Kentucky – Days 1-3: Hillbillies, Bourbon, and Horses

Brittany Swanson   April 26, 2016   Comments Off on Kentucky – Days 1-3: Hillbillies, Bourbon, and Horses

So, my first host in Kentucky recommended I check out the Hillbilly Garden, because it’s one of those but-really-where-else-can-you-find-this places. So I did.

I hadn’t really done my research prior to arriving. I tend to just take my hosts at their word and if/when it isn’t what I expected I just roll with it. At first I drive past the place because there are cars following close behind me on the two lane road. From the couple second glance I had as I drove by it looked like a kitschy junk yard. Ok… I’m not sure what I was expecting only knowing it was called Hillbilly Garden.

Once I turned around and started pulling into the place I seriously questioned my sanity. I didn’t know where to park, or where to drive at first. Thankfully I then noticed the signs which quickly pointed me in the right direction. As I parked this lady and her daughter waved at me and sort of started toward the car. At which point I freaked out. I fumbled around with things in my car and decided if they came to meet me at the car I was just going to super awkwardly leave. They didn’t.

I got out of the car and said hello and they walked over to me. They took me into the old original building on the property where I learned that at different points it had served as a diner, a barber shop, and a gas station. Currently it’s filled with relics of a bygone era.

Former diner, barber shop, and gas station at Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

Former diner, barber shop, and gas station at Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

As I went back outside the lady said her husband could take me on a tour or I could wander around by myself. The man was talking to some other people and I didn’t want to interrupt so I chose to wander solo. Soon the man met up with me anyway and stated explaining the different sculptures to me. He told me I’d started in the middle. I told him we could start wherever he wanted us to. We started at a different spot and I got the full tour. I’m pretty sure it took an hour and a half. There were probably at least thirty outdoor sculptures all illustrating some sort of pun. I’m really glad the guy, who I’ve since learned is named Keith Holt, caught up with me and gave me the tour.

I tried to keep up, but he was talking so fast I was lucky if I got a picture of a sculpture before we were on to the next one let alone have time to write down the explanation. For the record, when you’re on a tour and you’re the only person and the sculptures are puns and the artist is the one giving the tour its really awkward when you don’t get it. Also, laughing for an hour and a half straight made my cheeks hurt. My favorite one was probably this one:

Watch out for the sink holes...Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

Watch out for the sink holes…Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

So the story behind Toyland, in case you’re wondering, is that when Mr. Holt inherited the land from his father he decided to open up a toyland to share all the old toys he’d been collecting for years with the public. Of course, as it goes, the people in charge of building permits had other ideas. They wanted the land to build condos or something. He said no to that, and they said no to his dreams of the toyland he had imagined. Rather than giving up on his dream, he just altered it. Instead of a massive toyland building he converted the garage to a miniature toyland. At somepoint someone gave him some old tires or shoes or something and he thought, hey I can make something out of this and that’s where the outdoor sculptures came from.

This is maybe a quarter of the room, which is 10% of his collection...Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

This is maybe a quarter of the room, which is 10% of his collection…Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, Paducah, KY.

The only Starbucks in Paducah, KY is in the Kentucky Oaks Mall. Whatever, I’ve done weirder things. So I went to the mall with my laptop and I worked on my blog sipping on my apple juice in the middle of the walkway.

I was FaceTiming with Alex so I had my headphones in when something strange happened. This girl walked from behind me and stroked my table with her finger right next to my laptop and then took the chair across from me without saying anything. Now, whatever, if there were no other available chairs and she didn’t want to bother me since I was clearly on the phone, but there were six other available chairs at three other unoccupied tables near me. And what was with putting her finger on my table?! Weird.

