Kentucky is renowned for its Thoroughbreds and bluegrass music, but its little-known, quirkier spots are definitely worth seeing–and often for free or very low cost.
Our tour begins with an ominous boulder looming on a cliff side at Pine Mountain State Resort Park. The boulder threatened to tumble and flatten the town of Pineville, concerned residents thought. They affixed a 101-foot steam shovel chain around the boulder in the summer of 1933 to avert the “crisis.”
The danger was fueled by imagination, not sound geologic principles, says park naturalist Dean Henson, explaining that Chained Rock is part of the cliff’s face and merely gives an illusion of being precariously placed.
“It is a cool little story about how the kids in town were afraid to fall asleep at night” before the chain “secured” the boulder, he says.
The chained rock generated a lot of publicity then, and still draws tourists today. Itï¿½s accessible by a short, moderately strenuous trail, but watch small children closely as there are no guardrails near the overlook. Admission is free and hours are dawn to dusk.
Along the road less traveled, you’ll find Rabbit Hash General Store, a working general store since 1831 in the town of Rabbit Hash, where tourists come in to gape at the historic mercantile and buy sorghum, homemade syrup, or other sundries while listening to locals assembled around the wood-burning stove. The store is off Exit 78 on Interstate 75, and is open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We have lots of stuff in here, so it’s just warm and cozy, sort of old-timey,” says Terrie Markesbery, who has worked at the store 11 years–long enough to have earned the title “proprietress.”
In the summer, she says, motorcyclists stop in for a break from riding, as the area’s country roads are known for their great views. “We have all walks of life that come to the general store,” she says.
Get thee to Hopkinsville to see yon Round Table. Named for Hopkinsville Community College’s literary magazine, Round Table Literary Park on the campus provides a replica of King Arthurï¿½s Sword in the Stone and his Round Table, a Greco-Roman amphitheater, medieval wall, the Delphian Tholos temple, and sculpture of Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy.
Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell is open by appointment, but once there, you’ll find about 750 figures used by ventriloquists and other memorabilia, says curator Jennifer Dawson.
Admission is $5, by check or cash, and the touring season runs May 1- Sept. 30. A ConVENTion (www.venthaven.com) held for ventriloquism enthusiasts is July 14-17.
At 4 million square feet in volume, Louisville MEGA Cavern is a pleasantly peculiar recent tourism offering. It opened in spring 2009.
For the holidays, this limestone quarry beneath the Louisville Zoo featured “Lights Under Louisville,” the world’s only underground Christmas light show, says owner Jim Lowry.
Popular with school groups, the historic cavern tour will have a 2010 season spanning early April through fall, with a tram tour explaining the cavern’s history and geology.
Admission: adults $13.50, seniors $12, children $8, and group rate $10.
You might not be a fan of fluorite, but after a visit to the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum in Marion, you’ll appreciate how this colorful mineral shaped western Kentucky mining and the availability of these items.
Where can you find family fun for $1 or less? It’s a mystery no longer–the place is Big Mike’s Mystery House in Cave City, a funhouse with four mind-bending rooms to navigate with tilting floors and kooky mirrors. The disorienting experience lasts about 15 minutes. Admission is a minuscule 50 cents for children and $1 for adults.
“It’s just kind of a crazy house I guess you’d say, and everyone loves it,” says owner Vicky Fontana.
Pine Mountain Resort Park, 1050 State Park Road, Pineville
Rabbit Hash General Store
10021 Lower River Road, Rabbit Hash
Round Table Literary Park
Hopkinsville Community College
Vent Haven Museum
33 W. Maple Ave., Fort Mitchell
Louisville MEGA Cavern
Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum
205 N. Walker St., Marion
Big Mike’s Mystery House
566 Old Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City
More unusual places to visit
Portal 31 and Kentucky Coal Museum
231 Main St., Benham
in Harlan County
Underground coal mine tour and affiliated museum. See Web site for admissions; call for reservations for Portal 31. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
1465 Village Drive, Lexington
An operating pharmacy in a building shaped like a huge mortar and pestle. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays and holidays.
World Peace Bell Center
Millennium Monument Site
425 York St., Newport
World’s largest swinging bell–66,000 pounds and 12 feet in diameter, dedicated Dec. 31, 1999–rings daily at noon. Operated by The Verdin Co., North America’s oldest bell and clock company. Learn more at Web site about visiting the bell or hear it ring online.
Curious structure located on U.S. 25 in the Williamstown city limits near the intersection of 36E. Tepee was once used to store supplies at an old truck stop. For information, call Grant County Tourism Commission, (859) 824-3451.
Wigwam Village Inn #2
601 N. Dixie Highway, Cave City
Spend the night in a repro, retro wigwam.