Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park, Lincoln Birth Place, Lincoln's Childhood Home, Bardstown, My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Maker's Mark Bourbon Distillery Tour, Louisville
Wednesday July 7, 2004
It was time to put Nashville in our rear view mirror. We have enjoyed ourselves immensely, but enough is enough--- we have got to get moving.
Our destination today was Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky about 90-miles up I-65 from Nashville. The ride into Kentucky consisted of pleasant undulating hills with beautiful green fields of corn and pastures of hay. Kentucky is beautiful green country.
We have friends that work at Diamond Caverns Campground and we are stopping by to visit for a day or so with them. Big Al Swartz used to work at the Navy Depot with me years ago. Big Al retired in 1993 during one of those relentless downsizing moves DOD was making.
Diamond Caverns and Mammoth Cave National Park are just a few miles apart. Joyce and I headed to Mammoth Cave National Park as soon as we got the RV situated in a Site at Big Al's park. We took a scenic boat ride down the Green River then enjoyed several scenic drives in the park.
Car Ferry across the Green River near Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
We watched and rode on the unique car ferry operating on the Green River. Note the cables that keep this ferry in place. All the operator does is change the direction of propulsion. This ferry never ties up when it reaches the bank. Instead it just drops the door/ramp and maintains power while the vehicles drive on and off the ferry. Deer and turkey were common along the roadside. We did not do any of the cave tours----we just were not interested in seeing another cave.
Joyce and huge sycamore tree at the Green River Ferry
Near the ferry was a huge sycamore tree. Most people never noticed this tree but it stood out from the other trees in this forest. It seems that most of the trees in the forest are only about 60-years old because most of the surrounding land was farm land when the National Park was created by purchasing the farm land. However, some trees were standing even when most of the land was under cultivation. This giant sycamore is among those. A park ranger said that foresters on their staff estimated the age at 200 to 250 years. I have no idea but it sure is big. That is Joyce standing about 10-feet in front of it.
Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave in the world, with more than 360 miles of explored cave passageways---all carved by the work of water making its way to the Green River over the last 10 million years. Mammoth Cave and Niagara Falls are considered the two oldest tourist destinations in the United States. Now Joyce and I can say we have visited one of the two oldest tourist destinations.
Mammoth Cave National Park is a designated World Heritage Site (joining other cherished national and international treasures including Egypt's Pyramids of Giza, India's Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Joyce and I joined the 75% of all visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park that never go underground. Like the others we were content to enjoy the lush and biologically diverse ecosystems of the rugged, hilly Green River country.
When we returned to the RV-Park we got together with Big Al and his wife Chatty Cathy. They are camp hosts in the park and have their own golf carts. Al put me on one of the carts and Cathy put Joyce on one with her and they took us for a tour of the Resort. Rabbits were everywhere, barn swallows were swarming in an open area near the RV-Park and humming birds were visiting feeders Al & Cathy have by their motorhome. The highlight of our tour was a drive back in the woods to a huge cave. There was a light switch at the entrance to this huge cave back in the woods. We drove the golf carts back into the cave to a stage where entertainers obviously perform for resort functions. It was so awesome. The temperature in the cave was 54-degrees at least I think that is what Big Al told me. Anyway, it was so cold that the windshield on the golf cart fogged over when we exited the cave.
Big Al & Chatty Cathy, Swartz at cave in RV-Park near Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
This is a pic of Big Al & Chatty Cathy a few feet from the entrance to that cave. You can see the fog resulting from the cold air in the cave mixing with the hot humid air outside.
If any of you that used to work with Big Al back at the Depot want to get in touch with him let me know and I will share his e-mail address with you. I am sure that he would welcome hearing from you.
We are going to spend one more day in the area then it is on to Louisville, Kentucky.
Thursday July 8, 2004
It did not rain all day. This is the second day (daylight hours) that it has not rained on this trip and the first day (24-hrous) that it has not rained. It was great.
We took some walks in the RV-Park, drove into Cave City, and hung around the motorhome most of the day. During the heat of the day we settled in to doing research on things to do in Louisville and Bardstown since they are the next places we plan to visit. I also needed to refresh myself on the aspects of the Lewis & Clark Expedition pertaining to their trip down the Ohio River past Louisville.
As it cooled down in the late afternoon we went looking for deer in the National Park. We were successful in video taping 4 deer feeding along the road for our grandson. We also took video of rabbits and barn swallows around the RV-Park.
When it got too dark to video we stopped by Big Al's place and visited with them until time to head to our place.
Tomorrow we are heading to Bardstown then Louisville unless we decide to stay overnight in Bardstown.
