Ruth, whose mom was a coal miner, knows the struggle of this pitch. “If what you’ve got to sell is nature, when your whole life, your whole job, everything depends on destroying nature, you’re probably on the wrong side of things,” he told me, erupting into wild laughter.
But Elk Horn City is lucky: It does have a pristine landscape to offer. Other towns can’t say the same. Their mountains have been razed in a drastic coal mining practice called mountain top removal. At certain heights, you can see the grey pits of former mountains that have been decapitated and gutted for their minerals. The practice has all but ceased in eastern Kentucky, but the scars are severe.
If nothing else, these flat, dry surfaces of former mining sites are good for one thing: Razor driving. These four-wheeled vehicles look like a souped-up golf buggy, and at first I didn’t understand why everyone insisted I get in one. That was before a local coal miner’s son named Paul took me for a spin -- we cut through the graveled surface of an abandoned mine with such a speed that the wind kicked up mud and stones high into the air. It was at once exhilarating, terrifying, and probably habit-forming.