If you watch Ancient Aliens you may be familiar with the concept of ley lines. These are imaginary lines which criss cross the Earth’s surface and in theory, there tend to be monolithic historical sites on the places where they intersect. As it relates to ancient alien visitations, the theory is these lines have something to do with the electromagnetic field of the earth and were thus used for some type of navigation or energy production, and that’s part of the reason why these sites end up on these lines. I’m not sure about that part, but archeologists do agree that ritual and important sites seem to align themselves roughly along straight lines across the earths surface. Anyway, the point is if ley lines are a thing, I am almost certain a number of them converge on humble Cave City, Kentucky
Cave City is of course named because the area is full of notable caves. Mammoth Cave and Horse Cave and Diamond Caves and several other interesting natural phenomena have attracted tourists here, leading to a little town to cater to them. It must have a had a boom at some point because the area is full of closed souvenir shops and (Im told and plan to follow up on) abandoned mini golf courses and motels that have seen better days. The whole thing has the feel of a weird little beach town, where the beach somehow disappeared some years back.
A short list of strange things you will find in Cave City besides caves includes: Dinosaur World, a Wild West themed attraction called Guntown Mountain, Big Mike’s rock shop which includes an old school 1970’s mystery House, a concrete yard ornament business, a 1930’s motel that looks like a circle of tipis, and a wildlife museum full of taxidermy. If you happen to be me, this is essentially like finding the holy grail of weird towns, except there’s no drinkable coffee. Or much edible food.
There are no hotels in Cave City as near as I can tell, only motels with pools full of screaming children who are for some reason still not tired after hiking in caves all day. But none of those motels matter. Only one motel maters and that is the Wigwam Motel #2. Built in the 1930’s and apparently part of a larger trend in which many Wigwam motels were built across the country through the 1950’s during the golden era of road trips and novelty motels. Only 3 of the original Wig Wam motels still stand and this is the 2nd. All three were places on the National Historic Places Register in the late 80’s, the other two are in Arizona, which to be fair, makes more sense than Kentucky. Each Wigwam (I don’t even like typing it y’all I know) is a small hotel room which you can pull your car right up next to. It was the first moment of unabashed childlike wonder I experienced as a 32 year old adult in Cave City.
I really can’t say if the wigwam motel is in trouble. It only seemed to have one guest and while it was my intention to buy something from the gift shop in the tipi which serves as the office (and pester someone with questions) i couldn’t actually find anyone. But the grounds are landscaped and maintained and the tipis themselves look great, and freshly painted. I can tell you right now though, I would gladly chain myself to a tipi in front of a bulldozer if the Wig Wam motel was ever in danger.
My second moment of wonder came at the thing I originally stopped in Cave City for, Dinosaur World. Now y’all know there’s little I love more than a good roadside dinosaur. (please go back and read my post about Dinosaur Land and the golden era of roadside dinosaurs) I have also been tortured by Dinosaur World signs and the giant dinosaur that stands next to them on the route from Nashville northward multiple times now. But I am an adult and I reach my own goals! And one of them was Dinosaur World.
There are three Dinosaur Worlds, one in Kentucky, the first one in Florida, and a third in Texas. Each boasts over 150 life sized dinosaurs spread along trails to resemble the actual animals interacting in the environment around you. This is not the crumbling, paint peeling, anatomically incorrect dinosaurs of roadside past, the first Dinosaur World was built in the late 90’s, and the Kentucky park was built five years later.
The brainchild of a Swedish business man named Christer Svensson, all the dinosaurs for the parks were made in house and the parks are placed on popular tourists routes to and from other attractions.
Considering that Jurassic Park came out in 1993 and hyper realistic dinosaurs were entirely possible to make, the dinos here are not without their old school charm. They are all made the old school way, with a base of polystyrene foam, a fiberglass shell, and then a putty to add skin texture and painted. New dinosaurs are added each year and they’re all well maintained and have information signs next to each species.
The most incredible thing about Dinosaur World though is that it’s not simply a collection of dinosaur sculptures displayed together. Flying dinosaurs hang from trees, glimpses of dinosaurs can be seen through the foliage, families of dinosaurs graze not seeming to know a predator lurks in the trees nearby.
This was my second moment of giddy wonder in Cave City. Walking around a bend in a trail and seeing what the world might have been like living among the dinosaurs. You know the scene in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern has her head physically turned for her so she will see the dinosaurs in front of her and the face she makes? I think I made the same face. It is as close as you can probably get to experiencing seeing dinosaurs in their natural habitat. I also had the thought that I wished I had a child with me, so that i could play my reaction off as being happy for them, instead of happy for myself.
Dinosaur World also features a Mammoth Garden, which all suspiciously resemble a trademarked character from a certain Pixar film, but they are kind enough not to make the Mammoths interact with the dinosaurs.
They also have a trail out to the side of interstate 65 which allows you to take a picture with the dinosaur that has been torturing me from the side of the highway for years. Theres some other (even more) child friendly activities to do at Dinosaur World besides the Dino trail like a fossil dig, a playground, and a small museum if you do happen to actually be there with children.
These are not the only Dinosaurs in Cave City though. Of course.
On the road to Mammoth Cave is Big Mike’s Gift Shop. They sell primarily rocks if that’s your thing, ranging from small $5 chunks of pyrite to huge beautiful mineral specimens in the hundreds of dollar range. Across the parking lot the gift shop sells more traditional souvenirs like postcards and mugs and mood rings, and a non functioning animatronic chip seller.
In front of the rock shop and visible on the way back towards town from Mammoth Cave is big Mo. A huge aquatic reptile with strange yellow plastic eyes and a gaping toothed mouth. Scientifically speaking aquatic reptiles that lived in the time of dinosaurs are not technically called dinosaurs as that term only applies to the species which evolved to hunt on legs on land, butttt if you’re not a scientist, Big Mo is a dinosaur. Maybe a Mosasaurus, which led to his name being Mo.
As if all this wasn’t enough, next to the souvenir shop is Big Mike’s Mystery House. If you’ve never been in a Mystery house they are all fairly similar. They are built to resemble a normal structure from the outside and because of the angles of the floors and walls, everything seems to work very strangely on the inside. For example you can stand on the edge of a table straight up and you appear to be doing a dramatic Michael Jackson style lean off the edge.
I purchased a ticket to tour the Mystery house and this must have seemed a little uncomfortable for the high school age tour guide because they made an announcement over the store intercom asking if there was anyone else in the shop who wanted to tour the Mystery House at that time, and a family sent their children with me, who also seemed to think that a person alone coming with them was quite strange.
The actual optical illusion portions of the house are quite good, and pool balls appearing to roll upwards gave me my third moment of wide eyed excitement in Cave City, even fully understanding the way that a Mystery House works. Maybe there is a little mystery magic in there because aside from peoples height appearing to change as they moved around a room, it’s also a time machine. A Mystery house is little trip back to 70’s psychedelia and a time when children could be entertained by something as wholesome as an optical illusion and a hall of mirrors, and apparently, so can I.
That’s all I managed to do in the afternoon I had in Cave City, but I plan to return soon and do more, including perhaps, the actual caves. If this posting read like an advertisement for a random town, maybe it is. This is a little place of power, but it’s also clearly struggling. This is a tourism town, from when tourism included a lot more road trips, and the only thing that will keep it going is tourists. So maybe next time you’re on the road between Nashville and Louisville consider stopping. See if you feel some electromagnetic energies.
Long live Cave City