Cave City - Part Two
After wrapping it up at the Wigwam Village and photographing other motel signs like Cave Land Motel and Star Motel I found a motel called the Travel Inn with a beautiful, oversized sign. I stopped along the side of the road to photograph and heard a voice talking to me.
“Want me to pose for ya?”
“I’m just passing through documenting old motel signs and such”
“You should talk to the owner. You should ask him before you take pictures”
This has happened to me literally three times. Out of those three times, one couple were completely shitty and threatening over a “no trespassing” sign that wasn’t visible from the road. The second was at a local dive motel where the owner ran me off because he just didn’t want me there and now this. Any other encounter has been met with curiosity and usually an exchange of information so photos can be shared. I went into the motel office and waited for the owner to come out. The office had warped linoleum flooring with a small refrigerator with canned soda for guests. Beside that was a small rack with generic convenience store snacks and lots of houseplants scattered around.
The owner made his way out from the back, so I introduced myself and while I was initially met with some hostility, I think I finally got it across that I just wanted to take a picture of a sign. That was it. I’m not here for human interaction, I’m just here to take photos of the cool, old shit your city still has around. I finished taking my photos and finally made it to the motel.
The Horse Cave Motel is a $60 stay ($66) with taxes directly off the main highway. A mile or so outside of Cave City, not more than a 5-10 minute drive to be back in the center. Mid Century without the luxuries of a normal stay. A fridge, bed, small TV, microwave, desk and folding chair. Considering I was initially going to sleep in my car in either the park or nearest Walmart parking lot until the heat was going to be nearing 100 degrees, this was a welcomed substitute.
The owners were an older Indian couple. The wife was handling the desk in the evening and the husband was working the morning shift. They were both extremely hospitable and welcoming, checking to make sure I had everything I needed any time they saw me.
After checking in I decided to check out downtown Horse Cave and photograph their downtown area. I had initially planned on visiting the Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum as it was only a 2-3 minute drive from my motel but I made it there just as they were closing and knew I wasn’t going to have time the next day before heading back home. I walked around and took some photos before leaving to find food. was hoping to find something to eat between Cave City and Horse Cave but the only restaurant I saw was closed.
My original intention was to pack food and bring with me, but the weather permitted me to make this trip with a little less planning than I hoped so I ended up driving 30 minutes to get Taco Bell and bringing it back to my room. I ate, showered and spent some time sitting on the 2x4 bench positioned outside of my 2nd story room. Even though it was still extremely hot and humid, the air felt nice after my shower. I sat outside and waited for the sun to set so I could go take my final photos for the night, the Wigwam Village neon sign at night.
I packed up one last time, drove a few miles down the road and got the photos I set out for. On the way back I struggled to light a small joint I brought with me. Hoping to have it smoked by the time I got back to the motel but having to relight it every few hits, I ended up driving back to downtown Horse Cave and finishing all but half it in a laundromat parking lot with a great molded lit sign.
I drove back to the motel and decided to sit outside for a bit before laying down for the night. On my right side there was a larger man, a trucker sleeping for the night. He’s on the phone with someone, pacing back and forth. I can’t hear too much at first but the longer the conversation goes on, the louder he’s getting. He’s pissed at someone at he’s going to beat their fucking ass if they’d show their face. Meanwhile, there is a long-term motel resident on my left working on his car. His bass keeps getting louder as he’s working. He might just be trying to drown out the angry trucker, but the owner was much more concerned about his bass being turned off. I sat there for too long, being too high just waiting for what was going to happen next. For the record, I never felt unsafe at this motel and enjoyed my stay.
I got an early start the next morning. I packed the few things I brought with me the night before and loaded the car before taking a few photos across the street. I checked out of the motel, turned the keys in and headed back to Mammoth Cave. I was driving around waiting for my next steps to open when I found a beautiful overlook. I parked and sat for a bit. No one was around for miles it seemed, so I finished the rest of the joint in the car before getting out to photograph the overlook for a bit. Mammoth Cave has a lot of beautiful features above ground that I would love to travel back and explore when it’s not as miserable outside.
