West Baden Springs Indiana

West Baden Springs Indiana
Inside of the AMAZING West Baden Springs Resort in Indiana.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Big Mike's: Mammoth Cave Park

Man, I really don't know the history of Big Mike's, and really didn't find as much as I would like about it on the net. I think the first time I went there was in the mid to late 90's, and I remember me and my buddy Brent talking to the late Big Mike himself. I think he just got his prized replica dinosaur skull at the time and he was very proud of it.

Why go
Big Mike's is a very nice, large gift shop a very short drive from the main Mammoth Cave visitor center. It might take you 5 minutes to get there.
I guess you could put Big Mike's into several different categories. It is a huge rock shop. Out front, there is a building that sells weird rocks. I am sure there are people out there who love rock collecting. Many of the rocks looked like strange props from the original Star Trek series. It was fun looking at them. In the main building, there is a huge gift shop. More rocks, carved animals, postcards, novelties, and an elongated penny machine are inside. There is an upstairs loft area with the big dinosaur skull in a case.
The funhouse wraps around the main large gift shop area. Its kooky. What can you say about a funhouse? Lots of black light posters, the weird rooms built at angles that make balls appear to role upwards, and a chair balanced on its back legs. Its very trippy and goofy. They only charge a dollar to go through the funhouse. I found a coupon though, so me, my wife and a friend all went through for free. They even let some others go in for free with us. Don't do this though. If this attraction was in Salem, MA. or another cheesy tourist stop, they would charge $12 to go in and they would have people lined up. Big Mike's doesn't make any money off of their funhouse. They keep it going as a labor of love. Please, if you go to Big Mike's, pay the dollar to go in and tip the tour guide generously after its over. Yeah, this is something similar to a place you saw in the 70's, and for some older folks the novelty may have worn off, but I doubt it. If you haven't seen a funhouse before, this is pure sugary joy. If you have been through a funhouse before, and you know all the gags, its been a LONG time. This place will bring back memories.
By the rock shop, there is a really cool dinosaur statue. OK, it might not be REALLY cool, but I stop and take a picture every time I pass by.

Why not go

If you have issues with balance, or you get dizzy easily, or have bad legs you may want to skip the funhouse. You do walk at an angle. Don't be a wuss though! Seriously, if you are going to spend some time at the park, go over to Big Mike's. They appreciate your business. You'll find some stuff you won't find at the main park gift shop.

Owensboro: My City Was Gone

I have spent a lot of time in Owensboro. My First 18 years in fact. I heard about the Executive Inn closing there recently. I had a former employee there once tell me about huge cracks in maintenance areas. I had heard rumors that the place was falling apart. Heck, it is situated right on the river. I keep thinking Owensboro is on that fault line.... one good earthquake and it would be IN the river!
I heard that the "Big E" was going to go belly up for some time, and it happened. I had some fun times there. When I was a kid, I remember going to the restaurant there. When I got older, I would catch concerts there (it must have been the only concert venue option for some time). I saw 38 Special, Foreigner, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Survivor, and some others. I remember going to some parties there, swimming in the pool, and just goofing off. I remember walking through there as a kid and just thinking the place went on forever.
The only other building I can think of bigger than the Executive Inn in Owensboro is Gabe's Tower. I never stepped foot in the place. I do remember thinking the statue of Gabe was about the coolest thing going. I waved at him every time my mom passed him, with me in the passenger seat (likely, not wearing a seat belt, with my back to the windshield). He always waved back too. I don't even know who the real Gabe was, but man, was his statue friendly!

