Friday, July 16, 2010

My Mammoth Vacation, Day 2

On Tuesday, we were up with the sun. We were visited in the morning by three young deer out getting their breakfast in the morning mist. Simply idyllic.

After a late hearty breakfast at the old traveler's standby — The Cracker Barrel — we went to a place called Guntown Mountain. The brochures called Guntown Mountain an Old West–themed amusement park set on the top of a hill; you reach it by chairlift.

I'm not going to include a link to their Web site (which hasn't been updated in a while anyway) because I don't want to encourage anyone to go there. It might once have been an amusement park, but it isn't anymore. I learned later from a conversation with the lady, womanning...the camp store that Guntown Mountan used to have some carnival rides, but they're gone now.
What they are now is a troupe of about two dozen employees putting on a series of Old West–style shows.

The chairlift ride was pleasant and relaxing — the best part of the park, in fact. When we got to the top, we found a ghost town. In one sense, it was a fake ghost town, but in another it was real: the place looked deserted. Apart from the bitter man who helped us off the chairlift and the gap-toothed man in the information booth, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

We walked to the end of the street (about 100 yards) and found their "Animal Farm" — goats, piglets, peacocks, roosters, a fuzzy black bunny, and a pony that, judging from the warning signs and the electrified fence, had no problem biting the hand that fed it. Or that didn't. We took a look at them all, got a picture with a ram, and then headed back.

We wandered into the "saloon" and discovered where all the people were. There was a can-can show, with some stilted comedy acts in between, on a small stage in front of maybe three dozen people sitting on iron seats around iron parlor tables. The boys were already whining that there wasn't anything fun. I couldn't blame them, but I wanted to do my best to get my money's worth, so we stayed (in the air conditioning, I might add) to watch the end of the act.

After the can-can show, they announced that the country music show would be starting in about 20 minutes in the "Opera House" across the street. To pass the time, we peeked in the "shops" along the street: a bank, a sheriff's office (where you could spend a minute in jail for $1), a general store, and a trader's shop (where an old Indian sat with his oxygen tank peddling dream catchers made from cheap, brightly colored plastic beads and fishing line). By that time, all the other guests had filed out of the saloon. A couple of kids were feeding the piglets from baby bottles (for only 50 cents for about two ounces of liquid), but most people were sitting in the shade of the overhanging roof of the saloon, waiting for the next show to begin.

And that's what Guntown Mountain really is. It isn't an amusement park, it's a series of shows. The people who pay to get in go to one show and then sit around while the same dozen performers change clothes and locations and put on the next show. And they weren't even good shows — I suppose they were about what you'd expect from a non-animatronic amusement park show. The country music show sang five or six covers, including an ironic country-western version of "Old-Time Rock 'n' Roll." My boys were not happy, and the "Opera House" smelled funny.

According to the schedule, a "live-action gunfight" was coming up next. When the country show ended, the customers once again gathered in the shade of the eaves and waited for the next thing to happen. The boys were still whining, but I wasn't going to leave this supposed Old West experience without seeing a gunfight.

Which was ridiculous. Unbelieveably so. They played a recording of a Johnny Cash-sounding narrator who explained what was going on in the street over the sounds of movie-western background music. And the CD skipped.

This is a prime example of ridiculosity of this place. They couldn't get (or simply didn't think to get) a live person to read a script into a microphone against some background music. Instead, they used a CD recording of a narrator that skipped. And the "gunfight" itself wasn't an OK Corral–type fight between a group of lawmen and a band of black hats; it was the story of two brothers who robbed a bank, and one got away. The one who got away returned the day his brother was to be hanged, but they both ended up being killed. It was about a 10-minute show with 10 second worth of gunplay.

The only thing more ridiculous than this sorry, rundown tourist trap is that I paid money to get into it.

We left after the gunfight.

At the base of the entrance to Guntown Mountain (and, I hope, unaffiliated with it), is a junk/antique store. This place had a few antiques and a lot of junk. an amazing amount of junk that people could find one reason or another to buy. It was practically a museum itself. Here, you could find old Japanese slot machines, rusty manual farm equipment, pocket knives of all shapes and sizes, homemade bird houses, Coca-Cola memorabilia, and Navajo blankets. It was like wandering through a museum.

That afternoon, we went on the Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave. I won't bother you with the history that we learned along the way; you can get that from their Web site. Suffice it to say that this was a pleasant, cool, 2½-hour walk with entirely too many people on it. The sheer numbers of people didn't inhibit enjoyment of the aactual hike (it was a more like hiking than spelunking), but those few times we did stop to hear about some of the history, we had to wait for five to ten minutes for the people at the back of the pack to catch up, which gave the boys time to complain.

The Historic Tour was great; I'd recommend it for people who like to hike. It was a little jarring, though, when at about two-thirds of the way through, we passed lighted, fully functional restrooms that had been carved out of the rock. For that moment, the whole thing seemed as fake as Guntown Mountain.

We were pretty tired by then, so we returned to the campsite and got a good fire going so we could roast hot dogs for dinner and then play a few board games. The deer came back around sunset, too, to see what was going on.

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