Kentucky Travelogue 1 – Mammoth Cave

As some of you know my man and I have a goal of touring through all 50 states.  In the last year we’ve knocked out the big 2 of Alaska and Hawaii, so this time we decided to go for one a little closer to home:  Kentucky.  I did my usual homework on bedandbreakfast.com and Trip Advisor to find places to stay, things to do and local cuisine to sample.

We started our trip with a visit to Mammoth Cave.  The 9 hour drive was a pleasant mix of major interstates and country highways through some truly beautiful country.  The scenery and the cool weather made for a pleasant, easy drive.

One of my favorite sites heading out of NC on our adventures - Pilot Mtn.

One of my favorite sights heading out of NC on our adventures – Pilot Mtn.

Along the way we stopped for lunch in Abingdon VA.  We pulled off the highway, whipped out our iPhones, and had a Yelp-off to see who could find a great local haunt for lunch first.  Settling on Zazzy’s we drove thru this quaint town and made a mental note to definitely come back for a weekend.  Lots of cute shops, restaurants and B&B’s lined the main streets, and the vibe was definitely artsy yet genteel.

For the Mammoth Cave part of our trip we stayed at Hall Place B&B in Glasgow.  The Inn was quiet and comfy, but it did suffer from dusty antiquey nick-nack overload.  The breakfasts were homey and very tasty – scrambled eggs and bacon both days with crispy Belgian waffles one morning and delicious French toast the next.  The second morning we enjoyed dining with a business traveler – a compliance officer for a financial institution who moonlights as a Bigfoot researcher.  Not kidding!  Dinners at Garcia’s Grill and A Little Taste of Texas were both very good.  If you are visiting Mammoth Cave you don’t have much in the way of lodging options – Cave City and Glasgow are the two closest cities, with Glasgow being about a 25 minute drive.

Hall Place B&B in Glasgow KY

Hall Place B&B in Glasgow KY

The drive out to Mammoth Cave was beautiful – rolling grassy hills, lush woods, farms and roadside curio shops full of geodes.  We chose the Historic Tour for the morning, which is a 2 mile, 2 hour tour.  J and I both love caves, so we’ve visited several.  I was expecting spectacular underground rivers and formations.  That is not what is going on at Mammoth Cave.

All of KY seems to be made of sedimentary rock, and most of Mammoth Cave was made either by water boring out tunnels or these layers of sedimentary rock collapsing in on each other.  The Historic Tour is interesting – you hear about how the caves were used by Native Americans, saltpeter mining, and the development of tourism in the area.  Here are a few sights from that tour:

The main entrance to Mammoth Caves.  The ice cold wind blowing up from here was sooo refreshing!

The main entrance to Mammoth Caves. The ice cold wind blowing up from here was sooo refreshing!

There is a great deal of "historic graffiti" in the caves - some carved in the rock, most of it burned into the rock with candles.  This is the signature of the most famous tour guide and explorer in Mammoth Cave history - Stephen Bishop.  The Historic Tour talks a lot about how this man (who was a slave) single-handedly explored  the cave system and pioneered tourism here.

There is a great deal of “historic graffiti” in the caves – some carved in the rock, most of it burned into the rock with candles. This is the signature of the most famous tour guide and explorer in Mammoth Cave history – Stephen Bishop. The Historic Tour talks a lot about how this man (who was a slave) single-handedly explored the cave system and pioneered tourism here.

More 1800's "graffiti".  It was common for people to burn advertisements into the cave walls; John and Isaac Newton (not THAT Isaac Newton) were musicians who "advertised" their services all over the place!

More 1800’s “graffiti”. It was common for people to burn advertisements into the cave walls; John and Isaac Newton (not THAT Isaac Newton) were musicians who “advertised” their services all over the place!

The Bottomless Pit - you cross over this crevasse on a narrow metal bridge.  However, it's much better than how they did it in the 1800's - crawling over on a ladder with a lantern between your teeth.  No thanks!!!

The Bottomless Pit – you cross over this crevasse on a narrow metal bridge. However, it’s much better than how they did it in the 1800’s – crawling over on a ladder with a lantern between your teeth. No thanks!!!

We decided to book the New Entrance Tour for the afternoon, which is another 2 hour tour of a completely different section of the cave system.  This tour promised some traditional cave sights or “formations,” as well as some really interesting, narrow passageways.  Fun!  With a few hours to kill we headed back to Cave City for some lunch and a little shopping, and began what was to be a recurring theme on our trip – lunch in places my friends would never believe I ate at.  Hey, I’m a food snob, but I’m also the queen of the meat-n-three dive.  A total sucker for Southern food!!!

The Watermill - it's 100% classier outside than inside.  whew!  I'll give the peach cobbler and pintos an "A", but how can you call yourself a true "Country Cooking" buffet if you don't have any greens on the menu, the green beans don't seem to have any pork with them and, hello!, the cornbread is salty!?  That wouldn't cut it in NC!

The Watermill – it’s 100% classier outside than inside. The buffet was in the smoking section of the restaurant -yikes!  I’ll give the peach cobbler, nanna puddin and pintos an “A”, but how can you call yourself a true “Country Cooking” buffet if you don’t have any greens on the menu, the green beans don’t seem to have any pork with them and, hello!, the cornbread is salty!?  That wouldn’t cut it in NC!

The New Entrance tour was actually way cooler.  There are lots of steps and extremely narrow passages, but you only cover 3/4 of a mile in 2 hours, so it really isn’t “strenuous”.  If you have time for only one tour, I’d opt for the New Entrance one.  Here are a few pix:

Formations on the New Entrance Tour

Formations on the New Entrance Tour

Formations showing damage - in the 1800's one of the tour operators sold pieces of the formations mistakenly thinking they would "grow back" in a few months (more like hundreds of years, dude)

Formations showing damage – in the 1800’s one of the tour operators sold pieces of the formations mistakenly thinking they would “grow back” in a few months (more like hundreds of years, dude).

New Entrance tour sights

New Entrance tour sights – this was in a HUGE cavern

Here you can see how much of the cave was formed as layers of rock simply calved off and collapsed on each other - that is why the "ceiling" is so perfectly flat.

Here you can see how much of the cave was formed as layers of rock simply calved off and collapsed on each other – that is why the “ceiling” is so perfectly flat.

The area surrounding the caves is beautiful and offers some easy hiking.  You can also spot lots of wild turkeys as you drive in and out of the park!

Two wild turkeys on the side of the road.  Aren't they pretty?

Two wild turkeys on the side of the road. Aren’t they pretty?

Next, we’re off to Louisville, with a stop along the way at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood home.

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