Another major landmark in my mind that is not what it used to be is Lincoln Mall. In high school, me and my friends, usually my best buddy Brent would hang out there a lot. Not because everyone else was hang out there, but mostly because everyone else was not hanging out there. It was a big, giant mall with a few shops, many vacant sections, and a $1 (later a $1.50) movie theater. There was a jungle painting on the glass separating out the old large anchor store in the back. I think the Owensboro High School art department painted it. I was a little let down that the Apollo art crew was not asked to participate. It was a fun painting though. They did a good job.
I do remember being a very young kid, in the very late 70's, and being in there with my mom. That mall was hoppin. I recall seeing the Easter Bunny there, and looking at toys in the big department store. I remember the jewelry store was always there. It seemed like Olan Mills photography was there too. My family had some pictures done at Olan Mills. It seemed like by the 90s though, it had gone from the place to get the family picture taken to the place that annoyed you with telemarketing.
So, early 90s. Lincoln Mall had the movie theater, Olan Mills, the Nick T. Arnold jewelry store, there was a Goodwill for some time, a cool artist supply store, and a store that sold consignment clothes. My sister worked at the beauty shop near the back for a little while.
Me and Brent would go there on a Saturday. There were 2 screens at the theater. We might see a movie in the early afternoon, walk around town some. Have lunch at Lee's, walk down to one of the music shops, the comic shop, or somewhere else, then walk back to Lincoln Mall to catch the other movie that night.
I don't know when it happened, but a church bought Lincoln Mall.I think at first they just moved in to the big anchor store in the back. Some of the other little stores stuck around a bit longer. Then, the church just took over the entire mall. I talk to people all the time now who go to that church.
Thankfully, at least Lincoln Mall has survived, in structure anyway. The other 2 buildings will likely be eyesoars for now. It is really sad though, when the buildings that stand out the most in an area are totally useless.

The Golden Lamb Inn, Lebanon, OH

Just a little north of Cincinatti is Lebanon Ohio. This is the kind of town that is totally laid back and fun to visit. We went up to Lebanon for a visit last September. We had visited the Golden Lamb before with our friends Nate and Holly, but we had booked a room for the weekend this time. Its easy to find the basics on the Golden Lamb, and there is a lot of history to read about. If you want more info, check their official web site or wikipedia. In a nutshell, the place was established in 1803 making it the oldest hotel in Ohio. Oh, and a ton of presidents and other famous people have stayed there. The rooms are named after some of the famous occupants. We drove up on a Friday night, and had dinner in the tavern. The tavern was exactly what a tavern should be. We had good food, a very pleasant and informative waitress, and we got to listen to a guy playing a keyboard live. He wasn't too loud though. The tavern has a really retro feel to it (as does the whole inn). And by retro I am not talking about a decade or two, I mean it feels unchanged in a century or two. We had heard rumors about ghosts at the Inn. I am generally pretty skeptical about such things, but I love hearing about them. I love being a little creeped out too. Our waitress did not let us down. she gave us some strange personal experiences, and also told us that she would not stay in the room we had for the weekend. Hmm.
That evening, we noticed a couple of flyers up for the Apple festival. What luck! It started tomorrow! We figured this would be fun for the day. We assumed it might be a nice small gathering. I think we all figured it would be a street or two of vendors, maybe a few hundred people, and a couple of guys selling apples. We got up Saturday morning, pretty early, and looked outside. We saw a few sellers setting up, not much was going on. We had a basic breakfast at the hotel, took our time getting ready, then decided to go out and see how this little apple festival was coming along. We were overwhelmed! I can't guess how many people invaded the small town of Lebanon, but it was easily in the thousands. Several streets were lined with people selling cool hand made art, bread, candy, and other items. It was sort of like a very classy flea market minus the used junk. The town was totally taken over by the festival. It wasn't one street of festivities, it was several intersecting streets. There was an entire street of food vendors. I am pretty sure every type of food was represented there.
We picked up a lot of breads, apple products, and dip mixes. We were exhausted after walking around the festival. We had a late dinner at the hotel in their main dining area. Food was good. They have a very relaxing dining area. Oddly, we had the same waitress from the night before at the tavern.
The hotel is something to see. It is four stories, has 40 rooms, the tavern, and restaurant. In the back is a very large gift shop. It has old building charm. Lots of wood. It is a very relaxing place to hang out, whether its in the tavern, a room, or the lobby.
Lebanon is a great town to roam around for the day or a weekend. I bet it would be a great place to retire too. Rumor is the legend Neil Armstrong has done just that. The place does have a Mayberry quality to it, with the Golden Lamb surrounded by cute shops everywhere. The candy store a block or so over is unique too. No prepackaged stuff you could get at the grocery store here. The town and the Inn have a symbiotic relationship.Our rooms were very comfortable too.
Oh, and about the ghosts. Nothing happened. I didn't even get a little creeped out. I felt safe the whole weekend. I heard a few floorboards creek, that was about it.
I was at a used book store not long ago. I found a 50 year old book on the history of the Golden Lamb. I love the fact that people were interested in this place's history 50 (FIFTY) years before now.
The place is old. That's part of the charm, but it is old. I think the Golden Lamb may rely on the character of the age a little bit. If you look closely in a corner here or there, it may be a bit dusty. A couple areas need some repairs. This does not take away from the places beauty though. 4 stories, 2 hundred years.... I can over look some dust and scrapes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Florence Freedom

