Cars, Caves and Lincoln’s Birthplace – Bowling Green, KY

Comments 23 Standard
Corvette

Cars

Some of you know that Steve has a love affair with cars, and if he gets a chance to visit a car museum, show or assembly plant he’ll do it.  I think it’s his way of reliving his previous hobby of restoring and modifying muscle cars.

He asked me if he could show off some of his work; these are just a few of the many projects he completed during and after his years in the Air Force:

He has promised to build me a modified red Ferrari or Pantera when we are done with our travel adventures – let’s see if that works out!

Apparently our tour of the BMW plant in South Carolina was just a warm-up for more of the same as we tour the good ol’ U.S. of A.  Hanging out just a few miles from Bowling Green put us in a prime location for touring the plant of the greatest muscle car of them all – the Corvette!  And it also turns out that Toyota has a huge assembly plant in nearby Georgetown, so we checked that one out, too.  It was interesting to note the differences between the smaller, exclusive Corvette plant and the huge toyota facility.

Without a lot of detail, let me give you the juice on both tours:

  • Cameras are strictly forbidden in both plants.
  • The Toyota plant in Georgetown is their largest manufacturing facility in North America, and the largest Toyota plant outside of Japan.
  • The GM Corvette plant in Bowling Green has been the exclusive birthplace of Corvettes for over 30 years.
  • Toyota’s tour is free, and folks must ride on a tram for an hour and a half just to cover this massive facility.
  • The Corvette tour costs $7 and is a one-mile walking tour led by an intern.
  • A future Corvette owner can watch their Corvette being built and take a personalized tour of the facility.  They can also start their car for the first time on the assembly line – how cool is that!
  • Both tours were fascinating, as the tour guide led us through the assembly process – from the beginning where rolls of steel are shaped into car parts – until where the finished product is running and going through final testing.
  • Toyota’s plant rolls out 2,000 Camry’s, Avalon’s and Venza’s per day.
  • Corvette creates 130 sparkling coupes and convertibles each day.
 Corvette Stingray

We saw this awesome new convertible in the parking lot.

Both tours were very informative, and we were amazed to watch how cars come together from beginning to end.  I enjoyed it as much as Steve did!

National Corvette Museum

Just across from the Corvette plant is the National Corvette Museum, which has gained much attention lately.  A few months ago, the roof of one of the many caves underneath gave way, and eight Corvettes on display were gobbled up.  Since then the sinkhole has become the museum’s hot new tourist magnet, and business has doubled.  Nature has provided them with the best publicity they could have hoped for!

Instead of repairing and filling up the hole, the destroyed Corvettes remain on display and are called the “Great 8” or the “Sinkhole Corvettes.”  Click here for a news story and pictures of the sinkhole.  Since we were not excited enough to pay $12 each to see the “Great 8”, I just snapped a few pictures of these vettes outside the entrance.

Corvette

Caves

The presence of that unknown sinkhole is not too surprising here, as the museum is only 30 miles from the largest underground cave system in the world – Mammoth Cave.  This region is known as the Sinkhole Plain, where caves are formed by the action of acidic water eating away at limestone over a very long period of time.  And that leads us to our next adventure at Mammoth Cave.

In addition to thoroughbreds, bourbon, car plants and many other attractions, Mammoth Cave National Park is another draw to the state of Kentucky.  You might think we’re getting bored of cave tours by now, but each cave is unique and this one is the biggest!  “Mammoth” refers to the large width and length of the passages connecting to the Rotunda just inside the entrance.

Mammoth Cave Passageways

A representation of the system of passages at Mammoth Cave

What makes this one different is that the cave system is made up of 400 miles of surveyed passages.  It’s the longest known cave system in the world, but it doesn’t stretch in one direction.  The passageways intersect and run above and below each other.  It has been compared to a big shallow platter of spaghetti.  The NPS offers several cave tours, and we selected the Domes and Dripstones Tour.  It wound through deep pits and high domes as we walked 280 feet below the surface.  We looked up to see some amazing vertical caves and large canyons, and noticed that the ceiling of many passageways was very flat.  This is where the acidic water hit a vein of sandstone, which is not so affected by the water.  Thus, this layer constitutes the ceiling in many areas of the cave system.

Mammoth Cave

Flat cave passageway ceilings

Mammoth Cave dwellers

Cave dwellers , eyeless and colorless crickets

Mammoth dome

Mammoth Dome – courtesy of NPS

Vertical Cave, Mammoth Cave

Looking up to the ceiling of a vertical cave shaft

We came back the following day to hike the park’s surface trails, and chose two backcountry trails which took us through forested hilly country.  But to get there we had to cross Green River on a 3-minute car ferry ride.  We were the first and only people on the trails, as Steve found out while walking through dozens of spider webs.  I gave him a “spider wand” so he could clear the webs in front of him as we walked.  We enjoyed being out there with only the deer and birds keeping us company.

