Mammoth Cave KY and Other Nearby Attractions


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September 8th 2013
Published: November 20th 2013
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
The drive from Goodlettsville TN to the Dog Creek Campground on Nolin River Lake is only about 100 miles but took me over two hours on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The narrow, winding roads leading to the campground from I-65 had me driving most of the distance at less than 35 mph. Nolin River Lake and the Dog Creek Campground are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facilities located near Mammoth Cave National Park. I reserved an RV spot for only four nights since there were only a few additional attractions I had on my “to do” list in the Bowling Green area and since I had scheduled a visit with my aunt in nearby White Mills KY for the other three nights of my self-imposed “week.”

I have found most Corps of Engineer campgrounds are similar to National Forest campgrounds – they are truly a mixed bag. Almost none offer full hook-ups (the missing element for a full hook-up usually is a sewer connection), a sizeable percentage offer no hook-ups at all, several offer electricity only (although potable water usually is available at several locations in the campground), a few offer electricity and water and many accommodate only tent camping.
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
Some offer bath (shower) houses and conventional toilets, while others have pit toilets. Cell phone service might or might not be available, Wi-Fi is almost never available and cable TV is an unheard of feature. The RVer really needs to pay attention because many of the sites too are short to accommodate my 28’ travel trailer (let alone a 100’ Mega-Millie triple axle diesel pusher) and some require a significant amount of leveling to make RV living enjoyable.

All of that being said, the sites are generally wooded (which is great for ambiance but not so much for my satellite dish), widely spaced (i.e., private), quiet and quite economical – my America the Beautiful Senior Pass provides me with a fifty percent discount which generally reduces the camping fee to a single digit amount per day. The campers are more cordial that those using privately owned RV parks since they are not there to use the campground as a platform for some other agenda but are there to usurp some relief from the Monday-Friday rat race. I enjoy utilizing one of these types of facilities for the same reason – a much needed change of pace.

I also
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
stay at state park campgrounds, but those campgrounds are general less primitive (almost all have electricity and most have electricity and water) and are geared to families – playgrounds, swimming pools, paddle boats on the lake, etc. The amenities (a picnic table or fire pit) at state park campgrounds vary widely from state to state, and, generally, they are slightly more expensive that private RV parks. On rare occasions, no private RV park is available that suits me (too remote from my “to do” attractions, too expensive or poor reviews found on the Internet) or those I like have no available spaces; and I am left to a governmental campground as my only logical option.

Thursday and Friday, September 5 & 6, found me heading to Mammoth Cave for an “in-depth” adventure. The 52,830 acres that became Mammoth Cave National Park was a patchwork of farmsteads, villages and private cave enterprises when the authorization act creating the park was passed by Congress in 1926. Much of the land was sold to the government voluntarily while other lands were acquired through eminent domain. Most of those signs of human intrusion were removed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s;
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
however, some cemeteries and three churches remain as reminders of the sacrifices of the settlers of the Green River Valley.

The science behind cave formation, VERY basically, finds a layer of sandstone situated above a layer of limestone. As rain falls through the air, it absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes slightly acidic. Over millions of years, the sandstone “roof” serves as a protective layer for the limestone where lateral movement of the acidic water forms horizontal passageways that grow in diameter with time. Caves are dynamic. Many caves that have formed in the limestone have come and gone over time! Mammoth Cave consists of nearly 400 miles of SURVEYED passages with new passages being discovered and explored on a regular basis. As a point of comparison, the second largest known cave system is the Sistema Sac Actun in Mexico with only 193 miles of mapped passages.

Not having been to Mammoth Cave for some sixty years, I had no concept of the operational structure of the park. Indeed, tours are offered on a fixed schedule and tours have a group capacity limit. The tours available on any given day vary based on historical demands. The more popular tours
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
might be offered several times on a given day in peak season while less popular tours might be offered only on Saturdays during the off season. Another complicating factor is that some of the longer tours include all of (or part of, as the case might be) a different, shorter tour.

All of the tour descriptions provide the length of time, the distance, the number of stairs, the degree of difficulty, the tour capacity, the cost and the time(s) offered. Wanting to make the most efficient use of my time by avoiding as much duplication as possible and wanting to see as much of Mammoth Cave as possible, I developed an “offensive strategy” – three cave tours on Day 1 and two tours on Day 2. Believing the post-Labor day Thursday crowds would not be an issue, I didn’t make any on-line reservations - a miscalculation that became problematic.