I have enjoyed the Frontier League for some time. This is a cool league that seems young, but it has been around for a very long time in terms of pro-baseball leagues. Sadley, the only original team in its original location (the Paints) from the leagues 1st day has moved for the 09 season. Thats sad, but it says a lot about the longevity of the league.

The Freedom started paying near Cincy in 03. In 04 they started playing their home games at Champion Window Field which is right off of I-75. They have a huge electronic billboard/sign that is visible from 75.
The team has had some notable managers (Tom Browning and Pete Rose Jr. for a very short period of time). Check out this great web site on the history of the team: http://flhistory.gofreeserve.com/

the team
Honestly, the Frontier League is considered to be about the same level as single A. The players are at the lowest level of pro-baseball. Many of them will get dropped quick too. A good FL player can stick around for up to 4 years, or, hopefully, they can get picked up to play in affiliated baseball. A player with a low batting average or high ERA can get booted very quickly. The games in Florence can get pretty sloppy at times, and I mean that in a very good way. These are scrappy players, with a lot to prove. They are eager to run, throw, and make big plays. They do not play as catiously as the guys in the big ball park up the road. You are going to see some errors, stolen bases, and some wreckless plays. For some reason, I have seem more managers tossed in this league too! I love that!

the stadium
Champion Window Field is a very comfortable park near Cincy and in Florence. I have never been hassled by the staff here, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. The young players are flattered when you ask for an autograph. Ushers aren't constantly telling people to get back to their seats. It's almost like a casual party here.
Lat year, the Freedom added a second mascot, Belle, who has been known to encourage kids to dance on the dugouts. Belle is a big pink oversized muppet (I love huge muppet mascots!). She is almost a show herself. She is extrememly animated, and may be just a little less showy than the Chicken or Birdzerk. Belle is worth the price of admission herself. Liberty, the other mascot has been around a bit longer. Plus, with the smaller minor league crowds, and the way Belle and Liberty work the room, there will be plenty of time for a photo op at the game you attend.
With the exception of the "Florence Ya'll" water tower, there is not much of a skyline view in the area. Thankfully, the park was built facing away from the city. There is a very nice, relaxing, green "skyline" over the oufield wall. You almost feel like you are in a much more rural area watching the game.
For $6 you can get a lawn seat. Bring a blanket and you are set for a very relaxing evening. You can get a great seat anwhere in the park for about $10 or less.
Something else that I really appreciate about this team is their gift shop. They have a nice selection of merch, with better prices than most lower level teams. I think a T-shirt is usually in the $12 range. They don't gouge here.

