After a long week of backbreaking work putting in a motocross trail out in Fort Dodge, IA, I was in much need of a week long break. It just so happened that this same week my parents were on vacation in Nashville, so we decided it would be fun to have another family vacation together. I made it about halfway on Friday after work, stopping in Southern Illinois and laying my head down in Beall Woods State Park.
I was up bright and early and made it to Mammoth Cave National Park by mid morning. I took a shower and ate some lunch before embarking on the Historical Entrance Tour at 12:45. I was 1 of 140 people on the tour, by far the largest cave tour I have ever been on! But then again, Mammoth Cave was by far the largest cave I have ever been in! With over 400 mapped miles of cave, Mammoth Cave is the largest known cave system in the world. The name “Mammoth” was derived from its massive underground caverns, several of which my tour passed through. The tour also took us through some tight squeezes where some nimble footwork and body contortions were necessary. One of my favorites was appropriately called “Fat Man’s Misery!!!” Surprisingly, Mammoth Cave also had a lot of historical significance. Not only did it play an important part in the War of 1812, it contained valuable nitrates used in making gunpowder, Mammoth Cave also had a long history of slaves being used as tour guides. It was an educational tour, even with the crowds. Afterwards, I finished the drive to Mt. Juliet, TN and met my parents at their vacation home for the week. They were staying at the Magnolia Cottage; one of three cabins on a property called Rock Haven. The owners, Nate and Rhonda, also lived on the property and rented their cabins to visitors. It was a beautiful place, even in the pouring rain! The weather eventually did let up and we spent the night relaxing and catching up over some dinner and drinks.
The next day, we set out for Lynchburg, Tennessee. With a population of under 6,000, Lynchburg has nothing really going for it. Oh… except for being the home of the highest selling whiskey in the world that is. Every single drop of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey is produced in this tiny, otherwise insignificant town. The Distillery was founded in 1866 by Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel, who became a distiller at the young age of 14! Since then, he’s been making his world famous whiskey here, though no local stores or restaurants can sell it. Yes, Lynchburg is ironically located within a dry county! Don’t worry though, they can still take full advantage of the tourist side of things and sell everything Jack Daniel’s but the whiskey. We took a wonderful hour long tour that unfortunately did not include samples. We did get a bit of a buzz off the fumes in some of those warehouses… WHOOWHEEE!
Next stop was the Carnton Plantation. Home to the McGavocks, the mansion and grounds were caught up in a Civil War Battle that resulted very poorly for the Confederates (over 6,000 men were killed/wounded/or captured). The action is captured in a book titled The Widow in the South, one which mom was thoroughly enjoying. After walking the cemetery, we drove on to another, less bloody mansion: the Belle Meade Plantation. This historic plantation also had a functioning winery and we headed inside to try a few. Like always, the parents couldn’t resist buying a couple bottles. It’s their thing!
The next day we took a cave tour at Cumberland Caverns. It is the home of Bluegrass Underground, a monthly music event that takes place inside the cave! We got a preview of what it’s like when our tour guide turned off the lights, turned on the glowing chandelier, and cranked up some heel clicking bluegrass music. Talk about a party! The best part of the tour was this hilarious Christian Light Show in which various parts of the cave lit up and flashed. All the while bible quotes and religious music blared from speakers. I can still hear it now, “Our god is an awesome God…!” I’m sorry, no offense to the Bible Thumpers out there, but that was a tad bit too forceful. I guess that’s why it’s called the Bible Belt!
