Mammoth Cave National Park: History, Mystery and Wonder

Wednesday August 27, 2014 at 8:08 AM | 0 Comments

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

When I first headed down the stairs to the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, I was a child fascinated by walking through passages deep underground. On recent visit with my kids and husband, I found my fascination still intact. The world’s longest cave—more than 400 miles discovered so far, is one of the most unusual places I’ve been.

Memories from my first trip blended with this latest experience. Happily, Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park is as wonderfully weird and mysterious as it was years ago. Its weird mysterious is what has attracted people since long before the Civil War.

Today, a tour led by a national park ranger is filled with tales of history, geology, biology and the human experience.

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Our tour, the Historic Tour included: the saltpeter mine used during the War of 1812 when miners’ efforts helped make gun powder; the story of how Floyd Collins, one of Mammoth Cave’s most ambitious explorers was trapped and perished in 1925 when a boulder fell on his ankle; and of Stephen Bishop, a slave and expert guide who was able to purchase his freedom by saving up the tip money from the wealthy people Bishop took into the cave. Bishop would write the name of his clients with smoke from a torch for money.  Evidence of Bishop’s work, and the other guides who worked with him, still remain on Mammoth Cave’s ceiling.

Along with the human history details, our two-hour tour was a moderate work out as we passed through formations that required us to bend over a bit while we walked down stairs sideways and sometimes backwards. Fat Man’s Misery was the most fun. The narrowest part was below hip level, but it involved a series of quick switch backs, a tricky endeavor for those with big feet.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

What wasn’t included from what I remember from the tour that I took as a child were: Lost John, the remains of a Native American trapped years and years ago; the eyeless fish in the river that flows deep in the cave; and the rooms of the former TB hospital.

Lost John used to be behind glass tucked in a recess of the cave’s wall until the mid-70s when the U.S. government decided that displaying human remains is not seemly. The boat trip on the underground river where the eyeless fish are also doesn’t happen anymore for environmental reasons.

The TB hospital, a failed experiment to try to cure tuberculosis by keeping people at a constant temperature in the mid 50s, the year round temperature of a cave, is not part of the Historic Tour. To see the remains of the TB hospital that operated (and failed) in 1841, take the Violet Passage Tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

About tours: I signed up for the Historic Tour the day before we arrived at Mammoth Cave because we weren’t sure which tour would fit our schedule. If you can nail down your vacation plans earlier than we could, that gives you more options. Although there were several times for the Historic Tour left, some other tours were sold out.

Although the Historic Tour is listed as “moderate” in terms of difficulty and effort, if you are in okay shape, you’ll do fine. Even though the tour has Fat Man’s Misery on its menu, people of a larger size should not be dissuaded. You can check with a ranger if you’re not sure.

We paired our tour with an overnight at the Mammoth Cave Hotel across from the Visitors Center near the Historic Entrance. The hotel has three lodging options: Heritage Rooms, connected to the main hotel building, Sunset Terrace, a one story separate building, or historic or Woodland Cottages.

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Our room was in Sunset Terrace, a comfy, clean, two queen bed room that had a 1960s period feel with modern amenities. Our room included a microwave, refrigerator, a clock radio and cable TV. Ironing boards, irons and hair dryers are available. Just ask the staff at the front desk.

Mammoth Cave National Park also has an RV and tent camping campground.

As with any national park, Mammoth Cave has several hiking trails to explore and a variety of activities. In the morning, I walked down the Heritage Trail leading down from the hotel to the Green River where a deer family crossed from one shore to another without giving me a glance.

Mammoth Cave is a visit with bats

Mammoth Cave is a Visit with Bats

In the evening, we went to the campfire talk led by a park ranger. Campfire talks, in my opinion, are a must at any national park visit. This particular talk was about bats. You can’t go to Mammoth Cave without finding out about bats–several kinds of bats.  Bats in this part of Kentucky need the cave for survival. At the talk, we were able to hear them as they flew overhead thanks to the bat listening device the ranger had.

Whether you stay overnight or go as a day guest, eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Order the soup beans with cornbread. This is a southern Kentucky favorite food. The soup beans I had for lunch were delicious.

Friends down by the river

Friends down by the river

Insider Tip: Mammoth Cave National Park is open year round, however, the hotel does not operate in full swing after September 30 and before March 1. Also, cave tours are scaled back.

If you go to this part of Kentucky, about an hour south of Louisville, you can easily pair the trip with a Bardstown visit. Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and the site of one of his boyhood homes is also close by.

If You Go:

Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 42259

phone: 270/758-2180

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association.

 

Sunriver: All Season Resort in Central Oregon

Friday August 22, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 3 Comments

For those of you old enough to remember the 1978 movie Same Time, Next Year starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, you’ll recall that the romantic comedy is about two lovers – married to others – who meet each year at a charming bed and breakfast located on the Northern California coast.  My husband and I share the same story in a different state – sort of. Both of us fell in love with Sunriver Resort and central Oregon in our youth. We fell in love with each other in Sunriver during our college days. Over time, we got married, had kids and eventually became empty nesters – one thing remained the same – our Sunriver vacation – same time, next year.
 