the area
I love the area around the park. They have the famous Florence Mall, which is a fun place to kill time before a game. There's a cool craft store and Toys-R-Us there too. I love the Qdoba in the area. I walked up to the door about 15 minutes after they had closed, and turned around to leave. The manager came out and told me and my friend that he would be happy to help us out, even offering to let us stay in the dining room. The Barnes & Nobles has a nice selection of regional books.

why go
Going to a Freedom game is very affordable. Plus, these guys appreciate your support. This can be said of any minor league team, but especially of ones in the Frontier League; you get a LOT more for your money at a Freedom game than at a Major League game.

why not go
My wife can think of some reasons not to go, but she is wrong! Wait, don't tell her I said that. Seriously, Florence is a nice family day trip.

Lexington Legends

The Lexington Legends have been around for several years now. They have been a single A team for the Houston Astros the entire time.

The Stadium
Applebee's Park is a very nice, clean place to see a game. It has a bit of a horse stable theme going on. It feels very Kentucky. There are plenty of concessions. I personally like the guy cooking the pulled pork sandwiches near the batting cages. Kettle corn is big here too.Outside of the park before games usually has a festive feel to it. More festive in general than a single A park. Cornhole and live music are common. Chipotle has given out chips and salsa before games in the past.
The park is comfortable. There are very affordable bleacher seats in the outfield. There are some grassy lawn seats, but the lawn areas aren't as big as I have seen in many other parks.
The park can hold 6-7,000 people. It does have a bit more of a formal feel to it than some parks. Some may like this. There is the Maker's Mark Club. It is a nice restaurant that tries to sell itself in an exclusive way. You need a special sticker to walk through. There are a ton of ushers too who are generally friendly, but they can get in the way. I appreciate ushers getting people to their correct seat, and asking people not in the right one to move along. I have had one tell me TWICE that I was setting in the wrong seat and ask me to move. I had to pull my ticket out to show her that I was indeed in my correct seat.
The park also has staff walk around holding up add signs during the game.
The Legends have their main mascot, Big L. He is very likable, and has been known to pull pranks on unaware fans. Big L is a bit more mischivious than most mascots.

The area
There is not a lot going on around outside of the park. If you are coming in from out of town, I would suggest staying downtown.

Why go
The Legends offer a very nice, family friendly atmosphere. I know a lot of people who go to games who aren't even baseball fans. They have some fun, affordable promotions too, like quarter hot dog night (lines can get long for these promotions though). When UK is not playing basketball, a Legends game is about the most exciting thing going on in town.

Why not go
I am a bit biased here. The Legends are my home team, and I love them. This is my team. I probably went to more than 30 games last year. I almost hate to say anything bad about them. If you hate the loud announcer DJ types you might not want to go. Their announcer is more likable than most, but he will be talking/announcing in between half innings. They have an obnoxious crew that helps host between inning contests. There is the very annoying "which section can scream the loudest" contest.
Oh, I love Big L, but the team needs a big muppet mascot too. You know you love them!

Mammoth Cave

When I was in elementary school, my cousin asked me to go to Mammoth Cave with him one Saturday. This was overwhelming to me at the time. Any trip more than 30 minutes from Owensboro was a big deal. And this was Mammoth Cave!
I would later go there with high school friends on weekend trips. I went once on a very snowy February day with my friend Brent. It seemed like we had the entire park to ourselves.
Since moving back to Kentucky, I have visited there again several times.

