Day 90 – Bluegrass to Pennyroyal in Kentucky Part 2

Kentucky…December 13th

With the snow accumulation complete, the temperature forecast to reach the low twenties, and a few icicles on VANilla, the dogs and I spent a leisurely morning at Connie and Ron’s before venturing south.  The three day forecast called for another wintery blast, thus with the roads in fair condition, I opted to get ahead of the next storm.

The dogs and I returned to the area we skipped yesterday to visit Mammoth Cave National Park.  The park offers several tours from a one hour jaunt to a five hour adventure that requires crawling in knee pads.  In the winter, the tours are limited, and even more so today, but the rangers accommodated me and two other crazy souls for an hour long excursion through the Frozen Niagara Entrance. The tour didn’t start for 30 minutes, so I stopped by the restaurant for lunch.  Here I met Mike, the cashier.  He is a seasonal worker and he moves around to different National Parks.  Little did I know I could have been paid to visit all the parks.  Of course, that would have taken awhile.  Anyway, for anyone interested in a seasonal job in a cool place, check out  That is what Mike uses to find his seasonal employment.

The Mammoth Cave System is the largest in the world and is over twice as long as any other known cave.  Currently, over 365 miles of passageways have been explored, though geologists estimate the cave could extend 600 miles through the limestone.  The cave system includes a “wet” section and a “dry” section, the dry section being much larger.  The wet section is the area infiltrated by surface water where stalactites and stalagmites form and is known as the living part of the cave.  Uniquely, the growth of these formations signifies the demise of the cave.  Eventually, it will collapse upon itself.  To the contrary, the dry section of the cave is known as the dead part, yet it remains intact.

The Mammoth Cave not only includes stalactite and stalagmites, but also a variety of crystals and as well as cave dwellers.  I had hoped to see the eyeless cave fish and cave crayfish that contain no coloring pigments and adapted to the darkness through other sensory systems.  We, however, toured an upper passageway, carved by the underground river, that is now many feet below, thus we weren’t close enough to the water to see any.  We did catch a glimpse of a bat and a cave cricket though.

I had also hoped to see some crystals, but those tours are longer and take place in the summertime when more tourists visit.  The trade off for missing the crystals, however, was touring with only three of us as opposed to 120 people at a time!  The ranger took us into a few parts of the cave where the regular tours don’t go due to the size of the group.  Another bonus for visiting the cave while it was 22 degrees outside was that the cave’s constant temperature hovers around a balmy 60.

Each section of the cave is named.  We visited frozen Niagara where the stalactites appear like a frozen water fall and the drapery room where the stalactites form in a flowing wavelike structure versus the typical cone.  A different tour includes the snowball room which is complete with a restaurant and restroom facilities.

The cave system became famous after the War of 1812 due to its significant nitrate supply.  Nitrate is used in gunpowder which was in short supply as the English blockaded the Atlantic coast.  Access to the Mammoth Cave supply aided American soldiers in defeating the English forces.  The cave became a tourist attraction by 1816, and facilitated tourism in America which did not have old, historic castles and cathedrals like Europe.  The cave system also helped define the national park system created many years later.

Upon leaving the park, we passed by a variety of birds including a few hawks, a young buck, mammoth cave national parkand several doe rummaging for food in the snow.  It was quite a treat to snap a few photos of deer in the snow.

The mutts and I continued south to look for another warm activity.  We found it as we reached Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the American sports car.  Yes, we toured the National Corvette Museum.  As a child, my father owned a 66 and a 72 corvette that we tooled around in on an occasional Sunday, so I couldn’t pass the museum up.  The museum featured almost every year, beginning in 53; the millionth Corvette, Indy 500 pace cars, and even a Corvette that was stolen in 1970 and returned to its rightful owner in 2009 worth 30 times its original price.  I found a 66 Sting Ray, but I couldn’t find a 72.  In addition to looking at cars, I found my first cache in Kentucky, part of a Cache Across America series, hidden in a picnic area behind the museum.  I picked up a geocoin that honors marines and has a goal to see every state.  Kind of weird…a person traveling across America finds a coin that wants to travel across America in a Cache Across America cache!  I plan to move it to Tennessee once my hands thaw out.  The ammo can, uniquely hidden, was virtually frozen shut.

My last stop of the night before having to brave a bitter cold night in Nashville, Tennessee was in Russellville, Kentucky.  We stopped by the old Southern Bank Building that was robbed by Jesse James in 1868.  The bandits escaped with $9,000 after shooting and slightly wounding the bank president. Acting on the advice of Walter, an ex-coworker, I thought I might try the Bluebird Café for dinner and a show in Nashville.  After briefly looking up its location on the website, I found out it was closed for the evening due to “treacherous road conditions”!  Hmmm, I didn’t have trouble handling the road conditions, but I must say, the evening temperatures required more than a sleeping bag, two dogs, and a heater to keep from turning into an ice block – WOW, a cold, restless night – this time in the Loveless Café parking lot, instead of Walmart. Walter suggested breakfast here, so I thought I would first find the café and then the closest Walmart – 9 miles away…I guess I just didn’t feel like driving any further. ETB



