Wednesday, October 15th
Gretchen and I are on our way to see one of the few remaining National Parks we have not visited...Mammoth Cave. Driving past Covington toward White Sulfur Springs, the fall foliage is gorgeous, at its peak with spectacular light! It's the kind of fall scenery we thought we would see last year in Vermont but alas, it was not to be found. Tonight, we will stay in Winchester, KY, since it is blue grass country and we plan to dedicate a few days learning about horses! Walking around Winchester to get our steps, it is obvious the town has seen better days. So,we decided to drive to Parris to see what it was like and to locate Claiborne Farms where we have a tour reservation tomorrow. The countryside is beautiful with its bucolic fenced in horse farms.
First stop was a tour of Claiborne Farms, home of Secretariat. The tour is free (just tip the guides) and it was the best thing we did in the horse country; probably due to our tour guide Doug, one of the stallion grooms. CF is a huge operation; 3100 acres, 50 barns, 550 horses, six million dollar annual operating budget. We were allowed to get up close and pet the horses. The stud fee for the Farm's top stallion is $125,000.00! The fee is paid after the foal is born, stands and drinks milk. The stallion stood at stud 120 times last year!
|I believe Gretchen likes horses better than dogs!|
Following back roads through beautiful horse country, we arrived at our second stop, the Kentucky Horse Park, just in time to grab a sandwich to eat during the International Horse Show. The Park houses a variety of horses from countries around the world and the during the show, riders in costume parade the horses around the ring. The Park has numerous competition venues and can house over 2500 horses for events. It is a huge sprawling place and it is the home of the International Museum of the Horse; a very educational, well done museum associated with the Smithsonian.
The original reason for this trip was to check Mammoth Cave off of the short list of National Parks we have not visited. We arrived at the Park in the late afternoon in time to secure tickets for a tour in the morning. After checking into the hotel, we walked the trail system around the headquarters area to get our steps for the day! The hotel is typical of many NP hotels, basic but clean. It is the only option anywhere near the park headquarters.
We went on the River Styx tour this morning. No other tours go deeper into the Cave and it certainly had variety, from the cavernous Rotunda below to small passages one has to bend down and wiggle through.
Many of the passages have graffiti, the picture below is from a group who toured by torch light in 1855!
Perhaps, the River Styx is not what you would imagine? It is a small body of water as shown below. The Echo River that visitors once took boat rides on is very close to where the picture was taken. But there are no longer boat rides and the Echo River is closed to the public due to an endangered sightless fish!
FYI, the River Styx tour is only possible in the summer and fall. All of the lighting is temporary, removed in the winter, because many of the deeper passages on the tour are flooded during the spring by water from melting snow and spring showers. Mammoth Cave is well off of the beaten track, you have to plan to visit the park. But to us, it was well worth the effort as it was not only bigger, but quite different geologically from any cave system we have visited. Many more tours are available and they only take visitors on a very small portion of the 400+ miles of passages discovered to date in the cave system. The Park is quite large with hiking trails, bike trails and opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. We had no idea! It's mid-afternoon and time to head toward South Carolina; our destination tonight is Knoxville, TN.
Sunday was comprised of a pleasant trip from Knoxville to Murrell's Inlet, arriving in time to eat dinner with the Hills. Monday we met Kelley's friend Suzanne and went to the new development being constructed on the old Air Force Base. Suzanne daughters, Mackenzie and Maci, are Maggie's best friends and they have a great time playing together.
|The girls at the old aircraft display park.|
Maggie is taking dance lessons this fall and was quite pleased to don her ballerina outfit and show Grandma the moves she has learned. How sweet!
Today we went to the education center at the state park. They have a feeding time several days a week that you can make rounds with the ranger as she feeds the animals in the center. It's really quite instructive.
|Maggie showing Grandpa how to drive the boat at the center.|
We finished the day off with a brew and a good meal at one of our favorite restaurants, Quigley's Pint and Plate in Pawley's Island.
It's been a good visit and it was nice to see Maggie, Kelley and Seth. Thanks guys for your hospitality! Tomorrow we head for Lynchburg.