Exploring Dinosaur World, and going back to a Land Before Time

OK, confession time: the only experience either of us had with Dinosaur World prior to this weekend’s trip was laughing at the giant T-Rex waving at us from the side of the highway. We’re sure you’ve seen him, and we’re also sure you’re probably no less guilty than we are of smirking at the bright orange, scaly, prehistoric monster beckoning at you along I-65. (By the way, if you look really closely as you’re driving past him-although not recommended if you’re the person behind the wheel- you can see the Wooly Mammoth Garden hanging out in the trees!)

However, it is also our confession that Dinosaur World is AWESOME, and totally worth taking Exit #53!

Childhood Memories

When Cameron was a kid, the only movie she ever cried during was The Land Before Time, and no, not the scene you’re thinking of when Littlefoot’s mom dies (although that’s pretty heart-wrenching too for a 4-year-old), but when they finally make it to the Great Valley and the music swells and all the dinosaurs co-exist happily with the waterfalls and the trees. Don’t make fun, we know you were affected as we were…But we kid you not, you CAN visit the Great Valley at Dinosaur World!

If you look closely, you can see the Triceratops, the T-Rex, and we think those might be Allosauruses.

Just a Walk in the Park

The day before we made it to Dinosaur World was cold, rainy, gray, and drippy- everything you’ve ever associated with a dismal day, though perfect for caving. The day we went to Dinosaur World: bright, sunny, warm, and cloudless, in short, a great day for a walk in the park! When you go to Dinosaur World, you’re provided with a map of the route around the park and identifiers for all the attractions. Much like a wonderful day at the zoo, the route takes you past the dinosaurs in their “habitats” with markers along the way giving you a bit of history and fact about each species. Raptors pop out at you from behind the bushes, the gentler-looking stegosaurus lounges next to a tree, and pterodactyls soar amongst the leaves. A quick detour takes you to the Mammoth Garden (Cameron’s favorite pre-historic critter) and a close-up bonding experience with your T-Rex friend who resides next to I-65 . Either before, or after your walk through the Jurassic period, you can dig up fossils in the sand, uncover a dinosaur skeleton in the boneyard, learn more in the museum, or hang out in the “Cave” Theater, not to mention there’s a supercool playground/jungle gym area- check out all the fun Blair had on the play sets in the slideshow below!

What it’s Going to Cost You:

Admission to Dinosaur World is:

  • $12.75 plus tax for adults
  • $9.75 plus tax for children ages 3 to 12
  • $10.75 plus tax for seniors over 60

They DO allow friendly pets on leashes and picnic lunches, and there’s a pretty great gift shop too with lots of cool dinosaur toys, models, games, and stuffed animals (among plenty of other fun things!) Parking is FREE, and they’re open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. For more information on pricing or driving directions, visit their site here.

More Photos from our Visit:

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Stop and Meet Leroy at Cave City’s Olde Gener’l Store

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the best discoveries you will make on road trips are those you don’t plan for at all. It was under that truth, that we stumbled upon The Olde Gener’l Store in Cave City.

Let me backtrack a little. After finishing our awesome tour of Mammoth Cave, we headed to the Wigwam Village No. 2 to check in to our teepee suite. After getting settled there, we went back out on the town to see what Cave City had to offer. Here is where we encountered a problem: With the exception of a few restaurants, there’s not much open in Cave City past 7. At least not in what the locals told us was the “off season.”

In the summer months — most likely after Memorial Day and before Labor Day — Cave City is thriving with restaurants, novelty shops, miniature golf courses and alpine slides (yeah, that one confused us, too). Only the biggest attractions stay open year round. Now that’s not to say you can’t find ways to have fun.

Case in point: Our discovery of The Olde Gener’l Store.

Just look how beautiful it is. So stuffed full of treasures, they are overflowing onto the store’s wrap-around porch. We stopped at the Gener’l Store because … well … we just couldn’t NOT stop. Signs declare it “the most unusual store in the Cave Country.” We declared it the most wonderful.

We met Leroy, the owner, who told us the store had “antiques, collector items, gifts and crafts, and other old things and stuff.” It was a perfect description.

Leroy has been collecting the old things and stuff for more than 50 years. He declared himself one of the original American Pickers and had stories about finding old mirrors and bikes and wagon wheels tucked away in friends’ garages, or the time he bought 22,000 license plates from the Kentucky State Penitentiary in 1976 right before the prisoners stopped making them by hand.

This Elvis bust? He spotted that an estate auction, “on down the road” years ago.

So armed with our over-enthusiasm for Leroy’s hidden treasures, we started making our way around the store. We swooned over old mirrors and paintings, vintage trunks and furniture, chandeliers, old bottles, wooden crates and a fully-functional slot machine.