Friday July 9, 2004
We had a number of things we wanted to do in and around Bardstown, Kentucky today. We wanted to stay in My Old Kentucky Home State Park famous as the place that inspired Stephen Foster's song of the same cognomen. Additionally, Bardstown is the self proclaimed "Bourbon Capitol of the World" and comes complete with the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and several distillery tours available in nearby facilities.
On our way up to Bardstown we passed through the town of Hodgenville, Kentucky. Hodgenville is a historic little town in its own right. Two miles south of Hodgenville we pulled off of US-31E into the National Historic Site preserving Abraham Lincoln's birth place. It is not a large place but plenty of parking for 5 or 6 motorhomes plus 25 or 30 automobiles. They have an auditorium where they show a movie about Lincoln's birth and early life in the area. A cross section of a large white oak tree showing the growth rings was on display in the visitor's center. The diameter of this big tree was 5 to 6 feet and represented 197 years. Before the tree died in the 1970s it was the champion white oak tree in Kentucky. It was known as the boundary oak and was a distinctive tree back in 1806 when the Lincoln's lived on the property. The deed to the property used this white oak tree as one of the corners of the property where Lincoln's family lived. It was easy to know which oak the deed was talking about because it was 13-lengths north of the spring that supplied water to the farm. I liked the little markers on the tree rings showing how big the tree was when Lincoln was born, when he became President, the Civil War years, when Lincoln was shot and many other interesting historical events that have transpired since this mighty oak sprang to life from a small acorn in the 1770s.
Replica of the Lincoln Memorial in Hodgenville, Kentucky
Also located at the National Historic Site is an almost duplicate except a smaller version of the Lincoln Monument. Instead of Lincoln sitting inside the monument this monument houses what is purported to be Lincoln's Birth House.
A walking trail leads to the spring where the family drew water and the almost sacred spot where the famous "boundary oak" once stood.
Back in the motorhome and once again heading to Bardstown we next stopped by Lincoln's childhood home. It seems that Lincoln's family moved from his birthplace to another farm about 6-miles north of Bardstown. We stopped by this National Historic Site also but the only thing to see was a one room log cabin that was a replica of the log cabin the Lincoln family resided for about 8-years before Lincoln's father moved the family to better land in Indianan.
It wasn't long before we were back in the motorhome and headed for Bardstown 14-miles away. Our destination was My Old Kentucky Home State Park. It wasn't hard to find since we just followed the directions provided by our trusty Street Atlas 2004 mapping program. The voice on the computer told us where to take each turn and we followed those directions right into the Campground. This state park houses the magnificent home that inspired Stephen Foster's 1852 ballad, "My Old Kentucky Home".
Within minutes of checking in we had the motorhome set up and we were off in the Saturn looking to surprise an old friend. Eddie Benton was the youth minister at our church back in Pensacola back when Joyce and I were in our 20s. We worked with the youth and Eddie back then. Eddie was a preacher in a youth minister's position at First Baptist. It wasn't long before a church in Kentucky called Eddie as their pastor. Our loss was their gain. It was our intention to sneak up on Eddie at his church, Parkway Baptist. Wouldn't you know it; Friday was Eddie's day off so we didn't get to sneak up on him. However, the secretary did tell us where we could find Jackie, Eddie's better half, so we headed off sneak up on Jackie. In that endeavor we succeeded. Upon finding Jackie we made plans with her to go out to dinner.
Joyce and I headed out to do one of the distillery tours this area of Kentucky is noted for. It feels kind of goofy visiting with a Baptist Preacher then heading off to do a Bourbon distillery tour. I suppose around this park of Kentucky the Baptist aren't as opposed to "Old Man Bourbon" as they are in other places. The economy seems to be tied to the bourbon industry. Farmers are growing incredible amounts of corn and corn is a major ingredient in bourbon.
Our first distillery was Heaven Hill distillery just a mile down the road from our campground. They were shut down for vacation this week. Wouldn't you know it? First the Saturn plant was shut down now the distillery was shut down. What kind of luck is this? We knew that Maker's Mark was just 17-miles farther down the road so we jumped in the Saturn and headed to their distillery.
Marker's Mark is located in Loretto a small community south of Bardstown. As it turned out this was a good tour. We had a good tour guide that knew her stuff. She should she is a worker in the plant. It seems that workers in the plant are trained to do everything. That way they do not get bored. Every 30 minutes they move to another job. Some of the jobs are boring while others are extremely fast-paced.
We watched as workers removed empty bottles from a box. The bottles were sent through a cleaning process then to a machine that fills them with the bourbon. Next a cap is screwed on and a seal applied.