The Cave
The cave itself is literally unbelievable. Seriously. There are around 365 miles of discovered cave there at this time. I have heard that 1000 miles of cave are assumed to be there. I was talking to a caver once who told me that to get to a point in the cave where you could start exploring the unmapped area, you would have to travel into the cave for about 1 week!
There is a little part of me thinking about how cool it would be to set up some sort of constant exploration system in there. Maybe a relay group constantly bringing supplies in, utilizing supply storage places. Obviously, if someone got sick in there, that could cause a lot of problems.
When I travel I love going to show caves. I have heard people say that seeing one cave is just like seeing another. I guess that is true, but it is so cool just being in a cave.
Mammoth Cave, in many ways, is similar to other show caves you have seen before, except it is the biggest cave... anywhere!
The tours can get crowded. This might be my biggest complaint about Mammoth Cave. Obviously there is a big demand to get in and see the place, but I do wish the tours were broken up more. The last tour I was on there sold out at 120 people. It was very hard to get close to the ranger durring the tour to hear what was being discussed. The tours can be exhausting too. Seriously. They are pretty open about this though. There is a lot of walking involved in most of the tours.
I would like to see more of the cave utilized. There are 365 mapped miles! I am assuming well less than 10 are being used in the tours. I would love to take a tour to a section opened to the public for the 1st time. Also, I think the park is neglecting some serious tourist $$ by not having some sort of "overnight in the cave" type tour.
The visitor center is pretty much a short uphill walk from the caves main entrance. The cave used to do the thing where they would take your groups photo in front of the entrance and then sell them to you. I don't think they have done this for some time. I have seen some of these older b&w photos on ebay and they all look very dated. The entrance is still there though, and its fun to make a comparison of current photos to the older photos.
I love the rangers here. I have never had one dodge a question. If they don't know, they will find someone and get back to you.
Mummies have been found in the cave. One ranger told me once that one was discovered, and actually put back in the cave, but only 2 people know where it was put back.

The Park
Even though there are many people there each day, the park seems secluded. The trails and roads seem to not be travelled much. Even though the parking lot in front of the visitor center is full, and the tours are often crowded, you pass few other cars on the roads.
I was there one evening in October driving around, and there were deer everywhere. We pulled over and just watched them. It was fun watching them continuously stream out of the woods, across the road and walk off. A few more would then come along to replace them. They would walk right by the car too.
The Mammoth Cave Hotel is pretty much right behind the visitor center (maybe a few minutes walk). There are a couple of places to set and eat there. There is a generic fast food place which is very tasty and economical for a food place at a park.

The area
The area around the cave is worth a trip on its own. You aren't far from Bowling Green. Driving around the park is just a nice drive too.

I am a huge fan of "Big Mike's". Big Mike's is an oversized gift shop. The gift shops at the Cave's main building and in the hotel have a fun slection of postcards, books and patches. Big Mike's goes a step further. Easily a roadside attraction in itself, Big Mike's has a replica dinosaur skull on display, and a funhouse. It's a buck to go through the funhouse. They've never been too demanding that you pay the dollar. Make sure you do though, and tip your funhouse tour guide. I think I will need to write about Big Mikes seperately.

Rupp Arena, Lexington

The Teams
My dad always watched UK basketball games when I was a kid. I think if you live in Kentucky, you grow up watching games a lot. You grow to love this team. You have no doubt that there is a college basketball conspiracy involving referees who hate UK (I was at a game the other night- I watch the refs make call after call against the Cats, while totally cutting the bad guys all the slack in the world!). Oh, and the mention of a certain former Duke player makes you sick to your stomach! In fact, writing that last sentence makes me a little squimish.Also, I really followed the team when Pitino was coaching. I got spoiled. Those late 90s teams dominated. When I was younger, the thought of actually going to a game at Rupp was mythic. Now, my boss has let me use her season tickets many times she has not been able to go (I know, you don't care.... I guess I am just bragging with that last sentence). I wasn't in the area when they had the hockey teams there. I hear it was a lot of fun though. I have attended several Horsemen indoor football games too. This is fun, but it is a totally different experience from seeing a basketball game there. The Horsemen put on a good show. It is a loud, rowdy event. Arena football is fast paced, fun and aggressive. I think I saw trash talking going on between players at every game. They have cheerleaders and a half time show. Unlike a UK basketball game, tickets are always available for indoor football, and it is easy to get seats within the 1st few rows. The upper bleacher seats (almost half of Rupp AND the section where my basketball tickets are) is curtained off during Horsemen games. The team has been available for autographs after the game, and fans can actually go down on the Rupp floor to get them after games.

