Would you believe until last year I had never spent a night in Kentucky? I’ve driven through it on the way to points North, unsurprisingly, but somehow went almost 50 years without vacationing in a state I can drive to in an hour.
We remedied that last October during Fall Break, a modern invention that did exist when I was a youngster. It’s a great time to travel and we had an entire week off from school.
First we went to Mammoth Cave. That’s the longest known cave system in the WORLD, y’all. And it’s a National Park, which means it’s inexpensive to visit. And you could easily spend days there.
We stayed in nearby Cave City, which is mostly known as the city near Mammoth Cave, or at least that’s the way it looked from the exit where our hotel was located–a strip of hotels and fast food and touristy things. But we are adventurers and we found the REAL town and explored it.
Look at that sweet little main street! We walked up and down looking in windows (everything was closed for the evening, sadly) and seeing what there was to see.
I didn’t get any pictures but one of the charming things–and to William and Lorelei’s delight–several of the shops had cats in residence, hanging out in the window displays.
At one end of town we found a park with a little Civil War history, and also a tiny IGA at which to buy snacks for our room.
Of course we didn’t come for Cave City; we came for the CAVE, and we spent two days exploring, which included walking around the grounds, taking in the museum exhibits, and going on cave tours.
Here’s some of what we saw above ground.
The railroad cars are part of the very interesting history of the cave, its discovery, and early tourism. Would you believe that part of the cave was used as a tuberculosis hospital for a time in the belief that the air would be good for the lungs?
Look, y’all! A graveyard! I find them everywhere I go!
When you visit Mammoth Cave, you should plan ahead, unlike us, and book guided tours in advance. Some of them were unavailable to us because we did not do that. Also be aware that some of the tours are quite strenuous, with lots of climbing. But don’t worry, even with those caveats we found plenty to see.
We went on two cave tours, the first one being to see the first cave to be rediscovered in more-or-less modern times. Native Americans were using it over 5,000 years ago, and we were able to see some extremely well-preserved artifacts.
Here’s the mouth of the cave, seen from above before we went in and then from below as we climbed the stairs back up.
It was VERY big and VERY dark in there. Our guide turned off all the lights so we could see what real dark looks like. Answer: like nothing. Wave your hand in front of your face and you will see NOTHING. Then he lit one match and it was cool to see how our eyes adjusted to see the entire room with just that tiny amount of light.
He also showed us where saltpeter was mined in the cave during the war of 1812. Due to conditions in the cave, the site doesn’t look as though it was abandoned 200 years ago but remains well-preserved. Here is a picture from this area of the cave.
This was an easy hike just to get a feel for the cave. The next day we did a more picturesque and much harder hike. It was kind of bizarre to enter a cave through a door into a hill.
This cave had more of the formations you’d expect to see if you’ve been in “touristy” caves like Ruby Falls.
Whenever we left a cave we had to go through a process of washing the bottoms of our shoes to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, which has killed a large portion of the bat population.
There is much more of Mammoth Cave to see, and I would love to go back there someday.
Our vacation was a two-part affair, with some days planned and some left open. At our motel we found a brochure for a nearby attraction, and we decided to visit Kentucky Down Under on our way to Louisville.
This was a good choice. The kids are STILL talking about this place.
Kentucky Down Under is a zoo, but an unusual one. It’s family-owned, for one thing, and if it’s not obvious from the title, there is a focus on animals from Australia. But there are other animals here as well, including Great Pyrenees dogs who serve as protectors and roam freely throughout the zoo.
This was the first animal we saw, just after we left the gift shop. William was thrilled, because crocodilians are one of his favorite groups of animals. After we spent some time with him, we hopped into the golf car we’d rented and began to explore.
We got yelled at by talking birds and surreptitiously petted a coati. Here they are, along with some other animals we saw.
Next we arrived at the more interactive part of the zoo. We listened to a talk by one of the keepers, and then those of us who wanted to (William) got to pet a snake.
Much more to my liking, we were able to pet some draft horses in their beautiful pasture. Kentucky is almost as pretty as Tennessee, y’all.
Then we got to watch some sheep-herding in action!
And finally, the piece de resistance, the part that William is still talking about months later–we got to pet kangaroos! (Also a terrifying emu and some capybaras!)
Seriously, y’all, did you SEE that emu? Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend this zoo.
Oh, and I almost forgot to include that this zoo has its own cave, Mammoth Onyx Cave, which as far as they know is not linked to the Mammoth Cave system. It’s not lighted so you get to wear actual head lamps and it was a really pretty cave–with the price of the tour included in zoo admission.
We’d had quite the busy day already as we headed to Louisville, where we were meeting friends and upgrading our lodgings quite a bit by staying in a bed and breakfast called The Inn at Woodhaven. The four of us stayed in the attic. Take a look at this place! These were taken in our attic.
Here are some of the common areas.
And here are some taken outside.
On our first day in Louisville, we went to another zoo! We have decided in the past year that we will make it a point to go to the zoo every time we are in a city that has one, since that’s something we all enjoy.
Now, it would be hard to compete with the peak experience of petting kangaroos! But we did enjoy the Louisville Zoo. Here are pictures of some of our adventures.
Louisville seems like an exciting city with a lot of fun places to check out. Besides the zoo, we also visited downtown to see the Cathedral of the Assumption and to get a bite to eat.
We didn’t get to spend as much time looking around the Cathedral as we would normally because they were practicing for a wedding and we didn’t want to disturb them. Here are some pictures of the nifty area of restaurants where we found a place to eat, just around the corner.
I’m telling you about the Kentucky trip a little bit out of order because I want to save the best for last, as it were. So now I’m going to share about the Lincoln day trip we took. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, so we visited the site of his birthplace and of his boyhood home, as well as a little town with monuments and a museum.
Here are some photos from the home site, which includes a museum and a super-fancy monument that I’ll bet you never knew existed!
Three miles down the road lies Hodgenville, Kentucky, with its town center dedicated to Lincoln, and housing a very special museum.
The museum is in a storefront on the square. The downstairs has several re-creations of scenes from Lincoln’s life. The place is a delightful jumble of all kinds of artifacts.
Upstairs there is an entire room of art inspired by Lincoln because the town has been hosting an art contest annually for many years and now there is an amazing array of truly creative pictures. Here are two of my favorites.
I like this one for its Christian symbolism.
This one is amazing. I don’t know whether you can tell but it’s actually made up of other images of things that were important in Lincoln’s life!
Finally, we made a stop at Lincoln’s boyhood home a short distance away, which would have been the first home he remembered. There is no museum there, but here are some pictures of the fields where he worked and played.
We loved the Lincoln portion of our trip and could not believe we had been living so close to this important piece of history for so long without visiting.
Now, finally, I am going to tell you about the other planned event of our trip, the whole reason we came to Louisville at precisely this time of year, the annual Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular. Y’all, it was indeed spectacular. I could not stop taking pictures, the best of which I will share below.
There was a jack o’lantern to symbolize each of the 50 states
as well as ones commemorating people who had died,
showcasing current events and famous people,
and representing films, pop culture, literature, and fictional characters.
And there were all kinds of more typically carved pumpkins as well.
We wandered slowly on a trail through the woodsy park marveling at all the wonders we were seeing. It was a lot to take in and a perfect way to spend an autumn evening.
So that was our trip to Kentucky, and this was a LONG post. We squeezed a lot of fun into fall break last year, but there is still more to see and do in Louisville, and I wouldn’t mind spending another weekend in that attic!