Dec 28, 2016

Parks and recreation in Kentucky’s cave country

It’s just not summer without a family road trip, and in 2016 that road trip involved a trip down memory lane for me, as Punky, the Kiddo and I visited Mammoth Cave National Park and parts of south central Kentucky where my grandmother who raised me was from.

I’ve visited Kentucky’s cave country more times than I can count, as my grandmother and I would often visit relatives in nearby Glasgow and touring the area around Tompkinsville where she grew up.  To this day, I still feel it’s one of the most enjoyably scenic parts of the country I’ve ever visited.  So, when Punky suggested we spend a weekend exploring the area together, I jumped at the opportunity and booked us a room at the Mammoth Cave Hotel inside the national park.   

I’ve probably toured Mammoth Cave at least a half dozen times, but I had never stayed at the national park until last summer. I always thought the on-site hotel would be a fun way to get slightly off the grid while still enjoying the modern conveniences of life.  We stayed in one of their Sunset Terrace Rooms, which backed up against the edge of the woods and the park’s well-worn Heritage Trail. 

The accommodations were a little spartan, but our room had everything we needed – two beds, a nice bathroom and well-running shower, and enough TV keep the Kiddo happy.  And, we were fortunate enough to see some wildlife – in particular, a deer in front of the cottages foraging for leftovers.  We also saw a group of wild turkeys along the roadside as we returned from exploring Cave City after dinner.  Of course, I have no pictures of these sightings.  For some reason, Punky preferred I drive without simultaneously using my phone’s camera. 

I did manage to take a few pictures of the cave itself, as we and about 150 other mostly international tourists booked the last Historic Tour on the day of our arrival.  As you can see, it didn’t take me long to remember why cameras in caves are relatively useless.  I can imagine a bunch of disappointed wannabe photographers getting home only to find a bunch of pictures like mine, completely lacking in depth, color and focus.  

The old Mammoth Cave Baptist Church,  located on the winding Flint Ridge Road, turned out to be a much more picturesque spot. 

As the historical marker indicates, it’s one of the few buildings left that predates the park itself.  It’s also home to one of several cemeteries located in the park

This cemetery is especially significant as the final resting place of Floyd Collins whose explorations of the caves in the area – as well as his well-publicized death while doing so – probably did as much to ensure the formation of Mammoth Cave National Park as anything else.  Apparently, he still has quite a few admirers who visit his grave site. 

Well, a Kiddo can only handle so much nature and history, so after we left Mammoth Cave, we drove to Bowling Green, the largest city in the area, to treat her to a completely different kind of park.

Beech Bend Park and Splash Lagoon would never be mistaken for a Six Flags, but that’s OK.  It definitely a lot more affordable and has plenty of state fair-level amusement park rides, along with a pretty expansive water park, all for one admission price.  The park even connects to a drag strip because ... well, it's Kentucky.  

For instance, you have the Flying Bob, Beech Bend’s version of what I grew up knowing as the Himalaya, that bumpity cart ride that goes forward and backward while a sketchy DJ controls the speed and blares obnoxiously loud music.  

Then there’s the Crazy Bus, which was a massive hit with the Young Curmudgeon when I took him to Beech Bend years ago. He also had an affinity for miniature golf back in the day, but don’t tell him I said that.

As you can see, the Kiddo was having a blast.

We also spent a couple of hours in the water park, including a couple of laps on the lazy river and through the wave pool before Mother Nature ended our day a little prematurely.  How ironic, to be rained out of a water park.   

On getaway day, it was time to go back – literally – to my grandmother’s neck of the woods and places in the hills south of Tompkinsville with names like the Elbow, Pitcock Branch and Center Point. 

That meant another cemetery trip, and a little rediscovering of the names and final resting places of some distant relatives almost lost to the ages.   

And, of course, the unforgettable view that will always be theirs … again, my poor picture taking skills cannot do it justice. 

Two days in Kentucky, two different kinds of parks, and a lot of family fun and recreation for all of us.  And, I got to reminisce some as well.  It was a trip I will treasure for quite some time, and I felt especially fortunate to share it with my family.

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