Maker's Mark whiskey rolling down the assembly line
As you can see these bottles have been filled and the lid applied. As you might think they are heading to a machine that applies a seal around the cap and neck. Rapidly another machine applies a label then the bottles enter a line with several workers on each side of the fast flowing bottles of bourbon.
Workers along the Maker's Mark assembly line
These workers grab the bourbon bottle turn it upside down, plunge the neck of the bottle into a pot of hot wax (350-degree bright red wax) then give the bottle a slight twist before returning the bottle to the line. By the time the bottles get past the last worker each bottle has been dipped in that wax. This was a fascinating thing to watch. The four women you see in this pic are moving with the speed of a one armed paper hanger. Those bottles are rolling down that line. You can see the red pots of hot wax that the first woman is dipping her bottles into.
Marker's Mark is distinctive - they dip the neck of every bottle of their bourbon in hot red wax
Marker's Mark is distinctive in that they dip the neck of every bottle of their bourbon in hot wax. The brightly colored wax dripping down the neck of a Marker's Mark bottle is their trademark. The things we don't learn. Until the docent explained this I thought they were providing an extra seal. To the right you see the "finished-product" rolling down the assembly line where they are loaded back into the cardboard containers the empty bottles were received in. I thought that was an ingenious way to cut waste.
Marker's Mark warehouses full of 50-gallon kegs of aging whiskey
I was fascinated by the warehouses full of 50-gallon kegs of whiskey aging for as much as 7-years. I think the docent said that tasters started tasting the contents of each keg after 5-years. If the proper taste isn't there the barrel is returned to the warehouse for another year or more. The docent related that the aging process varied according to weather. Hotter summers quickened the aging process. Every warehouse that we saw was painted a dark color. Inside the aging warehouses smells like bourbon. Some people must like that smell because our docent mentioned that they were thinking about running the old barrels through a wood chipper and selling the small chips as potpourri. You are kidding was the only thing I came to my mind! Someone would PAY good money to have their house smell like this! NO WAY. She was serious. I guess that is why I am not rich.
The docent related that bourbon manufacturers only use the oak barrels one time. All Maker's Mark barrels are sold to a company that makes scotch. She mentioned some well known distributor of scotch like Dewar's (sp) or something sounding similar to that.
Promptly at 6:00 we called Eddie & Jackie at home, since this is the arrangement we had made with Jackie this afternoon. As I was dialing Joyce spotted a bank sign that said it was 7:01. I commented to Joyce that they must have had a power outage and never corrected the time. Ha ha! The joke was on us. Somewhere between Mammoth Cave and Bardstown we had crossed into Eastern Time. It was 7:00 and they had expected us to call at 6:00. Whitey, Eddie's daughter answered the phone saying Eddie & Jackie were not home but call them on their cell phone. Eddie answered his cell phone telling us that he was performing a wedding to just go to their house Jackie was on her way home and he would be there shortly and we would go out to eat. They had already figured (southern expression) out what had happened. It seems we are not the first. Since we were not on the interstate when the time zone changed there were no signs to WARN us.
For those of you that know Eddie and Jackie here is a quick update. Whitney is now 20 and in college Luke is 23 and in college. Whitney was 5 when they left Pensacola. Eddie and Jackie still look the same. Eddie still runs three times a day and does 3 or more marathons a year. Eddie's church is growing like wildfire, really. The downtown church where Eddie was the pastor was boxed in and had no place to grow. They were doing 3 morning worship services and two Sunday Schools. The church purchased a 20-acre piece of property on the edge of town with the intent to move. When the time came to actually move the old timers decided they didn't want to move. They gave the 20-acres to the group that wanted to move. Eddie was with the movers. Those that stayed in the old church got a new pastor. Eddie's group, 195 strong, started meeting in a gymnasium and started construction on a New Church.
Parkway Baptist Church in Bardstown, Kentucky
This is the "new" church, the one around 8-years old. Like I said they are construction a new sanctuary to the left of this that will hold the growing congregation.
That Church now has nearly 700 members and they are in the process of building another sanctuary. All this has taken place in the past 8-years. Eddie likes to say they have 700 active members since they are such a young church they don't have all the "inactive" members that accumulate over the years.
Parkway Baptist Church and Pastor Eddie Benton
Not being one to miss an opportunity to give anyone a hard time I did rag Eddie about his "inspirational" sign. Not one for being at a loss for words Eddie quickly said the sign was borken...........OK Eddie, whatever. VBG
Eddie & Jackie have not cut all ties to Pensacola. They are going to spend a few of their vacation days with Les & Macklyn at their house on Lake Hartwell, South Carolina next week.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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