I don’t watch American Pickers as often as I used to, but Dad’s still a big fan, so we had to pay a visit to their location here in Nashville. The shop was cluttered with junk from the show, just like their main location in Iowa had been. It was neat to recognize some of the things they had collected from episodes on the show. Lunch was at a prominent establishment called Loveless Cafe. Famous for its biscuits and grits, all three of us enjoyed our Southern-cooked meals. Afterwards, we caught a flight to Greece and visited The Parthenon. NOT! In reality, we visited the only full-scale re-creation of The Parthenon, the centerpiece of Centennial Park just outside downtown. Constructed in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, it now houses a nice art museum. Apparently, Nashville was called “the Athens of the South” back then, so the structure is fitting. Inside, a gold plated giant statue of Athena was housed along with various replicas of the original Parthenon and many art galleries. When we were done visiting, we took a spin around the Tennessee Capitol Building and headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame.It was an impressive dedication to one of my favorite music genres. While I didn’t recognize as many names or faces as Mom did, it was still fun to walk through and learn where country really got its roots. Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for the likes of Hank Williams and Owen Bradley! Learning about all this music made us really want to get our groove on, so we headed over to Broadway where all the action’s at. For 5 or 6 blocks, both sides of the street are lined with bars, all with bright neon lights. Many of these famous “Honky Tonks” are where the legends first started, playing only for tips and booze. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is one of the most notable ones.Covered in purple paint since 1960, it was the place where legends such as Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Waylon Jennings all caught their first big breaks. And the place was still rocking tonight! We bounced between several of these bars, enjoying the live music and entertainment. The atmosphere was incredible. After all, you could be watching future stars in the making! We ate dinner at Dick’s, all the while being harassed by our waiter. This is the only place where you go and expect poor service- it’s part of the deal. We wore hats wearing various rude remarks, dad’s was probably the funniest: “If you think I have grey on my head, ask me about my balls!” It was a fun joint. Back out on Broadway, we listened to some more music before calling it a night.
We took it easy Wednesday; I did laundry, Mom and Dad visited wineries, and we ordered pizza and had some drinks, watching the cowboy next door train his horse. Thursday we were back at it in downtown Nashville. We killed some time in Bicentennial state park and a local farmer’s market before jumping onto the bus for our Nash Trash tour. Part informational, part comedy sketch, and 100% entertaining, our hosts were incredible. Both talented musicians and song writers, they knew all the ins and the outs of the music biz. They pointed out landmarks, told stories about stars or Nashville locals, and performed several hysterical and original songs. It was an afternoon filled with laughter and good humor. When the show was over, we visited the Willy Nelson and Friends Museum. Next door was also a museum dedicated to the Dukes of Hazard- Dad and I took a stroll through that while Mom gazed wonderstruck at all of Willy’s mementos. Up next was a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, “the show that made country music famous!” While the Opry was originally hosted in The Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry house was built in 1974 and subsequently the show was moved there. While the show is dedicated to honoring the country genre and its history, its new location seems to do the opposite. Surrounded by a giant mall, aquarium, and massive hotel, and built 9 miles East of downtown, the Opry House seems like a whole other world. Why we insist on commercializing every piece of history to the point of disgust is beyond me. Sadly, I guess it has become the American way. Heavy with disappointment, we headed back to the cottage to take in the NFL season opener. It was a shoot-out; thank you Peyton Manning for saving the day!
Our final night in Nashville, we went back downtown and jammed out at our favorite place: Honky Tonk Central. We listened to an awesome band, the lead singer of which was only 16! Good luck kid, one day you’ll be a star! Downtown was packed and it was a great time. As we were on our way home, Keith Urban pulled up. He was playing a few free shows back at the honky-tonks where he started. Mom was ecstatic, as were a 1,000 other screaming fans. It was just another typical Friday night in Music City!
It was sad to say goodbye to my parents and Music City, but it was time to head back to Iowa. It was a 10 1/2 hour, 700 mile drive back to Ames. I broke it up with a memorable stop in the little town of Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of one of the greatest American writers of all time: Mark Twain. The town was devoted to its famous son, bookshops, hotels, casinos, everything had his famous pen name plastered all over it. I visited the Mark Twain Museum and walked the cobblestone street he grew up on. His boyhood home was still intact, as was his father’s law office. It was a neat place, touristy, yet historical at the same time. Hannibal was an ideal river town. Around 10 o’clock I pulled back into my campground home in Boone. It had been an awesome week in Tennessee, yet another fun family vacation. No matter where we go, we always have fun!
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