Monday, July 18, 2005


Mammoth Cave is Great, But Not All Kentucky Has to Offer

Mammoth, in Depth: "With about 365 miles of explored passageways -- and counting -- Mammoth Cave is one of the nation's oldest tourist attractions. It began luring visitors just after the War of 1812, when it was mined for saltpeter, one of the raw materials for gunpowder.
Its charms were obvious: passageways the width of boulevards, underground rivers, towering vertical shafts and concert-hall-size chambers. Often led by slaves, early tours attracted European adventurers, famous actors and even transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, who mentioned the cave in an essay. A national park since 1941, Mammoth ranks with New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns and South Dakota's Jewel Cave among the country's most impressive underground attractions."

My Dad was wise to take me there when I was a kid, an experience that I will never forget. I saw the beautiful Barren Lake on that trip as well, but little in that area of the country compares to the cave. One of the best momentos from the cave is a picture of my mother with her grandmother and grandfather sitting with a tourist group ouside the general entrance in the early fifties. While it may have been a destination for the rich and famous, it was a destination for ordinary families who wanted to experience something so natural and amazing. Remember, there are tons of caves in this region, but this one is deserving of its claim to be one of the top tourist spots in Kentucky. Anyone bothering to make the trip to Kentucky should also make the horse park a priority. For Bourbon drinkers, Maker's Mark distillery does tours too. Though it may not seem it, Shaker Village, also in Kentucky, is a really interesting look into a small, extinct religious sect. Another close attraction that I can personally and emotionally vouch for is the Cincinnati Art Museum. It may come as a surprise for people not from the area, but it is one of the best museums in the country. When I skipped school, you could find me winding through the exhibits, calmed by merely being there. The entrance to the museum is not unlike the entrance to any grand building, steps that lead up to a series of columns that dwarf anyone only to enter a room that makes you feel even smaller. Another thing that is happening in Kentucky, as tobacco has become less profitable, is the art of winemaking. A couple of the counties who are taking this very seriously are Owen, Campbell, and, I believe, Henry. They are in the early stages of this craft, but that is why it is all the more important for tourists to support them. The best times of year to visit are May, June, Late August and September. It is so green at those times of year that you wonder if your eyes are deceiving you. The fall months, while still green have the added blessing of brilliantly colored leaves. The vibrant reds, yellows, and auburns make for a calm that will have a lasting impression. Kentucky also has a history worthy of boasting. While we may have been south of the Mason-Dixon line, we were the key to the North, which makes parts of Northern Kentucky the last stop of the Underground Railroad. Some of those homes, now restaurants or tourist attractions, allow tours of these tunnels to the Ohio River. Kentucky also boasts a history of historic homes. One site not to miss is the Dinsmore House in Boone County. This tour should be taken in Spring or early summer, because they have a nature trail up to the cemetary. The guide will introduce the visitors to plants and flowers like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, one of my favorite finds in that tour. When my mother and I went there years ago, the last remaining relative still lived in the home even as tourists gawked. It had been a stop for soldiers in the Civil War, and had other great connections to the area's history. Another great tour is a historic home in Covington, Kentucky, whose name has escaped me. In that area, for science buffs, there is Big Bone Lick State Park. A salt lick, home to the wooly mammoth, and now a thriving campground, this area is worth the drive. Kentucky is not just horses and rednecks, though they certainly have both. It is a state very proud of its history and its basketball. If you go, say hi to Tubby for me.

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