Sep 12

The Bourbon State … And we Blew it!

where_is_kentucky_locatedYou’d think that a couple of “old” travel people like us would have their act together before arriving at a destination. But we’re sorry to tell you that we pretty much blew our stay in Kentucky. One of the State’s most important sites (also a World Heritage Site) is Mammoth Caves and that was our destination before heading to a National Street Rod event in Louisville. We decided to spend just two nights at a campground in Cave City, spend a day at Mammoth Caves and leave. Perfect – or so we thought!

We picked up some brochures at the campground office and also spoke to someone who had visited the Caves. Unfortunately, this individual painted a pretty poor picture of it … lots of stairs, lots of walking, lots of standing and “boring”. So we decided to do the Introductory Tour, figuring that Priscilla would have a problem on the other tours with stairs and standing. The tour was scheduled either at 8:45am -way too early when we’re on vacation – or 3:30pm! We chose the afternoon tour and decided to take a morning drive on a country road to the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.  So far, so good.

Dennisons MarketOn our way we suddenly passed a Farmer’s Market with a large sign advertising “Home grown Tomatoes and Corn”! Well, we couldn’t resist so turned around!

Lots of Tomatoes

We spent a good half hour there – learning about all the different types of tomatoes that were grown on the farm … red, yellow, black, green (for eating, not frying), also green for frying!
We bought a variety of tomatoes, some corn, home grown peaches, beans, two types of squash … and more. The cost: $26.56! If only we had a bigger fridge we would have bought even more!

FarmOn we went to Abraham Lincoln’s birth place. What amazing scenery we passed through. Kentucky is a very beautiful state. Along the way we saw miles and miles of corn (grown for cattle feed), soy beans and even some tobacco fields, horse farms, cows grazing in the fields and, of course, lots of barns – old and new. We both wondered what treasures were stored in these barns. Bill imagined priceless old cars and Priscilla imagined Van Gogh paintings! Unfortunately, neither of us was able to prove our speculations!

Lincoln BirthplaceNot being very good history buffs, we were not sure why Kentucky had a memorial to Abraham Lincoln  when Illinois claims the kudos but we learned that Abraham was, indeed, born in 1802 in a log cabin near where the town of Hodgkinville exists today. A log cabin, similar to the one the Lincoln family lived in, has been placed in a Memorial Building with 56 steps leading up to it (indicating the 56 years that Lincoln lived). When Lincoln was eight years old, the family moved from Kentucky to Indiana and eventually settled in Illinois.

Post OfficeOn our way from the Farmer’s Market to Lincoln’s birthplace we passed through a small town with a Post Office. We needed to buy some stamps so stopped off there at around 11:30am, only to find a sign on the door that said the Post Office was “closed for Lunch from 10:30am until 1:30pm”. Wow! We figured it was a pretty cushy job! We stopped on our way back after 1:30pm and spoke to the Postmaster (a very nice lady). She told us that, due to the cutbacks at the Post Office, the staff were required to be at work only in the morning and afternoon and were not paid for the long “lunch hour”! We tried to figure out what someone could do for 3 hours in the middle of the day … and get paid for it! After buying our stamps we were on our way.

Coffee CupsWe also had another stop to make … Mama Lou’s BBQ! By then it was 2:30pm and our stomachs were telling us they needed food. What better place than a small family owned café serving BBQ?! Judging by the cars parked outside – and the tables filled inside – we had made the right choice! The interesting décor caught our attention and we had to ask why! The walls were filled with shelves displaying coffee mugs! We found out that the owner had been a truck driver and had bought a mug from every place he went. When he opened up the restaurant, his diners started bringing in their mugs as well. Today there are over 700 mugs – not one of them the same – and people are still bringing in more! This is what happens in a small community in America! Don’t you just love stories like that? We had a very tasty late lunch and went back to the campground, postponing our visit to Mammoth Cave until the next day.

MammothWe arrived at the Mammoth National Park  just after 3:00pm for a 3:30pm tour, only to find that it was fully booked and we would have to wait until 4:30pm. Of course we were disappointed but one of the rangers suggested we take time to walk through the Exhibit which, frankly, turned out to be the most interesting part of our experience. Excellent displays and diorama explain the formation of this, the longest known cave system in the world, designated a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

Simply put, it took eons for water to create sink holes in sandstone and shale which eroded the limestone layer beneath. According to National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States “The surface of Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses about 80 square miles. No one knows how big the underside is. More than 365 miles of the five-level cave system have been mapped, and new caves are continually being discovered.”

4:30pm arrived and we assembled at Station A (just like we were instructed!) where a Ranger gave us a little preview as to what to expect. The tour is advertised as 1-1/2 hours so we expected to explore quite a large area of the caves. The Ranger cautioned the group that if you were afraid of the dark, didn’t like being enclosed in small places, couldn’t walk up steps, etc. it would be a good idea to not do the tour. At no time did he indicate that the temperature in the cave would be 55 degrees so it would be a good idea to have a jacket! Of course, if we’d done our homework we would have known this! Also, we saw families with young children – 4 and 5 years old – and we wondered if they should be on the tour.

MapWe won’t bore you with details but … the tour went basically nowhere, we saw no water, no stalactites, stalagmites or bats; we never crawled through narrow passageways. We walked a little way, stood as the Ranger explained everything we had seen and read about in the Exhibit. Meanwhile, young children from two families on the tour ran around, screaming, banging into their parents and other people and generally being a nuisance. Frankly, the whole experience was spoiled as we tried to listen to the Ranger with this circus going on around us. Had we had another day, we would have paid for a more extensive tour (that would not attract families with young children) and we’re sure we would have enjoyed a better experience. We could only blame ourselves for not doing our homework before we went and in no way are we discouraging anyone from visiting Mammoth Caves.


The next day we headed to Louisville for the National Street Rod Show and on our way we saw signs to the Makers Mark and Jim Beam Distilleries – part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail . Oh No! What were we thinking? How come we missed this important aspect of Kentucky’s history? You can be sure we’ll have our act together the next time we visit Kentucky! In the meantime, we have the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville to look forward to!


Mammoth:  http://goo.gl/6K4ldR

Lincoln Birthplace:  http://goo.gl/kNIdaq

Cave City:  http://goo.gl/7eOCTm



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