Day 89 – From Bluegrass to Pennyroyal in Kentucky

I awoke to the wind swirling, snow falling, and a phone call from my Louisville hosts – they are stuck in St.  Louis – no house for me this evening!  OK, I got a little flustered…could I handle the roads if they couldn’t make it back…could I survive the 5 degree temperature?  At this point I wasn’t sure what to do first.  Countless thoughts spun through my mind.  Should I stay south and wait out the storm at Walmart?  Should I go northeast to Lexington in hopes it would hit there later or should I book it to Louisville and email one of my blog readers who I’ve never met and try to stay with her?  I sent an email to Connie and started north rather quickly. If I were going to be stranded in the weather, I wanted to be in a larger city and have a chance for a roof over my head.  In slight panic mode and after skipping several stops, I realized the roads are fine…the snow isn’t sticking yet…and tomorrow will probably be the nasty day, so I took a deep breath and opted to enjoy what I could of the area.I made my first stop at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.  A giant granite and marble monument stood in front of me as I pulled into the parking lot.  In the warmth of VANilla, I surveyed the park through the falling snow.  I didn’t spot the log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was presumed to be born in 1809.  I wasn’t sold on trouncing through the snow to look for it in my tennis shoes either.  The mutts and I took the steps leading up to the memorial where we found the log cabin inside!  A ranger stood guard.  He said, while the location is the birthplace of Lincoln, the cabin originally thought to be the home in which Lincoln was boron, was determined to be built in the 1840s; thus too new.

We continued farther north to Bardstown which seemed like the mid-point between Lexington and Louisville, thought slightly south.  The dogs and I briefly stopped at a plantation house that inspired Stephen Foster to write “My Old Kentucky Home”.  It looked like a long walk to the house in the snow and it required a guided tour, so we moved on, but the mansion is said to have ceilings 13 feet high, brick walls 13 inches thick, and each flight of stairs includes 13 steps as a tribute to the original 13 colonies.  Perhaps I’ll have to visit on a better day.

With the roads still passable and not yet having heard from Connie, I decided to head east toward Lexington.  Having spent two weeks of each summer at the Lexington Horse Park as a teenager, I figured I could find my way around horse country and return to DeSha’s  after 20 years for dinner and their fantastic cornbread.  On the way, I stopped in Springfield at the Maker’s Mark Distillery.  Gina, my GPS, guided me along back country roads past hay fields and farmhouses blanketed in snow.  After 20 minutes of winding around snowy curves and hills, I began to feel a bit anxious, as I had yet to see a sign to the distillery.  Furthermore, I was concerned I might end up on a snow covered hill that VANilla couldn’t maneuver.  Then I saw the steam rising above a red-shuttered, black building…I had made it.  The free tour took us through the stillhouse, the bottling factory, and the storage barn.  The stillhouse includes a rollermill to grind the corn, red-winter wheat instead of rye, and barley; a giant cooker to bake the mix; cypress vats for fermentation; and copper stills for the white dog.  The distillery, strategically located next to a spring, uses the naturally filtered waters in its bourbon.  Maker’s Mark still utilizes “hand-made” processes

At the distillery with lunch in its right claw

versus automated processes in certain instances.  Each bottle is dipped by hand into red wax and each barrel is moved by hand as opposed to forklift as it is believed the sloshing created when moving the barrels by hand adds to the distinct flavor.  The bourbon is not aged for a specified amount of time before it is bottled, it is aged to taste.  A nineteen member tasting panel must unanimously agree the bourbon consists of the Maker’s Mark flavor before it is shipped for sale.  If the panel doesn’t agree, the bourbon aged for a longer period when it is tasted again.  If the panel is still not in agreement, a four person panel decides.  Recently, Maker’s Mark unveiled a new, smoother bourbon called 46 for the 46th attempt in which they attained the smoky, smooth flavor they wanted.  46 is the original brand poured into a different barrel including additional wood slats fastened inside the barrel.  I must say, I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, but the tasting was quite enjoyable and the bourbon chocolates were divine!  I even bought a bottle, and donning safetly googles, gloves, and protective sleeves; I dipped it in the hot wax.  After the tour, I can understand why a soccer teammate, Eric, is a Maker’s Mark connoisseur.

Upon leaving the tour, Connie called…I had a place to stay in Louisville…they were my heroes!  While I was slightly closer to Lexington, I ditched my plans and headed west just as the roads began icing up.  I can’t imagine how cold it would have been in VANilla.  We arrived to Connie’s with soup on the stove…how great.  It was so nice of Connie and Ron to offer up their house for the evening.  Connie and Ron, married for five years, met at church.  He works third shift at a molding factory that makes a variety of parts for cars.  Connie recently retired from the claims department at Blue Cross Blue Shield.  She was busy wrapping Christmas presents!  I haven’t wrapped one…and haven’t even bought them all.  I’ll be busy on the 23rd! ETB