As I’m commenting to Alex about this weird invasion of my space I overhear a group of girls behind me talking about how I didn’t even notice. I did, in fact, notice ladies. You are neither smooth nor graceful. They talked about me for a bit and then proceeded to walk laps around mall and either touch my table or turn and look at me when they walked past. Despite the fact that these were high school girls it was unnerving to be tormented by them. About the third or fourth time they walked by I took a picture of them to show Alex. Every subsequent time I threw them major shade when they turned to look at me. I was trying to say, “Yes, I see you. You are not smooth. This is not funny. Leave me alone.” By the sixth time they passed me I’d resolved to go find security and ask them to tell the girls to leave me alone if it happened again. Fortunately the mall closed not long after that and the girls probably had a curfew they had to get home for because I didn’t see them again before I left.

Girls at the mall be harassing me...I think she was coming to do something to me but saw I was taking a picture. Ha!

Girls at the mall be harassing me…I think she was coming to do something to me but saw I was taking a picture. Ha!

The following morning my host took me out to breakfast at Gold Rush Cafe and took me on a quick driving tour of Paducah. Then I headed on my way to Mammoth Cave National Park. Fun fact: while I was there it was National Park week and in honor of the national park centennial, they were allowing self-guided tours of one area of the caves for free. I totally would’ve liked to explore the rest of the cave, but not only am I running low on funds, on principle I refuse to pay to see nature. Especailly when it’s more than $10. I mean, I have a park pass, that should be enough. The cave was cool, both literally and figuratively, like I said, I would’ve liked to see more, but after the Carlsbad Caverns I was content with caves in America.

What was extra interesting about the part of the cave I got to explore was that people actually used to live and work down there. There was once a running tuberculosis hospital and everything. A hospital…in a cave. How crazy/cool is that?! At it’s highest I’d say the cave was sixty feet easily, at it’s lowest, only about six. To get in and out of the cave portion they had open only took about thirty or so minutes. It was a beautiful day, and I’d finally remembered to put on sunscreen so I decided to take the trail in the opposite direction. It ended at the river and from there I wandered along an unmarked path and found the River Styx Spring. I was really enjoying being out and about and there weren’t too many other people around so next I hiked a mile or so out to the Echo River Spring, which wasn’t as cool, but the walk was pretty.

River Styx Spring, Mammoth Cave National Park, KY.

River Styx Spring, Mammoth Cave National Park, KY.

Then I drove the rest of the way to Louisville and my friends Dani and Casey took me out to Lydia House for dinner. Later we got The Comfy Cow for dessert; I had the Kentucky Bourbon Glazed Brownie flavored ice cream. Yum!

Kentucky Bourbon Glazed Brownie flavored ice cream from The Comfy Cow, Louisville, KY.

Kentucky Bourbon Glazed Brownie flavored ice cream from The Comfy Cow, Louisville, KY.

The next day while Casey was at work Dani and I went to the Kentucky Derby Museum and got a tour of Churchill Downs Racetrack where the Derby takes place every year. Some fun facts I learned on the tour:

  1. Having started in 1875, the Derby is the longest continually running sports event.
  2. There is only seating for 58,000 people, yet they’ve had as many as 112,000 in attendance…
  3. Horses can only race in the Derby when they are three years old.
  4. Last year’s winner was American Pharoah.
  5. General Admission to the Derby is $60!

After the museum Dani had a chiropractor appointment, so while she did that I blogged like the wind at Starbucks. Then we went across the street to The Falafel House for lunch. We got our food to go though and had a picnic at the foot of the Big Four Bridge before walking all the way across it into Indiana. Cool.

Then Dani took me to 21c Museum Hotel. Such a cool space. We played around with this interactive poetry video by the elevators for a bit and then checked out the work by Al Farrow called Wrath and Reverence where he juxtaposed holy places and objects with the violence of the materials used – recycled gun parts. It was really interesting.

A piece from Al Farrow's exhibit Wrath and Reverence at the 21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY.

A piece from Al Farrow’s exhibit Wrath and Reverence at the 21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY.

As a final stop in our tour of downtown. Dani took me in and around the Actors Theatre of Louisville where she works. I love exploring theatre spaces, so that was fun. Then that night we had a cookout and a fire. What a beautiful start to spring. Finally!