I walked into the visitor center with my agenda in hand only to learn that Tour 1 was sold out. Plan B found me taking Tour 2 at the time I had originally allotted for Tour 1. This was not a major problem except that Tour 1 was offered
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Mammoth Cave National Park KY
only once a day (with that particular time slot filled on Day 2 with Tour 4) and that I had created a 3-4 hour void to fill while waiting for Tour 3. There’s a coffee shop, you say? Well, this retired firefighter knows how to occupy a couple of hours of down time!

For those of you with significant tenure on Planet Earth and without a surname of LaLanne or Simmons, I would recommend starting with an easy tour and proceeding from there. Indeed, I scrapped Tour 5 after barely surviving (a slight exaggeration) Tour 3. FYI – Some of the tours begin at the Historic Entrance (where the cave was first discovered more than 5,000 years ago). The “ramp” leading to the Historic Entrance has an elevation change of 60 feet (according to Google Earth) from the visitor center to the cave entrance in addition to whatever stairs there are on the chosen tour.

In the end, I participated in three tours and had a great time. I cannot adequately describe the awe of this natural wonder and, although photography is allowed, the photographic challenges for the average tourist are formidable and the results fall incredibly short
The First CorvetteThe First CorvetteThe First Corvette

National Corvette Museum - Bowling Green KY
of offering an accurate portrayal of the beauty of the formations. Mammoth Cave is a “must see,” but I would recommend thoroughly investigating the NPS web site before purchasing tickets on-line or talking to one of the very helpful rangers before taking his/her recommendation.

Saturday found me journeying to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green KY. I almost didn’t partake of this attraction, because I expected the museum would merely amount to row upon row of bright shiny Corvettes. To say there are not lots of Corvette specimens would be deceitful; however, much to my delight, the museum is much more.

The original Corvette was not an automobile at all, but rather a class of anti-submarine ship. The ship, smaller than a frigate, was developed early in World War II (before the US became involved) by Canada, England and the United States to protect the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic from attacks by German U-Boats. It was well equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons and was fast and highly maneuverable (Corvettish) allowing it to dart in and out of the shipping lanes to protect maritime traffic from attack. It was one of the contributing factors allowing
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National Corvette Museum - Bowling Green KY
the Allies to regain control of the North Atlantic.

The first Chevrolet Corvette was designed by Harley Earl and was a convertible introduced in 1953 as a concept car. Originally built in Flint MI and then in Saint Louis MO, the Corvette is currently manufactured in Bowling Green. This American icon has been produced in six generations. Fortunately for Chevrolet, the seventh generation will be released in the Fall of 2013; but, unfortunately for me, the secrecy has caused factory tours to be given a hiatus until the new model is released to the public. A Corvette has been used as the Indianapolis 500 pace car on 12 occasions. I just wonder what car will be honored as the 2014 Pace Car!

In addition to the history of the Corvette – both the ship and the car – there are bios and busts of some of the founding fathers and mothers (perhaps the founding parents might be the case) of the Corvette as well as the Chevrolet. Then there are the cars. Some of the ‘Vettes are displayed in short rows, but many are seen in a more natural setting – a gas station or a new car
“Hey Fred, Fill Her Up With Ethyl!”“Hey Fred, Fill Her Up With Ethyl!”“Hey Fred, Fill Her Up With Ethyl!”

National Corvette Museum - Bowling Green KY
showroom. Some cars are displayed to showcase the front – others the rear.

The “guts” of the Corvette are seen on an “assembly line” and after crash testing. Some are seen wearing street clothes and some have donned racing garb. Frames from various generations are on display, some cars have been stripped of their skins, and there are engines to examine. Oh, did I mention there are ENGINES on display? Some ‘Vettes are displayed with the top down and others with the hood up. Several concept cars and prototypes are also on hand.

I was impressed with the creativity of the museum curators and thoroughly enjoyed the 2-2-1/2 hours I spent at the museum. This attraction is worth the time, effort and reasonable admission fee for anybody with an interest in cars and is a virtual requirement for any Corvette owner or Corvette owner-wannabe.

The 1817 Saddle Factory Museum in Russellville KY has no web site of its own and the Kentucky Tourism web site supplies only a cursory overview, but I was unwilling to chance that I might miss a proverbial diamond in the rough. I decided to spend a little time taking a circuitous route
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1817 Saddle Factory Museum - Russellville KY
south on I-65 to Franklin KY and then to veer northwest to Russellville so I could do some more sightseeing on Kentucky’s back roads.

