Guest Road Tripper Kathy Witt takes us to underground Kentucky in her latest travel piece. Always glad to have you, Kathy!
Mammoth Cave National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve located in southcentral Kentucky, recently made headlines for adding six miles to what is already, at 426 explored miles, the world’s largest cave system.
A 25-minute drive away in tiny Horse Cave, KY, another cave is newsworthy in its own right as one of the world’s few caves located directly beneath a town. Hidden River Cave (www.hiddenrivercave.com) is not only Kentucky’s largest, privately operated cave, it stretches out beneath Horse Cave’s downtown, a National Historic District, with an entrance located directly off Main Street.
Play: Hidden River Cave is also home to the world’s longest underground suspension bridge, swinging far above the river rushing below. Completion of the bridge in 2020 made it possible for guided tours to reach Sunset Dome, inaccessible to the public for 76 years. At 150 feet wide, 200 feet long and 100 feet high, give or take, it is one of the largest free-standing cave domes in the United States –a sight to behold in glowing shades of red, yellow and orange.
Before hiking down the 200-plus steps into the cavern (and yes, you’ll have to climb back up them on your way out), visitors can read about the history of the cave at the free-admission American Cave Museum. Home of the American Cave Conservation Association, the museum offers self-guided tours of exhibits on karst geology, a landscape characterized by sinkholes, sinking streams, caves and springs, as well as the archaeology of caves. Photo: Kathy Witt
Stay: For a small town (population: 2,400), Horse Cave has an unexpectedly delightful array of accommodations, including country cottage vacation rentals, waterside campsites and glamping options. At Horse Cave KOA Holiday (www.kygetaway.com/horse-cave-koa-holiday), climb into the treetops for cozy overnights in a treehouse. Crawl into a Conestoga wagon or slip into a custom-built tepee, each one beautifully furnished and fully equipped – from Keurig coffeemaker and refrigerator to private patio and firepit.
Clean, comfortable and scenically situated overlooking gently rolling hills and pastures, the campground also offers cabins and pull-thru RV sites, beautiful new bathhouse, fishing pond, jump pillow, playground and seasonal swimming pool.
Eat: Besides its cave and Conestoga wagons, Horse Cave surprises with horse-drawn buggies seen hitched downtown and clip-clopping along the rural roads. The town has a large Amish population and thriving Amish business landscape. In fact, Amish craftspeople constructed the treehouses and tepees at Horse Cave KOA Holiday and one of Horse Cave’s most appealing restaurants, Farmwald’s Restaurant and Bakery (www.farmwalds.com), is Amish owned.
This rambling building with country-store setting is destination dining at its best, with freshly baked donuts, breads and melt-in-your-mouth fried pies and made-to-order deli lunches like grilled ribeye and build-your-own cold-cut sandwiches, chicken baskets and fish dinners.
A gift shop spreads over half of the building, offering everything from local honey and jarred condiments to wooden toys and woven baskets to home décor and accessories spilling from shelves and adding charm to a seating area near the fireplace. Most of the items are handcrafted by the local Amish community.
Treat: Horse Cave has two different animal encounter experiences that pair perfectly for a family-fun outing. At Dutch Country Safari Park (www.kygetaway.com/dutch-country-safari-park), drive through or board the hay wagon and bump along a dirt road through the wilds of Kentucky backcountry to see Watusi, water buffalo, camels, llamas, wildebeests, ostriches and other animals. Feeding the animals is part of the fun, and these well-trained beasts will nose into the wagon to eat from extended hands or directly from the bowl.
Visitors to Horse Cave’s Australian Outback at Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo (www.kentuckydownunder.com) discover they are at one of the few places in the country where it is okay to feed and pet the kangaroos, take selfies and even nap with them.
“We are the only place in Kentucky where you can get close to Bigfoot (kangaroos are macropods, meaning they have big feet),” said park spokesman Brian Dale, “And we almost always have a batch of new joeys in and out of the pouch in the Outback.”
Interactivity: A Great Way to Learn
Interactive experiences are the big draw here: feeding parrots and lorikeets; mining for fossils and gemstones at the sluice; exploring scenic Mammoth Onyx Cave; and watching animal shows that feature a dingo, porcupine, serval kitten, woma python or another one of the zoo’s most beloved and intriguing residents. Explore the Outback by foot or on wheels, with a rental of a four- or six-passenger golf cart.
Read: Visit www.kygetaway.com to plan your adventure to Horse Cave, KY.
Farm Beans with Amish Relish and Hoecakes
Farm bean ingredients
- 2 C of dried pinto beans
- 2 whole cloves of garlic from the garden
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp salt
- 8 C of water
Rinse beans in colander. Put freshly rinsed dried beans in a large bowl, cover with cold water and let soak overnight in fridge. Drain soaking water and rinse beans. Place in large cooking pot. Add water, garlic, bay leaves and salt to beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cook until the beans are tender, 2 to 3 hours. Stir frequently and add water as needed to get desires soup texture, i.e., beans thoroughly cooked down with a bean-rich broth.
Serve in bowls with a topping of Amish corn relish and a freshly fried hoe cake (see recipe below).
Hoe cake ingredients
- 1 C self-rising cornmeal
- 1 farm fresh egg
- 3/4 C buttermilk (more or less based on preferred consistency)
- Vegetable oil for frying
Mix all ingredients, except oil, to create batter. Add vegetable oil to skillet and place on the stovetop at medium high heat. Place spoonfuls of batter into the skillet to create desired size cake. Fry hoecakes until bubbles appear on the tops and their edges are cooked. Flip each of the cakes and cook the other side until golden brown. Repeat with remaining batter. As each cake is removed from the skillet, place on paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
About Kathy Witt
Writer and author Kathy Witt is a member of SATW Society of American Travel Writers and the Authors Guild
She is the author of Secret Cincinnati; The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, GA: A Photographic Portrait
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