"Sunriver Marina" canoes

Float Deschutes River from Sunriver Marina


Sunriver all season resort

We have traveled to Sunriver, Oregon in winter, spring, summer and fall. However, our annual family vacation always returns us to central Oregon in late summer. This is the best time to experience high desert living, in my opinion. While Sunriver and nearby Mt. Bachelor offer plenty of winter activities, my skiing days are over due to my hip replacement.

I love Sunriver for summer sports like horseback riding, golf, biking, tennis and floating the Deschutes River in a kayak or canoe. After a full day of outdoor activities I can often be found in Sage Springs Spa. – we’re on vacation, afterall! The official name of the facility is actually Sage Springs Club Spa because there is a full fitness center above the spa, as well as an indoor pool.
 

"Sage Springs Spa"

Relax at Sage Springs Spa


 
Lodge Village rooms & suites
We’ve slept in places all around Sunriver – from private homes in Caldera Springs to lodge suites and rustic cluster cabins. Our most recent trip found us at the pet-friendly Lodge Village suites. Our two adult children stayed with the dog in the two-story suite while we enjoyed a romantic king room next door. We liked this travel arrangement because the rooms opened directly to a grassy lawn area from the wood deck. Families with young children might opt for these accommodations with two beds upstairs and a queen sleeper sofa downstairs. The kids liked that they could eat breakfast in the room as it offered a kitchen with fridge, microwave and dishwasher – wifi, too!

Sunriver Resort is a four diamond AAA award winner, carries the Green Key Eco-rating and is a member of Destination Hotels & Resorts. Our village suite rented for $316 and $221 for the king guestroom. Check the website for lodging specials and package deals.
 

"Sunriver Resort"

Pet-friendly & family-friendly lodging


 
"Sunriver Resort" room

Recently remodeled king room


 
"Sunriver Lodge" suite

Two-story suite from above


 
Insider Tip
Opened in 2012, Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center (SHARC) offers 22 acres of indoor and outdoor pools, water slides, a lazy river, hot tubs, picnic and tot areas, in addition to a tubing hill. The center has a daily fee, but guests of the Lodge Village have complimentary access to the nearby outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs.
 
"Sunriver Lodge Village" pool

Lodge Village outdoor pool


 
For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @SunriverResort on Twitter.

Check-In Time: 4:00pm

Check-Out Time: 11:00am

If You Go:

Sunriver Resort (800) 801-8765
17600 Center Drive
Sunriver, OR 97707

Article written by and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Sunriver Resort. All opinions are my own.

Palazzo del Governatore, Bracciano, Italy

Wednesday August 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM | 0 Comments

The Palazzo del Governatore B&B, Bracciono, Italy

The Palazzo del Governatore B&B, Bracciano, Italy

My friend Milos invited me to visit the magical little town in Italy where he grew up. He promised to introduce me to the locals, show me around, and help me find places to stay while I produced a travel website about the area. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Everything Milos told me about Lake Bracciano, Italy, was completely true. If you’re looking for authentic Italia, the Lake Bracciano area is the place. I barely heard English or any other language beside Italian spoken during the 10 days I was there. The people are warm, the food outstanding, and the beauty staggering.

Thirty miles north of Rome, (an easy train ride from the Eternal City), lies the gorgeous, clear, azure Lake Bracciano, surrounded by three small cities—Bracciano, Anguillara, and Trevignano each 11 miles apart around the lake. The area is surrounded by “slow food” farms, vineyards, and family artisans. I was fortunate to meet some of these fine folks including Giancarlo Gentili, a pecorino cheesemaker and the winemaker from the beautiful Tenuta Tre Cancelli vineyard.

The city of Bracciano is built around the majestic 15th century Orsini-Odescalchi castle, an amazing and formidable presence and one of the most well preserved feudal castles in Europe. It’s open for public tours and I highly recommend wandering through this architectural masterpiece with a storied history. The ghost of Isabella de Medici who disposed her “low-born” lovers via a trap door in her bedroom is said to haunt the halls draped in white veils. It’s also the location of the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes wedding.

Again fortune smiled on us and we were invited to stay right beyond the castle wall at the Palazzo del Governatore B&B. The location could not be better. Our suite looked across at the castle garden and the medieval cobblestone streets. Church bells around the corner chimed the hours. It was a fairytale. Our hosts Vittoria and Ennio were incredibly gracious (Ennio even took my suitcase up the hill with him on his motorbike) and we were served breakfast in the great room with prints of ancient Roman maps and early Papal contest documents on the walls. It was like  something out of a dream.

This post was contributed by Lisa Dion of FriscoMama.com. I was a guest of the Palazzo del Governatore.