From the park I began heading toward the tourist strip but stopped in downtown Cave City first. “Downtown” isn’t the best descriptor and I only use it because they did have a small post office there. A small strip with a restaurant and bar and a couple of antique/junk stores. From there I attempted to visit Guntown Mountain. A favorite sight that can be seen driving along I-65. A roadside attraction from the 60’s featuring a Wild West town with gun fights and interactive shows. This place has gone in and out of business countless times and I couldn’t get a definitive answer on whether it was open at all before my trip. On my way to MMNP on Sunday they were open, and people were visiting but Monday when I was there, they were closed. Knowing that they are open at least on weekends now is enough to make me plan a second trip up to further study and document the remaining businesses along this strip.
Dinosaur World is across the street and my next stop. Opening in 2003, Dinosaur World was built by Christer Svensson with two other parks: one in Texas and the other in Florida. This attraction features 150 life size foam and fiberglass dinosaurs which are strategically placed along trails and staged with native vegetation. The scenes are very well put together which made it fun to photograph, especially since it’s out of my normal realm. There is a museum which has lots of dinosaur facts and trivia and a large gift shop with tons of real and replica fossils, teeth and more.
After leaving Dinosaur World I had a few more stops to make. I wanted to head back toward Big Mike’s Rock Shop, a rock and mineral shop a few miles away. They had a great yellow sign and if the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to photograph it again. On my way there I made multiple stops at random gift shops like Tom’s Tee Pee’s and Wild & Wonderful Gifts. I passed the KY Action Park which appeared to be abandoned but shared a parking lot with the Jesse James Riding Stables. My initial intention was to get a photograph of the derelict bumper boats but as I walked around, I found broken down bumper cars and more. The woman working the counter at Jesse James was more than accommodating in allowing me to park my car there and walk around.
From here I started driving toward Bowling Green and my last series of planned stops along the way. A note about Cave City and other cities like it. I adore the towns that once were and still strive to hang on and remain relevant. I also understand my surroundings and the areas that I currently explore, but it’s extremely disheartening to walk into a gift shop looking for a kitschy gift and be met with walls and counters and display cases full of racist and/or political merchandise. There are plenty of cheesy gifts to stock in a gift shop that don’t revolve around backwoods mindsets but some of these places make it apparent that “Trump 2024” and “owning the libs” aren’t personality traits.
By the time I made it to Bowling Green the temperature was nearing 100 degrees. I found some free street parking downtown and walked a few blocks before finding a Starbucks (my first cup of coffee in 2 days) and planning the rest of my drive home. There were only a couple of stops along the way that I was trying to make, and the weather seemed to be holding up nicely. My two remaining stops in Bowling Green were the National Corvette Museum and the Aviation Heritage Museum. I had little to no desire to pay entry to the Corvette Museum and the photos I wanted to take were located all on the exterior of the building. I circled until I found my angles and then quickly headed toward the aviation museum. The aviation museum was kind of lackluster. 8 decommissioned military aircraft circled around a park in a neighborhood. I would be upset if I paid to visit, or it was far out of my way, but neither were the case and I continued driving back home.
My last stop was past the Tennessee border in Whites Creek, a gas station/firework store aptly named “Sad Sam’s”. Sad Sam is emblazoned on the front of the building as a weeping neon clown. Inside, coolers of beer, fireworks and the Gadsden and Confederate flags ironically plastered on foreign made trinkets. I briefly parked and photographed the sign and some curiosities across the street before finally making my way home.
I don’t to the best job at listening to my body and do an even worse job of taking care of it most of the time. The timing of this trip coupled with the heat wave made way for a touch of heat exhaustion which took a few days to recover from. After rehydration and some rest, I was able to fully recover just in time to test positive for Covid.