Two hours and a combined $100 later, we were begrudgingly stowing away our new treasures — some moccasins and a set of cast iron jail keys among them — in the trunk of the car and saying goodbye to our hero Leroy.

Sure, we were impressed by our new purchases. Yes, we could have spent another several hundred dollars if we had it. But mostly, we were just awed by a man’s collection and all of the years he spent — the adventures he had — finding this … stuff.

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The Old Gener’l Store is located at 802 Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City, Ky. (Take Exit 53 from Interstate-65). It’s open every day 10 a.m. til close … Which means whenever the shop is empty and Leroy feels like going home. The store is closed on Sundays. For more information, give them a call at (270) 733-3300.

What it’s going to cost you:

Not a dime just to walk around and have a look. But we dare you to leave there without finding something you just have to have. Prices vary and they’re fair — Leroy’s an honest businessman.

Whether you want to just look around or if you’re looking to buy, if you’re going to be in Cave City, The Olde Gener’l Store should have a secure spot on your itinerary. We promise you’ll enjoy it. Tell Leroy, we say “hi!”

Overnight at the Wigwam Village

What’s the best place to spend the night in Cave City?

Let’s face it, Cave City, Ky., is not the same as New York City, or Paris, France. You won’t find a Ritz Carlton here or the Hotel Crillon, but don’t despair, because Wigwam Village No. 2 is available for all your sleeping needs.

Why Wigwams?

Celebrating its 75th Birthday next year, Wigwam Village No. 2 in Cave City was the dream of Frank A. Redford. Frank, inspired by a trip to a Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and a popular ice cream shop shaped like an upside down ice cream cone, finished construction on Wigwam Village No. 1 in Horse Cave, Ky., in 1935. He was so thrilled with the outcome, he patented his design in 1936 (see the patent here, along with a schematic of the design) and built 6 more villages across the U.S. Of the seven original Wigwam Villages, only 3 remain in existence and operation today: No. 2 in Cave City, No. 6 in Holbrook, Ariz., and No.7 in Riallto, Calif.

You know, the motel looks kinda familiar…

Why yes, the Wigwam Village may look a little familiar to you. Not only was Frank’s Wigwam Motel franchise the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the Disney/Pixar film Cars (2006), but the Queen of TV herself Oprah Winfrey and her steadfast BFF Gayle King stayed in Wigwam Village No. 6 in Arizona during “Oprah and Gayle’s Big Adventure.” They were not quite as keen on the accommodations as we were… Click here to watch Oprah check into Wigwam Village No. 6.

Learn more about this great American roadside tradition

Learn more about Frank A. Redford’s crazy (successful) idea at these links:

  • The Official Wigwam Village No. 2 Website, where you can also book your reservation!
  • Wigwam Motels on Wikipedia, has more photos of all the Wigwam Village locations and additional links to books and resources.
  • And on the National Register of Historic Places, where you can find both Wigwam Village No. 2 and No. 6.

More photos from our trip to Wigwam Village #2

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What it’s going to cost you

Wigwam Village No. 2 is open year round and nightly rates vary based on season and day of the week. We stayed on a Saturday night in late March and payed $55 for the night — a little over $60 after sales tax. It’s more expensive in the summer months and on the weekends, but you aren’t going to pay more than $60 per night for one double bed and $70 per night for two double beds. For more information on nightly rates, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Now if only gas prices were as affordable …

Road Trip to Mammoth Cave

We wanted to take a road trip

Road trips require a delicate balance of planning — but not too much planning — and a willingness to fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and understand that the most fun part of your adventure will be the unplanned parts.

As any good road tripper knows, you need a few key items when you begin your journey:

• A camera (in our case, a camera and a video camera)
• An idea of where you’re headed (not necessarily a plan, and definitely not a schedule)
• A full tank of gas (we hope you get it cheaper than we did)
• Snacks (we got an early start so it was gas station coffee and mini donuts for us)
Directions (they may or may not be written on the back of old receipts)
• And a whole lot of patience for when you get stuck in traffic and you miss the tour of Mammoth Cave – the one and only thing you actually scheduled – by a mere 15 minutes.

So on a (very) rainy Saturday afternoon, our journey began in Cave City, Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave is … well … mammoth

Instead of taking the Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park like we’d planned, we hopped on the New Entrance Tour and prepared ourselves to be wowed.

Early cave guide Stephen Bishop called Mammoth Cave a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.” And while it may be all of those things, with its 392 miles of passage ways, complex labyrinths, caverns and vast chambers, there really is no other way to describe the cave than … Mammoth.

In the 1920s, George Marshall knew there was a cave under his feet. He could feel the cool air coming out of the sink hole he discovered, and so he did what any man in his position would do. He got some dynamite, stuck it inside the sink hole and blew something up.