The first floor of the historic landmark is a craft co-op mall of sorts where numerous artisans have wares on display for sale as the artisans take turns serving as shopkeepers/museum hosts. The second floor sports a small collection of saddles, a few other pieces of tack and a very informative placard describing, “How Saddles Were Made.” The use of “state of the art” technology such as bark from black oak and chestnut trees, lime and copperas (iron sulfate or ferrous sulfate) as a tanning solution, animal fat used to make tallow to oil the hides and sinew from the animals' tendons and ligaments to sew the pieces of leather together is outlined.

Also on the second floor, a couple of non-equine displays are on hand. The first is a local, fish-shaped weather vane complete with a bullet hole allegedly supplied by a member of the James Gang. The second is two sets of informative placards. The first describes a lesser known action from the Civil War – The Battle of Russellville.

In
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1817 Saddle Factory Museum - Russellville KY
response to President Lincoln’s appeal for an additional 300,000 Union troops to fight in the Civil War, a youthful Benjamin Harrison vowed to raise a regiment. As a result of his successful efforts, our future 19th president was appointed to the rank of captain in the 70th Indiana Regiment. The troopers reported to Bowling Green KY on August 15, 1862 for training. Captain Benjamin Harrison and his regiment of some 600 men were then dispatched to Russellville - a Confederate stronghold since 1860. On September 30, 1862, Captain Harrison engineered a surprise attack on the unsuspecting rebels. The Union rout of the Confederates resulted in the capture of weapons, horses and men and began a Union occupation of the town once known as the “hotbed of secession in Kentucky.”

The second placard subject is Abraham Lincoln and divulges a few snippets of trivia about Kentucky’s most famous native son which I found interesting. First, as a young attorney, Lincoln became acquainted with Ninian Wirt Edwards, the son of the Logan County (Russellville) circuit judge, who happened to be married to the sister of Lincoln's future wife, Mary Todd. In time the forces aligned, and the rest, as is said,
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1817 Saddle Factory Museum - Russellville KY
is history. Second, and interestingly, Lincoln never returned to Kentucky after becoming President! Kentucky, however, remained near and dear to his heart as divulged by two of his famous quotes – “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky" and "As goes Kentucky, so goes the nation." The last factoid I’ll share is that Lincoln came in a distant fourth in Logan County in the 1860 Presidential election capturing only three of the 2004 votes cast. That’s quite a paltry showing for a man born only 100 miles from Logan County but speaks volumes about the mindset of the populace.

The saddle factory workforce consisted of slaves and indentured servants - the 1820 Census for A & D Caldwell lists 14 slaves and 30 free whites. Nineteen of those are described as "engaged in manufacturing." The stairway leading to the attic where the saddle factory workers lived is narrow and steep. The quarters are small and cramped with a very low, partially pitched ceiling and only two small windows at either end for ventilation. I guess the fire marshal had yet to be appointed! Numerous pictures and writings remain on the deteriorating plaster. I
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1817 Saddle Factory Museum - Russellville KY
found one quite interesting: “William S. Caldwell is free 2 years from this date, May 13, 1828."

The saddle factory building is interesting in its own right but attaching the term museum is taking substantial liberty with the definition. In defense of the decision-makers, I don’t know what other term could be used to convey “a place of historical import open for viewing by the public.” Other than the extremely limited number of artifacts, my major point of protest would be the absence of documentation for the interesting specimens that are on display. If one is apprehensive about steep stairs or confined spaces, there is no point in the average tourist visiting the 1817 Saddle Factory Museum because, in my opinion, the major assets of the attraction are found in the attic.

After driving around Russellville a bit, I returned to the Western Kentucky Parkway via KY 79 and then approached the Dog Creek Campground from the west on KY 88 to see if that portion of the roadway is less challenging than the approach from the east. It is, and I found myself looking forward to utilizing this better route for the drive to my aunt’s home
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1817 Saddle Factory Museum - Russellville KY
in White Mills KY.

I had a great time in the Bowling Green/Mammoth Cave KY area. I would suggest Mammoth Cave NP is a “must see” for those who have never been to a similar attraction such as Carlsbad Caverns NP NM and would encourage those on a “pass through the area” to secure tickets online to assure availability. My failure to do so during the off season caused a minor problem. After a visit with my aunt, I’ll be making a short stop in Springfield IL to see a couple of attractions that haven’t fit into my schedule on previous visits and then be spending three weeks in northern Illinois to visit family and friends as well as to take in an attraction or two.


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Mammoth Cave NP Visitor Center - Mammoth Cave KY
Interesting And Informative Audio/Visuals Augment Written informationInteresting And Informative Audio/Visuals Augment Written information
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Mammoth Cave NP Visitor Center - Mammoth Cave KY


20th November 2013

Caving
Mammoth Cave is lovely.

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