Rupp has been around since 76. There has been talk of opening a new arena, but this would be sad. The rumor is only about 500 more seats would be added. Even in the no-back bleacher seats I have, its great fun being there. There is history. There is a good crowd. I guess I might not mind a new stadium if there were a lot more seats available. I wouldn't mind having better ticket access to basketball games.

The Venue
Rupp is a true point of pride for Lexington. Its a fun place too. Rupp is connected by walkways to many of the downtown businesses. In some ways, it reminds me a lot of downtown Indianapolis. You can access a lot without having to walk outside, which is nice on a cold winter evening.
There are a lot of mall shops connected to the stadium too. The Hyatt is conected to the arena. If you are staying there, you can walk out of your room, and be in the stadium within a few minutes, never walking outside to get there.

The area
As mentioned, there are many unique shops connected by walkways to the arena. Some of the walkways take a little while to learn. Some of the local favorites, like De Sha's and Sawyers can get VERY crowded right before a game. They are worth the stop though. They are a block from Rupp, but they can be accessed through the walkway. Joe Bolognia's is a short drive. A former church and Jewish synagogue now houses the best pizza around. Seriously, all of our out of town friends love this place. For food, Joe B's and De Sha's are the two winners. Joe B's has a buffalo chicken pizza that is addictive. Get the big breadstick too. De Sha's coconut chicken is worth the trip too. A burger at Sawyers might be enough for 2 people.

Why go
Security at Rupp is flawless. The traffic cops outside are tough, but thats fine with me. They keep things moving, and keep things orderly. Also, security is great in the arena. Once, I was standing in the lobby talking to a friend. Near by, security came over, grabbed a guy and quickly took him out of the arena. I don't know what he did, but security was so quick and stealthy about it, my friend didn't even notice. I barely noticed myself. I feel very safe inside and outside of Rupp Arena during events. Also, Lexingonians may not realize how easy it is to get in and out of Rupp Arena, even during major events, compared to other towns. I have been to concert and sporting events in other bigger cities where crowd control doesn't occur. On the way out of an event, the flow of human traffic just stops, and thousands of people are all pushed together for some unknown delay ahead. There is no flow of traffic out of the parking lot, so you have to wait in your car a couple of hours. The parking lot next to Rupp empties out pretty easy in half an hour, 45 minutes after the game.
There is a good vibe here during any sporting event. The crowds are always on. Also, I would describe the crowds as mature in general. The stranger setting next to you will yell and scream at the refs (and they deserve it) and then they will turn and talk to you just like they have known you forever. It's Kentucky, and this is Rupp. Fans are friendly.
The friendly fan atmosphere occurs at other events too. I had to wait for a friend at the mall connected to Rupp before a country music concert. People were cool, calm and just having good time before their show. Even if you don't have tickets for the event going on, Rupp is a good place to be before an event for the vibe.

Why not go
Getting tickets to a Cats game can be tough, and pricey.
Some older fans I have talked to who have been to Horsemen's games say they won't go back because it is too loud. The Horsemen have a pretty obnoxious announcer too, but he grows on you. It is loud though, but I wouldn't let that keep me away.


Hello! My name is Jim, I love Kentucky, and I like to travel around the area. I grew up in the Owensboro area, went to college at Berea, and I now live in Lexington. I did experience several years of bad judgement, and moved to Cleveland Ohio. A few years ago I came to my senses, put on my Lexington Legends jersey, drank half a bottle of coke then put some peanuts in it, and moved back!I love minor league baseball too, so I thought I would keep a brief website about my travels in and around the state.Who should read this? My mom. Thats it. If you are not my mom, you will likely be bored with this (yeah, like anyone besides your mom reads your blog!).