A line of black shadow instantly shut out the sun, which left me momentarily blinded as I entered the man-made cave. When my eyes adjusted, I beheld the Louisville Mega Cavern’s foggy and vast stone interior.
Gazing at the seemingly endless underground realm, I instantly understood how this limestone quarry had already become a favorite Kentucky attraction despite only opening to the public in 2009. The spooky feel of the massive space created an immediate itch to explore further.
I discovered this unusual cavern on a tour of Kentucky’s old and new attractions in Louisville, Paducah, Bardstown and Lexington. The state continues to mix classic Kentucky attractions with intriguing new ways to experience the state.
A Louisville Sampler
As I stood next to one of the mammoth stone pillars holding up the Louisville Mega Cavern, I learned that miners blasted out the 100-acre cavern over 42 years in the mid-20th century. Today it serves as a high-security storage facility and attraction with a tram tour, a zip line and a ropes course called Mega Quest.
“What you can see is the tip of the iceberg,” said Leslie Malin, group sales coordinator for the caverns. “We’ve filled in this part of the cavern because we can’t really change the light bulbs on a 90-foot ceiling.”
While I toured the subterranean attraction, Malin described how, in the 1960s, state officials planned to use the caverns as a bomb shelter for 50,000 people. Life in such a creepy fallout shelter seemed hard to imagine.
Next, I explored a more traditional attraction at the Kentucky Derby Museum. In 2010, the museum celebrated its 25th anniversary with a $5.5 million renovation that dramatically transformed the interior to include many interactive elements.
The museum showcases footage from every recorded Derby, a 360-degree video about race day and a booth that allows guests to attempt to announce a race. Right outside the museum, I took the Derby Museum Backside Tour of Churchill Downs for a closer look at a track I had before seen only on television.
“Imagine, if you will, 110,000 people in this track’s infield walking around with vendors everywhere,” said Martin, my tour guide. “You may spend all day in the infield and not see a single horse.”
Though no one sat in the stands that day, the barns and track buzzed with activity. I watched as jockeys tested out feisty 2-year-old horses, hoping for their shot at the big day.
I witnessed another historic Louisville site that recently underwent an upgrade at Louisville Stoneware. The company may have opened in 1815, but the store’s new showroom was only recently opened in 2014.
I admired the colorful and carefully handcrafted pottery items before taking the factory tour. At numerous stations, workers demonstrated how a lump of dirty clay ends up as a piece of gorgeous stoneware ready to be shown off.
Afterward, I witnessed the similarly complicated process of making Kentucky bourbon at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Opened in 2013, the site introduced me to the history of Evan Williams bourbon using videos and replicated sets, such as the re-created Whiskey Row, the original of which once stood in Louisville’s downtown.
After I watched a film on creating bourbon, a screen lifted to reveal the actual process happening inside reflective copper containers.