After hearing so much about the Bourbon Trail from Neil for the past four or so years, Rob and I finally had to check it out. I can pretty much tolerate a couple sips of the hard stuff; Rob likes bourbon, but prefers whiskey. So, naturally we figured that some bourbon education would be good. We left Indianapolis a bit late and despite the wonky time zone lines, we just managed to make it to Four Roses and Maker’s Mark before they closed for the day. Since we were a bit short on time, a nice lady at Four Roses gave us the abbreviated history tour, which amounted to about 3 min of founding story, 4 min about the recipes and 8 min of tasting. Their single barrel was a good value so we picked up a bottle forewarned that Mammoth Caves is a dry area. Then, we caught the last tour at Marker’s Mark, which was much smaller than we imagined. They let us sample the distillers beer directly out of the fermentation tanks and then we tasted their recipe- un-aged, aged, cask-strength, and aged extra with french oak staves. All the other visitors bought bottles that you could hand dip in the gift shop. Back in the car, we ended the night in the Mammoth Caves Campground.
We kicked off the next day with the 4 hour Grand Avenue tour of Mammoth Cave. Unfortunately, this tour did not go to the underground river/lake to see all the eyeless fish (which I recalled from a childhood visit), but it did tour a bunch of distinct sections. The Mammoth Cave is made up of channels through the limestone carved by underground rivers. As the outlet river downstream cut a deeper and deeper channel, the water table consequently dropped and the underground carved riverbeds made new deeper levels. Our tour began in an old, dry river channel section. The slow flow created a wide oval shaped tunnel. Further in the cave, narrower sections were created by faster flow. The water-impermeable cap rock kept most of these sections dry preventing stalactite and stalagmite formation. The final section of the cave did not have this barrier and had beautiful formations, including cave bacon – that’s a technical term.
When the tour finally finished, we jumped in the car and headed for Bentonville, Arkansas via Illinois (very briefly) and Missouri. Stopping the car in Bowling Green for cell signal, we figured out that we could camp along Ozark National Scenic Riverway and see the Blue Spring before making it to Arkansas the next day. We got up early to hike along the river a couple miles to this spring known for it’s beautiful blue color.
As Bentonville is the home of Wal-mart aka Wallyworld, the heirs to the Walmart fortune have invested in making it nice. Crystal Bridges is an amazing new (and free!) art museum founded by Alice Walton. It has a neat collection including a spider-like sculpture, the twin of one we saw outside the Louvre, Rosie the Riveter, and a number of fun modern pieces, not the mention, the architecture of the building is also distinctive. There are walking paths all around the grounds and a mountain bike trail with fun obstacles follows alongside one of the routes. Eventually, the museum closed and we headed on to dinner with Rob’s cousins in Rogers (a suburb).
Ashley and Scott took us and their two little kiddos out for some Mexican food, which was a fabulous change from the American-on-the-road-diet of mainly sausage and sandwiches. We had a great time seeing the life they’ve made in Arkansas and hearing about all their Halloween plans. The next day was rainy so we spent the morning hanging around the house with Ashley and Calla installing their shiny new microwave. Then after an tasty Indian buffet, we visited the Walmart museum (free!+cheap ice cream) for more history of Walmart then I ever wanted. It did a good job of putting a human face on the empire.
By the time we finished there, Scott had gotten off of work early and we packed everything up for a short hike. Kyle, age 5, joined us, too. The weather had improved since the morning showers with just a bit of lingering dampness. The leaves were beginning to turn to their autumn hues.
Kyle couldn’t quite understand/enjoy the joy of hiking, but we managed to get him into it by challenging him to climb/descend steeper sections (sorry about cutting some switchbacks) and exploring some cave-like alcoves. Returning to the house, Kyle taught us all how to play freeze tag and we ran around until everyone was tried/frozen. Finally, Rob and I had to hit the road for Dallas to make it in time for the Red River Shootout.