Opryland and Mammoth Caves

I have a certain lust for spontaneously going on short trips. One day, a couple years ago, I left to get milk and eggs and ended up in St. Louis, MO where I attended a Catholic Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (I’m not Catholic. It was beautiful). That was the first trip. Since then, I have found myself doing over-nighters in Paris, Tennessee (where a college friend was visiting one weekend) and Lexington, Kentucky, where I discovered the Bourbon Trail and enjoyed my first tour of a distillery—Woodford Reserve. Just this past summer I wound up at Maker’s Mark. All these destinations were not planned. I got in my car and took off.

My son, Josh, asked me just recently if he could go with me next time so for his birthday, I asked him, “What direction do you want to go?”


“Towards Nashville or Knoxville?” I needed to know if we were to take I65 or I74.


We left the day it snowed in Indianapolis, where visibility at times was just a few feet in front of us. But we were headed south so I figured we would eventually leave the snow behind and we did. All the way down we wondered what we would do in Nashville. Neither one of us have any country music leanings. I mentioned Johnny Cash and Josh confused him with Willie Nelson. I could only think of “A Boy Named Sue” and then later “I Walked the Line.” I said, “At least if anyone asks, we can say we’ve been to Opryland.” I don’t know why that’s important. No one has asked me that yet.

Josh works 3rd shift so by the time we got to Nashville and checked into Fiddler’s Inn, a motel on Music Valley Drive and just minutes from Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center (Opryland), he had been up almost 24 hours. Instead of going out, he zonked out and I was tired from the drive so I stayed in reading brochures and whatnot, wondering what we would do the next day. The best I could come up with was to go to Opryland and wander through their nine acres of botanical gardens. Yeah. Sure. A 23 year old young man would just love to do that for his birthday.

The next day, with a “whatever” shrug from Josh, we drove around the area with Opryland itself being the final destination. We never made it. I suggested we tackle Willie Nelson and Friends first since we were driving by. If we liked it well enough to return, we would. Across the upper facade of the store are numerous country singers and, frankly, I had no idea who any were except two:

Willie Nelson and Friends Store

Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and unknown (I only recognized WN and JC)

Then, once inside, all the country, redneck, hillbilly-type stuff just did me in. Did my son in, also. I took this photo of an oversized poster of Willie Nelson that hung gloriously on one of the walls and after a few minutes, my son and I left.

Willie Nelson Poster

Inside the store

We drove around Opryland all the while discussing how wrong it was that we were in country music territory since we didn’t like country music. We looked at each other, shook our heads, waved goodbye to Opryland, and drove away.

We fled the country trappings of Nashville to the hide in the caves of Kentucky.

If you want to experience Mammoth Caves themselves, then definitely go in the winter when your tour size is only 21 people rather than 125. If you want to experience the beautiful scenery with the caves being secondary, then go in summer/fall. I’m glad we went in the winter since our first priority were the caves. We got there an hour early for the tour we wanted (the historical tour) so we went wandering down some of the trails. This is Josh looking out over a scenic view.

My son, Josh


I tried to get photos of the view itself but with the trees so forlorn and brown/gray there was no contrast to represent depth. Don’t get me wrong, I took photos and I have tried to punch up the contrast and colors in Photoshop, but there really wasn’t anything to work with so I gave up. Josh and I kept saying, “This place would be gorgeous in the summer or the fall” so we wandered around envisioning all the colorful leaves on the trees and relishing the warmth of our thoughts.

One of the trails goes to a cemetery. It’s a small cemetery and I wandered around it while Josh stayed at the other end reading the stories of those buried there.

Mammoth Cave Cemetery

Josh at the other end of the cemetery

Josh and I both consider ourselves winter hardy, but I was wearing a sweater and scarf and he was wearing a fleece jacket, totally unprepared for the below freezing temperatures. We headed back to the tour center where we warmed up just in time for the tour.

With it still close to the holidays, the Christmas tree they set up in the rotunda part of the cave was still there. I knew the light situation deeper in the cave would not be good for photography, so I captured this photo. I was using a 50mm 1.8 prime and on-camera flash.

Christmas Tree in Mammoth Cave

Yes, A Christmas Tree in the Cave

Josh and I loved Mammoth Caves. It was perfect for his birthday. He was able to get away from Indiana and from work, visit a couple of different States, get a bizarre sense of country music, and wander through caves where he felt perfectly at home. And I loved it for almost the same reasons (though I’m not perfectly at home in a cave). I think a little mother/son bonding was nice, also.


About Dezra Despain

Life is full of stories waiting to be revealed.

Posted on January 6, 2012, in Wanderlust and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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