The Best Of Kentucky

Many Americans have tales to tell about family trips in the back of the station wagon to Niagra Falls, Disney World or Yosemite. All great places. And chances are, you don't think "vacation" when you think of Kentucky. If that's the case, then you've been missing out.

Three Chimneys Farm outside Lexington was home to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew until his death earlier this month - a fitting retirement spot for one of the most successful stallions in horse-racing history.

A very visible face of the Bluegrass State for outsiders is the Kentucky Derby. But what goes on behind the scenes is just as important.

Thoroughbreds are the state's no. 1 agricultural export. Horse breeders will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to mate their mares with a top stallion, which is where farms like Three Chimneys come in - a sort of very elaborate and expensive matchmaking service.

Underground Kentucky has attracted tourists since the mid-19th century.

"Mammoth Cave is 350 miles along. Yes, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world," says park ranger Vickie Carson. She has been on the job at Mammoth for over two decades.

So what is so special about a cave?

"I think its mystery. I think it's just the unknown, someplace unusual, someplace you wouldn't find in your backyard. It is a very alien world, certainly no natural light, no natural sound," explains Carson.

Neighboring Diamond Cavern, while a fraction of the size of Mammoth, is also worth a trip.

And if you're like Booker Noe, all that cave hopping might make you thirsty. Actually, everything makes Booker thirsty. Booker's grandfather was Jim Beam, Bourbon runs through his veins.

"That's the taste of Kentucky, Kentucky tea," he says.

Another taste of Kentucky is fried chicken. And not the kind you get in a bucket.

Booker's old friend, Toogie, owns Kurtz restaurant. Legend has it that Colonel Sanders tried to convince Toogie's mother to sell Kurtz to his growing franchise. But the restaurant- and the chicken - retained its independence -- to the delight of regulars and out-of-towners alike, who sing its praises.

Bluegrass music was born in Kentucky, and lives on, thanks to the work of Homer Ledford. He not only makes instruments with his saw, he makes music.

His repertoire includes the mandolin, the fiddle, and something of his own invention he calls a dulci-jo (a cross between a dulcimer and a banjo). Three of his creations are in the Smithsonian.

And if bluegrass, horse country, bourbon and cave exploring aren't enough reasons to visit Kentucky, it's also a favorite of history buffs. Abraham Lincoln's first home has been made into a museum, and Civil War battlegrounds dot the countryside.

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