Sinkhole at Mammoth Park

One of the many sinkholes in the park

Lincoln

Three states have laid proud claims to Abraham Lincoln – Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky – and rightly so.  Prior to becoming the 16th president, he may be best known as the congressman from Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”.  But not so many folks know that he was actually born in Kentucky, where he spent the first 7 years of his childhood (the guide on our tour told us “Kentucky had him first”).  He then moved to Indiana, where he grew from youth into manhood before becoming a lawyer and finally being elected to the presidency.

We visited Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, where a memorial has been established at his birthplace and subsequently turned into a park named the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park.

Lincoln Birthplace Cabin

Symbolic birthplace cabin inside the memorial building, but not the actual cabin

Lincoln memorial building

The Memorial Building that protects the symbolic birthplace cabin is on a knoll where the cabin once stood.  The 56 steps leading up to the memorial represent Lincoln’s age at the time of his death

Back at our home base, Cave Country Campground, our afternoon entertainment consisted of the ever-changing cloud formations that sometimes brought pretty clouds, sometimes rain-laden clouds and sometimes some really ugly thunderheads:

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That one is pretty…

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…that one’s not so nice…

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…time to put the chairs away and get inside!

Let me leave you with my first  supermoon capture.  What is a supermoon?  It’s when the moon is full or new during its closest proximity to earth.  There will be two more this year, and I hope they will be visible wherever we may be!

Supermoon

P.S. – We are now in Indiana, and I’m a little behind with my posts.  We took a quick trip to California for a few days, leaving Betsy all alone in Cave City.

 

Next up:  A day in Music City!



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Barrel of Fun in Kentucky’s Bourbon Country

Comments 31 Standard
Sour Mash

California has its wonderful wine, Mexico its Tequila, and Kentucky has the bourbon.  Like fine horses, bourbon has been written into a chapter of the History of Kentucky.  Those fine horses and bourbon have one thing in common that make Kentucky unique – its limestone-rich soil.  The bluegrass that grows in this soil provides lush pastures for the thoroughbred horses, and the same soil is prime for growing the excellent corn used to produce the finest bourbon in the world.

Corn Farms

Miles and miles of corn fill the countryside

I mentioned in my previous post that Steve and I are not bourbon drinkers, but that did not deter us from checking out a couple of the popular places on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We limited our excursions to just two distilleries, so we could at least learn how bourbon is made and do a little tasting.  We chose to visit the Buffalo Trace Distillery while in the capital city of Frankfort, and Maker’s Mark when we were near its distillery in Loretto, KY.

Right off the bat we learned that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. And 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in Kentucky.  This is an all-American drink that was officially declared “Americas Native Spirit” by an act of Congress in 1964.

Makers Mark

A copper still reflects the excited tourists

Sour Mash Makers Mark

We were encouraged to dip fingers into the sour mash for a taste

Makers Mark Distillery

Giant cypress tubs full of sour mash at various stages of distillation

We learned from both distilleries that while they follow the same time-honored process, what makes them distinctive from each other is their individual recipes and production techniques.  However, to allow their product be called bourbon, by law they have to adhere to the following standards:

  • Must be made of at least 51% corn.
  • Must be stored in a brand-new, charred white oak barrel.  This charring imparts the amber color and unique flavors into the bourbon.
  • Must  be aged at least two years in order to be designated “straight” bourbon whiskey.
  • Nothing can be added to bourbon in the distillation process except water.
  • Must be distilled at less than 160 proof.
Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace storage warehouse

 

When we entered the storage warehouse, we immediately inhaled the bourbon aroma that filled the air, also known as the “angel’s share.”  That’s what the evaporated part of the bourbon is called as it “sleeps” in the barrel for at least two years as required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Maker’s Mark, we couldn’t pass up the “photo op” of dipping our own bottle into the classic red wax.  Now we can someday share a bottle of bourbon and an interesting story with our friends.

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Safety gear is required when dipping your bottle into 350-degree wax!

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The final product – who wants to share it with us?

Here are a few more pictures from both distilleries:

Makers Mark Distillery

The grounds were beautifully landscaped at Maker’s Mark, can you make out the distinctive whiskey-bottle cutouts on the window shutters?

