we got here, as McDonalds and the miracles of capitalism continue to expand the human imagination into uncharted territory of a future that is coming at mankind with treasures not yet discovered.


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