Kentucky Motels

This page represents our first trip through this state. It is also a work in progress, with all of the accompanying opportunities for misspelling and factual error. If you have any comments, suggestions, or concerns, please feel free to email us.

For years, we'd planned to visit Cave City -- the home of serpentine underground wonders with names like "crystal," and "onyx," and "mammoth." Here we learn about decades of "cave wars" in which independent operators struggled to draw patrons to their piles of stalagmites and hanging stalactites. We discover research efforts to safeguard and study the piles of bones left by Native American inhabitants of these parts centuries before our arrival. And, of course, we come looking for motels. Cave City does not disappoint.

As soon as you turn off the interstate (or conclude your leisurely slide along its side, as we did), you'll spot the Star Motel -- a colonial style brick L-shaped site set against a glowing purplish-blue sunset. A sliver of crescent moon hangs overhead. In the office, I find Pat singing to the radio, unaware of my presence. She's more than a little embarrassed when she turns around, but it doesn't take long for her to warm up to a chat about her motel. A common theme to the conversations we've had with local owners is their desire to offer something different from the chain motels that line the interstate. Pat emphasizes how the Star Motel is more than a strip of rooms: "We've all put a lot of time into it. You can see the flowers -- we just got done spending three hours doing the flowers tonight. It's a business, but it's also my home."

[camera icon]Holiday Motel

Down the strip of neon that leads to the falling night, the Holiday Motel twinkles on. There's a 'for sale' sign in the marque; the AAA sign is pretty well scratched out. The gentleman at the desk, a native of India, is willing to lend us a postcard -- of course, any connection to Best Western or any other national recognition of this motel has been blotted out with a thick black marker. He's watching Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord, in a black pompadour, faces down an exotic looking foe.

[camera icon]Cave Land Motel

Further down the road, across from the Happy Days diner, is the Cave Land Motel ("Be Wise. Ask Our Rates. Don't Be Mis-Led"). Here, white-washed wagon wheels lean against aligning street lamps, and a gorgeous sign reflects its light over a cool green pool. Joe, the owner, speaks to us in a voice that's reminiscent of Johnny Cash, full of rural twang that's known many years: "We have a man who comes out here every month -- that's what he does, is neon. And he said, 'this neon is forty-somethin' years old. So what ever you do, don't get rid of it.' Of course we won't get rid of it. This sign was here when we got here; it'll be here when we leave." There's no doubt that Joe's proud of his motel -- especially its physical upkeep. The doors are heavy ceder and the rest of the woodwork is white oak. The wood's so tough that you can't bang nails into it -- you've got to drill first. Joe suggests that his motel draws its spirit from the wife of the man who first built it. By the time of our visit, she'd recently died; she was 101 years old: "She lived down the street on third street here -- still lived by herself . . . you'd see her on the yard; she raked her leaves and walked on water -- and she didn't weight ninety pounds. She wore the old bonnets like they did in the forties, and the old dresses, and them boots like I wear to work." On Sunday, her day out, she'd ask to be driven to the Cave Land so she could remember.

Finally, of course, we lay our heads at the Wigwam Village (no. 2). This is our second visit to a Wigwam (our first was in Arizona). As the postcard view demonstrates, this collection of concrete teepees surrounds a central playground where children cavort and adults chat. Here's an older postcard view. After visiting surrounding motels and grabbing a bite to eat, Jenny and I gaze at the glowing neon sign. It announces "no vacancy" -- indeed, we had to get reservations to grab a room here -- but if you're in a mischievous mood, you could flip the switch near the base of the sign and invite road weary travellers to com'on in! We decide not to. The hearty band of strangers that have gathered on lawn chairs to welcome the night are a pretty sizable community as it is. The next morning, we visit the central teepee to collect a plaster replica of our room, a tacky pennant announcing that we've "slept in a wigwam," a coloring book for Vienna, and postcards, postcards, postcards. Today, we're heading for home after three weeks of driving, eating, getting lost, and generally enjoying the time of our lives.

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Last update: April 6, 1999. All photographs copyright © Jenny Wood. Text copyright © Andy Wood.