Mark;s Maker Distillery

Art depicting the bourbon process — displayed in the tasting room

Buffalo Trace Distillery

At Buffalo Trace Distillery, the bourbon was aged in thick brick warehouses

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery sits along the great buffalo trace, a trail that migrating buffalo and early pioneers once trod.  The life-size sculpture pays homage to millions of buffaloes that once lived in Kentucky

 

Tasting bourbon, learning the rules and getting up close to how it’s made was a fun experience.

Buffalo Trace Distillery

My reaction to “White Dog”, the liquid just after distillation and before it goes into the barrel.  How do people drink this stuff?

Bourbon Tasting

Looks like I’m seeing double after a few tastings!

The official trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is at Bardstown.  This town has the distinction of being the Bourbon Capital of the World, and The Most Beautiful Small Town in America.  We stopped here first to fill our tummies with some food before heading on to Maker’s Mark.  It is centrally located on the Bourbon Trail and boasts a variety of unique and diverse attractions, restaurants and shops.  There were several restaurants to choose from, but we picked a local hole-in-the-wall – Mammy’s Kitchen – where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Bardstown, KY

The main drag in Bardstown – Smalltown USA

So the question is: did we have a barrel of fun?  Oh yeah!

Cheers!

 

Next up:  Caves, Corvettes and more!



 

Bluegrass and Fine Horses – Lexington, KY

Comments 16 Standard
Thoroughbreds

Although Steve and I are neither horse-racing fans nor bourbon drinkers, a visit to Kentucky isn’t complete without checking out those two items that the state is famous for.  The area with a concentration of over 400 thoroughbred farms  is known as the Bluegrass Region – aka the Horse Capital of the World – and Lexington sits right in the middle of it.  Here’s a little trivia tidbit for you: Lexington was named after the fastest stallion horse of its time, 1850-1875.
Lexington, KY

Thoroughbreds

Steve had to do some research to figure out why the horses wear masks – it’s to keep flies out of their eyes, and they can see through them just fine

Setting aside a day to visit Lexington, we took the self-guided Bluegrass Country Driving Tour.  Most of these pictures are “drive-by shootings” from the car, as the road was narrow with few safe places to pull over for good shots.  I did my best to show the countryside surrounding Lexington, where the gorgeous horse farms give the region a beautiful park-like setting.

Bluegrass Driving Tour

Thoroughbreds

Maybe you’ve heard of the happy cows in California?  These are some happy horses!

Looking at the pictures, it’s obvious that the grass isn’t really blue.  It’s a variety of “bluegrass” on which a small blue flower blooms in early spring.  A field of flowering bluegrass appears to be bluish-green in early spring before it has been cut (or eaten by a horse).

Calumet Farms

Manchester Farms

Manchester Farms – a 246-acre horse farm

The sun was hiding on this day, but while driving along the winding country road we feasted our eyes on green rolling hills, acres of beautiful horse farms, horse barns and distinctive fences.  These are not your typical horse farms; they are estates of the wealthy where breeding of the best of the best thoroughbreds happens.

Van Meter Road, Bluegrass Tour

White fence vs black fence

Rock Fences

Miles of rock fences laid without mortar were built in the mid-1800’s

Manchester Farms

Blue and white barn with cupolas – these horses have it pretty good!

Winstar Farms, Bluegrass Region, KY

Winstar Farms

Turkey Vulture

An ugly turkey vulture surveys his domain

Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds can be seen grazing on those wide open green spaces

Keeneland ClockNot to be missed is a visit to one of the world’s most beautiful racetracks, the Keeneland Race Course.  Keeneland is a 922-acre pastoral setting that makes its atmosphere unique in the horse racing industry.  But Keeneland is not only a place for thoroughbred racing, it’s also the world’s premier thoroughbred auction house.  Racing happens only in April and October, so it was quiet when we got there and we thought it was cool that people can walk all around the place even during non-racing months.  On this morning we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Keeneland Race Track

This “horse” seems to be confused about which way to go…

 

Keeneland Race Track

Keeneland Race Track

Keeneland Race Course

Keeneland Race Track

Apparently a “walk of fame” for horses and their owners

Jockeys Quarters

Notice how this skilled photographer stood right in the middle of the doorframe so his reflection wouldn’t show in the image – just kidding, it’s Steve!

Bluegrass Driving Tour

Future champions?

Although the visit did not transform us into horse-racing fans, being there and experiencing the beautiful countryside where the thoroughbreds are bred, raced, auctioned and retired was worth the drive on an overcast day.  But the horses and bluegrass are only part of the story that makes Kentucky a unique state.  Then there’s the bourbon…

 

Next up:  Lets taste some Kentucky bourbon!