After a drive through the lush, beautiful countryside around Lexington, we spent a long afternoon at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. This is the largest restored Shaker Village in the country and one of the places Alan and I were most excited to visit. We would have liked to have spent all day, but little boys have a way of falling asleep at the most inopportune times. Though, I should really never complain that he continues to take his naps while on the road. We spent the afternoon visiting farm animals, visiting with a number of craftsmen and women, listening (and dancing) to beautiful Shaker hymns in the central meetinghouse, trying on hats, and repeatedly marveling at the Shakers’ craftsmanship.
We came across many towns with historic buildings and downtowns during our brief visit to Kentucky. While some were on the touristy side, others were not. Both types were beautifully maintained and clearly well-loved by the local citizens. Our favorite was probably Harrodsburg, partly because it was a surprise that we came across on our journey to the Shaker Village.
After spending a day wandering amongst beautiful buildings and wide open space, we spent a day in Louisville. Highlights included trying chess pie for the first time and walking right down to the track at Churchill Downs. When we arrived at Churchill Downs, it appeared that we wouldn’t be able to get in except to visit the museum. We inquired at the main office and after letting us know that it was very unlikely we would be able to see the track (the Derby was just a few days away and everyone was in last-minute preparation mode), they recommended that we try at Gate 17, the site of simulcast betting. We found our way around to Gate 17 and found that the doors from the betting areas were unlocked to the track. We walked right on down to the track, standing in the area where the winning horse poses after the derby. We could have walked right onto the track, but using our better judgment, chose not to. We had to hold on tight to Van or he would have run directly on to the groomed track. It was quite an experience!
We rounded out the week with a visit to Bardstown and the fascinating (and free) Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History (definitely a must-see if you’re at all interested in whiskey and find yourself in Bardstown), Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Lincoln’s childhood home on Knob Creek, the Maker’s Mark distillery, Red River Gorge, and Mammoth Cave. I could write a post on each of these, but my personal highlight was Red River Gorge. This was a place that I was embarrassingly unaware of until several fellow MMM readers (Mr. Money Mustache to the uninitiated) recommended it to me when they heard of our travel plans. It is a magnet for climbers, but there is so much to offer mere hikers like ourselves.
We began our day at the Natural Bridge State Park, hiking our way up to and on top of an impressive sandstone arch. Van was in for a special treat because there was a group of AmeriCorps volunteers at the park doing trail maintenance. They were carrying large logs assembly-line style up the trail. Van had the opportunity to yell out “more log, more log” over and over each time we saw another exhausted volunteer. Hopefully his cheers of encouragement added a little pep to their step. After a picnic lunch consisting of sardines, crackers, and fruit, we made our way to the Red River Gorge Geological Area. We hadn’t done much reading about the area before we visited, so we were taken by surprise when we reached the Nada Tunnel. This is a 900-foot unlit single-lane tunnel. It is like no tunnel I have ever experienced. Van and Alan had to suffer listening to me exclaim over and over about how crazy and incredible and awesome it was to drive through the tunnel. If you have trouble being mindful of the present moment, I implore you to drive through this tunnel.
The tunnel aside, Red River Gorge is beautiful, wild, and lush. It’s the kind of place that takes only minutes to transport me back to my essential self. There are not many places that have had the power to transport me so quickly, but this is certainly one and one I hope to return to when Van is old enough to float, climb, and hike it with us.