Marshall was right and after he’d made the hole a little bigger, he sent his nephew Earl  down in the deep, dark unknown with a rope and a lantern … and hopefully a bit of  a pep talk.

Earl discovered a grand cave system and after a little more exploration, he and Uncle  George began giving tours of their cave — and making a little money as the country was  beginning to fall victim to the Great Depression. Ladies would come down in their  fanciest clothing, men dressed in shiny black shoes, all eager to see Marshall’s cave.

After a little while, guests started to ask, “What’s back there?” And gestured toward a dark passageway that seemed to lead further underground. What was back there? George  Marshall wanted to know … so poor Earl was sent to find out.

As it would turn out, Mammoth Cave was back there. And just as the Great Depression was plaguing America, George Marshall sold his cave to Mammoth Cave for $290,000 — a big chunk of change today, and much, much bigger then. And so was the New Entrance of Mammoth Cave (if you can consider the 1920’s “new”).

If you head to the National Park and take this tour, be prepared – there are stairs involved. Many, many stairs (500 of them to be exact, including 280 on your initial decent). When you enter the cave — via a large metal door that leads to a stair case, we might add – you will find ourself descending 250 feet under the surface of the Earth. That translates to several hundred stairs, lots of ducking, turning sideways and squeezing through narrow passageways. And you know what they say … “What goes down, must go back up again” … so be prepared to climb several hundred stairs to get back out.

The tour is rather brief — only about 2 hours total counting the bus ride from the Visitors Center to the new entrance – and travels a mere 3/4 of a mile of the 392 total miles of Mammoth Cave. But it is a beautiful and very informative tour. The cave formations are beautiful and you get to see lots of stalactites and stalagmites. Some of which Cameron thinks look like a giant whale’s mouth … but you need to decide for yourselves.

  The tours are pretty strict (on direct orders from U.S.  Homeland Security), and you aren’t allowed to take  bags of any kind inside of the cave. We didn’t take a  camera because we didn’t want to – gasp! – drop it down  into one of the gaping holes inside of the cave. I did  attempt to take some pictures with my Blackberry once  we were inside. They weren’t that successful.

Our suggestions: take a camera, use your flash, don’t  aim it at the rest of the group (flashes in darkness  when your pupils are dilated will seriously blind you for several seconds), but don’t get so caught up taking  pictures that you don’t look around you. Because when it comes down to it, pictures are great … but you can find those on the Internet. Enjoy the cave while you’re in it.

It still rains when you’re underground …
and other stuff we learned

Did you know … it takes between 300 and 800 years for one cubic inch of a stalactite to grow?

That means these could have been growing for more than 1,000 years. Man, that’s hard to wrap your head around. Check out the water dripping down these stalactites. They’re growing every second.

Read this article from the National Park Service to find out how stalactites are formed.

Some other useful things to know if you’re planning a visit:

• We took our trip to Mammoth Cave on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Keep in mind when you enter the cave, you’re essentially entering a dynamite-made-bigger sink hole. You’re descending several hundred feet under the Earth’s surface into something that was carved out by a waterway. So even though you’re going underground, you’re going to get wet — more so when it is raining outside or when it has rained recently. No need to pack your bathing suit, just keep in mind that you will be dripped on and the cave floor can be slick. Wear tennis shoes or  hiking boots, and watch your step.

• You’re going into a cave. Be excited, be curious, and be fully aware of what to expect. It’s going to be dark. It’s going to be closed in (though most parts are very wide and open with tall ceilings). It’s going to involve climbing and walking. It’s going to be chilly. We don’t say this to deter you, you’d be missing out on an awesome experience if these things turned you away. But know what you’re descending into.

• When you leave Mammoth Cave – at least if you’re planning a visit any time in the near future — you’re going to be required to walk across some squishy bio security mats covered in Lysol disinfectant. This is to prevent the spread of White-Nose Syndrome which is not currently considered to be in Mammoth Cave, but the park is protecting its bats from the disease. What is White-Nose Syndrome? Basically, a fungus new to North America that has killed more than 1 million hibernating bats across the eastern U.S. since its discovery in 2006. To learn more, read this. It isn’t harmful to humans, but let’s do our part to save the bats. (Who knows, one might turn into your next charming vampire boyfriend.) If you aren’t willing to walk across the mats … you won’t be permitted in the cave. No exceptions.

What it’s going to cost you:

Tours range from $5 to $48 per person, depending on how big of an experience you want to have. Our New Entrance Tour was $12 and we loved it. The Historic Tour (which we highly recommend as well and were disappointed we didn’t get to go on) is the same. Your more expensive tours — like the Wild Cave Tour — mean you’re more than likely going to be in full spelunking gear complete with hardhats and head lamps. Those cost more.

Discounted rates are available to children and seniors. For more information on all tour prices as well as camp ground fees, go here.