17 September 2009

Stepping Back in Time

Monday, 14 September 2009

This morning we were up before the sun – a rare occurrence – because we had lots to see and do.  Just as we were leaving the hotel, we got a message from Jim, another of our high school friends who lives in Louisville.  We decided to take a short detour by his house to say hello on our way out of town.  It was great to see him and his home studio – he’s gone from lawyer to artist, so that’s a good thing in my book!  I ate part of my caramel Dutch apple pie (no, Kim didn’t want any) on the way there and we didn’t ever really stop for a proper breakfast, so Kim scarfed down a granola bar for sustenance.

Today’s destination was Mammoth Cave National Park, which is in south central Kentucky.  I think we took Hwy 31 E down there – whatever road it was went through some pretty green rolling hills and some not too thriving looking little towns.  We decided this part of Kentucky is nice where there is no population center, but looks pretty shabby where there are people.  Not sure exactly what that says…  We passed very little industry – a small cooperage, likely making bourbon barrels, was about the extent of it.
Our route took us through Hodgenville, which is the birthplace of Kentucky’s favorite son, Abraham Lincoln.  Just north of there we passed Abe’s Boyhood Home, which was being reconstructed (?) by state workers and cleaned up by state detainees.  We didn’t linger.  The town square of Hodgenville is dominated by a large statue of Abe, and banners were flying that noted it was the 200th anniversary of his birth.  We sort of took a wrong turn (I know, hard to imagine) on our way out of town, so we missed the shrine to the cabin where he actually entered the world.  We had seen it before in our formative years, so we didn’t turn around.  We were on a bit of a schedule, never a good thing with us, since we had a cave tour at noon.

We knew we were getting close when we passed Wigwam Village #2, which was where we would be spending the night.  We drove on through Cave City and as soon as we neared the interstate interchange we found fast food joints lining one side of the highway and really cheesy looking ‘attractions’ lining the other (cave side).  This couldn’t even qualify for one of our “Gatlinburg of the ____________” designations – too depressing!  We saw Dinosaur World, a couple of closed and/or abandoned mini golf courses, Big Mike’s, an almost reasonable facsimile of a water slide, and a few campgrounds and playgrounds.  You could tell there is a recession here! 

The drive to the cave is lovely – tree-lined and peaceful, at least for today.  One of the many benefits of traveling in the off-season!  We arrived at the visitors’ center (also under construction, so at least someone is working) in plenty of time for our tour.  As we sat through the requisite warnings about the dangers of city spelunking,  we wondered about the people in our group to whom the ranger seemed to be talking, but who did not seem to think they were the targeted audience.  I’m thinking it would be a great idea to have something akin to the height requirement sticks like they use at Disney, except for girth here!  No lie, sitting near us was a large man so square that he looked like Sponge Bob, and he didn’t even look at his wife (also on the large side, but in a completely different way) when the ranger talked about traversing Fat Man’s Misery and walking up 400+ stairs in the dark, gloomy, cold, remote, deep cave.  Go figure.

We had chosen to do the two hour Historic Tour of the cave, which meant we just walked down the hill to the original entrance to the cave.  Before we even got down the stairs to the entrance, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.  The cave stays about 54 – 60 degrees F year-round, so most of us were putting on jackets at the entrance.  Mammoth Cave is VERY aptly named – it is HUGE!!!  To date, about 367 miles of passageways have been mapped, and some people estimate there could be as many as 1000 miles of caveways!!!  Our first stop was the enormous Rotunda, where there is still evidence of the salt peter mining that took place here in the early 1800’s.  An essential ingredient for gunpowder, the cave was a major supplier of ammo for the War of 1812.

Deeper into the cave we walked, wondering what it must have been like to have been one of the early explorers of such a giant underground labyrinth.  Because this cave is covered by a layer of sandstone (the cave itself is limestone), it is largely protected from the elements and is a dry cave.  That means a couple of things – it’s not slippery and wet like some caves, and it doesn’t have the same kind of cool formations like stalactites and stalagmites that most of us associate with caves.  That did make the walking part a bit easier, but we still squeezed through the serpentine Fat Man’s Misery and duck-walked through Tall Man’s Misery.  We sort of stayed at the end of the pack, not wanting to witness anyone getting stuck…Thankfully, no one did that we saw!

We passed the Giant’s Coffin and the Bottomless Pit, the Methodist Church and the Cathedral, and then it was time to start back up and out.  We didn’t find the stairs to be too bad, but we were in the minority.  Lots of whining and huffing and puffing going on!  One man kept asking if anyone had ever had a heart attack down here – who needs to know that???  Turns out our ranger, William, was from near Paducah, but he never would say exactly where.  Out we went from the coolness of the cave into the heat and humidity we’ve long been accustomed to.  It was 2:00 on the nose (I don’t know how they do that) so we headed back to Cave City in search of food.

But wait – a detour – we stopped in at Big Mike’s, where we somehow refrained from buying more glass rocks (even though they had some nice ones!) and went straight for the main attraction – Big Mike’s Mystery House.  At only $1 per head, how could we resist seeing gravity defied???  Clearly devised in the late 60’s or early 70’s by someone stoned, we loved it!  Black light posters that we used to have lined the hallways, and we stood up on a slanty table, watched water flow uphill, and got damn near dizzy with the optical illusions there.  David, our guide, cracked us up, too.  As he reminded us – it’s only a dollar!!

By now, we were really hungry, so we stopped in at the Watermill Restaurant  because it was open.  They had a great buffet, but since it was almost three, we didn’t want to spoil our dinner.  I had the vegetable plate with green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy.. pinto beans, and cornbread.  Kim (of the no-breakfast) had a cheeseburger and fries.   We were ready to face the rest of the day!

We had just enough time to run down to Bowling Green and see the National Corvette Museum, so off we went.  WOW!!  It's a huge complex, just across the street from where 'Vettes are manufactured.   Be sure to go to www.corvettemuseum.com and get a bit of a feel for it!  They've done a wonderful job with the displays and dioramas, and you just wouldn't believe how many people have donated or loaned their cars to the museum.  Of course, we loved the Route 66 display!  There's also a Hall of Fame section (which is housed in the cool part of the museum that you see from the outside).  One of the cars there is the only 1983 Corvette still in existence.

After the museum closed at five, we headed back to Cave City and our Wigwam, and then we called my friend Leanne, who lives nearby.  These wigwams weren't quite as nice as the ones we stayed in while in Holbrook, AZ, on Route 66, but they were very similar!  Not much extra space, and no internet connection (unless we sat outside on the bench in front of our teepee).  Leanne came over for a wigwam visit and then she went with us to eat dinner at Snapper's Pizza in Horse Cave.  Kim and I had spaghetti that was just fine, but we were closing the place down at about 8:30.  Sidewalks roll up early here!
Back at the wigwam, we sat outside on our computers until a cat jumped up on the back of the bench, leapt over me, and walked across Kim's keyboard.  That put me inside, where I had to take care of a giant green grasshopper in our shower.  It's such an exciting life!  The TV was attached to a cable, but reception was awful, so that was it for me.
Have you slept in a wigwam lately?

No comments: