Three Days In Kentucky

Caves, Bourbon, Horses, Wildlife, Ziplining and an Alpine Slide

hometown tourist

Kentucky is a secret place filled with wonders. Some are found on maps but many are found beneath the surface, in a layer beyond layers. It's a place that's as easy to forget as it is to remember. And it's a town that I grew up in for the first 20 years of my life. 

Born and raised five miles from the entrance to the longest cave in the world, Mammoth Cave, meant that exploring was in my blood. My parents owned a small "Rock and Gift Shop" named after my mom, Debbie, that sold gemstones and souvenirs to passerby's. Growing up I worked in that shop talking to the tens of thousands of tourist that would visit from all over the world every year. In a sense it was the best education I could have received for in that little shack of a building I learned the wonders of geology, geography, many forms of religion and beliefs, foreign languages, and cultures. I developed an overwhelming urge to go discover these wonders for myself and to seek out new ones of my own. In a sense I became the "forever tourist". 

Over the years my curious thirst for the unknown only intensified and was never quenched and that includes in my very own hometown of Cave City, Kentucky. A place you would think I would get tired of exploring for over 35 years. Every summer I spend weeks riding amusement park rides, exploring the underground caverns, staying in roadside attractions, participating in wild west reenactments, playing mini golf, zip-lining, riding horses and going as fast as I can down a mountain on an alpine slide. In fact, I am so proud of where I came from that I have flown friends in from other places to share these experiences with me. Sure, we could take a vacation to a Caribbean Island or explore ancient civilizations but I've always believed that if we don't appreciate our own backyards then these towns will become ancient and ghostly before eventually dying, taking the people and stories like these with them. Everyone I have ever brought to my hometown has loved it and they leave with a child-like curiosity to find the next hidden gem to explore. They always want to come back. The memories they take with them have now become the souvenirs that I offered, changing the tradition a little but still keeping my heritage alive. 

Being able to share a place I love with the ones I love is a feeling hard to capture with words or photos but we will try our best. So take a journey with me and Preston as we set out to show you the beauty of what a town of 2500 people can bring. 

For the full experience of Kentucky download my Mammoth Cave NP Playlist on Spotify.

In 1937 Kentucky native, Frank A. Redford built this Wigwam Village in a little tourist town called, Cave City, a town just a few miles from the entrance to the Longest Cave in the World. The village featured 15 cabin Tee Pee’s arranged in an encampment arc so visitors could barbecue and hang out at the end of a long day’s travel. In the center was the office / check in Tee Pee which donned the title "World’s Largest Wigwam”, standing over 50 ft high and weighed nearly 50 tons. Inside it served lunch and pumped gas to travelers passing though outside. Eventually Frank franchised the Wigwam idea and there were seven more built but now only three survive with this one being the oldest. 

The reasons for staying overnight in the Wigwam Village have changed over the years. Travelers originally wanted to experience the romance of the Old West; now they want to experience the romance of Old Roadside America. The rooms are still very much the same as the were in 1937, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, no telephones, hickory beds and cane furniture. They are small by today’s standards but that’s not the point. You can stay in a mainstream hotel anytime and almost anywhere but there’s not many chances you will have to stay at a concrete Tee Pee in South Central Kentucky in one of the last few remaining pieces of roadside history that gave comfort to the original American Expeditioner.

In 1990, the special interests of two outgoing individuals came together to create a unique attraction in central Kentucky. In that year, Bill and Judy Austin opened Kentucky Down Under to the public. Bill and Judy first met in New Zealand in the late 1960s. Judy, a native Australian, was working as a physical therapist on the island, while Bill, an engineer with the National Science Foundation, was preparing for an expedition to Antarctica.

In time, the two married and moved to Washington, D.C., but stayed there only a few years before deciding to move to Horse Cave, Bill’s hometown. Back home again, Bill became manager of Mammoth Onyx Cave which his grandfather had purchased in the 1920s. Throughout the years, peacocks and other small animals had been added to the park for visitors to enjoy on the surface in-between cave tours. Bill and Judy observed how much their guests liked these animals, and this encouraged them to add others. They started by adding a herd of American bison in the 1970s, followed by the Australian animals in 1990, and Kentucky Down Under was born.

The park is home to both Red Kangaroos and Eastern Grey's. 


The park is also home to a large array of birds including an aviary filled with rainbow Lorikeets that you can go in and feed. The large Emus walk around with the kangaroos looking to be fed and will stop at nothing... be careful, they love to go through purses when you're not looking. The other birds include owls, cockatoos, laughing kookaburras and many more. 


Nowhere else can you get a better lesson in the totality of darkness and the miracle of light than in Kentucky and its over 130 caverns. Rightly nicknamed "Cave Country", the states geology is made up of mostly limestone meaning that no matter where you are while you're there, you are never to far from the entrance of a cave.  

Hidden River Cave Kentucky, also known as "the greatest cave restoration success story in the United States", a title well deserved due to the efforts of the American Cave Conservation Associationafter saving this cave from total destruction and pollution.  

In 1925 my great great uncle, Floyd Collins, was trapped for 17 days in Sand Cave while in search of a path to connect to Mammoth Cave, making it the longest cave in the world. He sadly died 17 days later after many attempts to rescue him failed. It was the second largest story between the World Wars and it changed journalism forever. Skeets Miller, one of the many the journalist at the scene, would crawl down to talk to my uncle and try to bring him food and water. He later won a pulitzer prize for his coverage of the events. As word got out the crowds grew and it wasn't long until the National Guard was sent in to control the frenzy. Charles Linbaugh flew the news and after all was said and done that little town of Cave City, Kentucky was put on the map, Mammoth Cave became a National Park, over 15 books were written about it, a best selling song was made, endless documentaries, a couple of movies, a play, and hundreds of online conspiracy theories produced. 

My family never had the money to get Floyd's body out after he was determined dead so his brother Homer went on the road and toured in Vaudevilles telling the "Story of Floyd Collins". He raised enough money and three months later Floyd's body was exhumed from the swath of Kentucky limestone and laid to rest back in the cave with a proper funeral service. 

But the story doesn't end there. On the night of March 18th 1929, Floyd's body was stolen and later found dumped in Green River with a missing leg. He was found and placed back in Sand Cave where his coffin was covered in chains and attached to the cold and dark cavern floor. Eventually the cave closed its tours and Floyd stayed un-visited until my family and the National Park Service moved his grave to the National Park Cemetery in 1989, where he and the rest of my family are reunited. 

Besides caves, Kentucky is also known for its Bourbon and both of those things can thank the limestone for that. The reason why Kentucky is home to over 95% of all Bourbon made is because of the limestone cap that covers the region. Don't worry...I won't start boring you with geology terms or topics about filtration and grain but I do suggest that if you're going to visit Kentucky you can't leave unless you've sipped some good ol' fashion, straight from the cask rye whisky or bourbon. If you have time, take a trip down scenic Bourbon Trail to visit all of the distilleries Kentucky has to offer.  We visited Markers Mark on our visit.  Bourbon County is also one of the prettiest areas in the state, if you don't get to drunk to remember it that is. 

Nestled on a hillside just six miles from the entrance to Mammoth Cave is home to a permeant fair-like amusement park called Kentucky Action Park, or better known around those parts as "Alpine Slide". When I was 16 I worked here running the rides and attractions and quickly became a daredevil, racing and betting on winning the 1/4 mile fiberglass mountain track and to this day I can assure you I have never lost, or crashed. That's not all that's there, they have caves, riding stables, mini golf, arcades, bumper boats, rock climbing, bumper cars, ziplinning, and a lot more. It's an entire day of redneck fun that will leave you exhausted but still wanting more at the end. 

Kentucky will always be a land rich in history and wonder. Its stories spread far past the civil war battle fields that stretch across and are deeper than the millions of years old settlement below the dirt. But however grand it may be, it will always be a story waiting to be retold and rediscovered.

"kentucky, not for the faint of heart but also not for the fast paced either." 

This story was part of the #mykentucky campaign with the Kentucky Tourism Board. Follow along at or on Instagram at @kytourism