Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Finding the unexpected in Bluegrass Country

From our home base at Whispering Hills RV Park, we spent an enjoyable week exploring historic Georgetown and the local area. A generally pleasant campground in a pastoral setting, Whispering Hills RV Park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129 and 7 miles north of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 25.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using our tow-along, we drove several of the scenic back roads including the Buffalo Gals Homemakers Barn Quilt Trail near the small community of Stamping Ground, named for the buffalo herds that waited impatiently to drink from its spring.

Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day, we drove the scenic back roads past immaculate horse farms with manicured fields of bluegrass and miles of white and black plank fencing that are characteristic of central Kentucky. Another distinctive fence is the fieldstone or dry laid stone fencing. Although it’s almost inconceivable, no mortar of any kind was ever used. On this road trip, we ended our scenic drive at Keeneland Race Course, one of the most genteel, beautiful racetracks in the world.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. The first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad, Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture. The railroad running through the middle of the main street with a one-way street on either side of the tracks, creates much of the special charm and appeal of this friendly and quaint town.

Bluegrass Country Thoroughbred Horse Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Historic Midway, we continued onto Versailles, Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum, Wild Turkey Distillery, and Lawrenceburg.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Wild Turkey Distillery began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns, the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad). The tasting room houses the original copper still from the old Wild Turkey distillery. A delightful tour, led by a well-informed and articulate tour guide.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day and another road trip to Woodford Reserve Distillery. Set amid horse farms, Woodford Reserve was a scenic drive via Historic Midway. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn’s Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Re-opened in 1996, Woodford Reserve gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve bourbon is made much as Pepper’s bourbon was in the 1800s.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our final day we toured Frankfort visiting Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, Kentucky State Capitol and Floral Clock, Old State Capitol, Kentucky Historical Museum, and Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.

Kentucky Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons are bottled and sealed by hand.

Downtown Frankfort with Old State Capitol

The Trace Tour offers a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and begins with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found Georgetown to be the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. We  enjoyed our week but have left numerous attractions for another visit—Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, Danville and Shaker Museum, Ark Encounter, and Toyota Auto Plant Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Barn Quilt Trail: Folksy Phenomenon

Barn quilts are America, Mom, and apple pie

Today’s barn decorating revival became popular with a woman named Donna Sue Groves, from Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to honor her mother by hanging a colorful painted quilt square on her barn. 

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the start, the mother of the quilt-barn movement envisioned mile after mile of quilt trails throughout Appalachia, but the folksy phenomenon has exceeded her expectations.

“We’re celebrating quilting as an art form. We’re celebrating our agricultural heritage and supporting entrepreneurial opportunities,” Groves says.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of barn decoration dates back to the mid 1800s. Painting symbols on barns originated from traditional folk art passed along from the German and Swiss immigrants who settled the Pennsylvania Dutch region in southeastern Pennsylvania. Once these groups including Lutherans, Moravians, and Mennonites built their family farms and communities, they would paint small patterns on their barns to celebrate their heritage. Originally these patterns were simple stars, compass roses, or stylized birds from traditional folk art.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2000, when Donna Sue Groves set out to fulfill her promise to paint a quilt square on her mother’s tobacco barn, she decided to expand her folk art idea beyond their farm. As an Ohio Arts Council employee, she had a hunch that quilt squares painted on the sides of barns throughout Adams County would provide work for local artists and encourage visitors to travel through the countryside.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groves organized volunteers for the Adams County Quilt Barn Sampler committee as they established guidelines for the 8-foot-by-8-foot painted wooden squares called “barn quilts.” Her mother Maxine stitched a sampler quilt with 20 traditional patterns chosen by the group and in October 2001, they unveiled their first painted quilt square—an Ohio Star—on a barn during the Lewis Mountain Olde Thyme Herb Fair in Manchester, Ohio.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beginning tourists roamed the back roads of the county in search of the colorful quilt patterns, taking photographs, and visiting with barn owners.

As the folk art spread across the countryside, Donna Sue’s gift to her mother became a gift to rural America.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the start of the first quilt trail in America. Quilt trails have now being organized all across the country. Barn quilts are displayed around communities and then mapped out for tourists to follow these amazing works of art. They promote tourism and help draw visitors into rural communities.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditional stars and various quilt patterns are now being displayed on barns, homes, sheds, and sides of buildings. They are also put on posts and displayed in yards and parks. 

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, more than 4,000 quilt squares adorn barns and other buildings in 34 states, most situated along more than 120 designated barn-quilt trails.

“The trails are very localized. What’s going on is local pride,” says Suzi Parron, author of Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement, published in 2012.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parron, an English teacher from Stone Mountain, Georgia, became smitten with the folk art phenomenon after seeing a Flying Geese quilt square on a barn in Cadiz, Kentucky.

The quilt squares are painted by farm families, professional artists, high school art students, quilt guilds, 4-H groups, and other organizations.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each community organizes its own trail. Many groups seek art and tourism grants and donations to pay for paint, wood, and brochures. Local utility companies, fire departments, and building contractors often provide manpower and trucks with lifts to hang the wooden blocks. Sometimes, barn owners pay a few hundred dollars for their own barn quilts.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Morgan County, Colorado, quilting enthusiast Nancy Lauck has painted nearly 200 barn quilts since 2007 because she treasures the barns built by pioneering farmers.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another barn preservationist, Marcella Epperson in Johnson City, Tennessee, enjoys meeting visitors and sharing stories about her wooden-pegged barn built in 1898 by her grandfather. A combination of two quilt patterns—a LeMoyne Star set inside Swallows in the Window—decorates the barn.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barn quilts remind people of their agricultural roots, as Donna Sue Groves intended, and bring attention to the endangered status of century-old barns.

Worth Pondering…

A day patched with quilting seldom unravels.

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Historic Frankfort: Kentucky Distilled

Frankfort embodies the essence of everything that makes Kentucky special from natural charm and beauty to world-renowned bourbon. You could say that Frankfort is Kentucky Distilled. Frankfort is capitol halls and bourbon balls, rolling hills and rushing rivers, southern hospitality and historic buildings. Frankfort is beauty, big ideas, and bourbon.

Kentucky’s capital city, Frankfort, is nestled between Louisville and Lexington along the banks of the Kentucky River. Built among picturesque hills on both sides of the river, Frankfort is in the midst of the famous Kentucky blue grass region. An historic city, Frankfort is a quintessential river community with small town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality.

Frankfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings, as well as the new and old governor mansions, which are open to the public.

Center For Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get a sense of local history at the Kentucky Historical Society’s Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. The museum presents the history of Kentucky in an interesting way that appeals to people of all ages.

Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The museum encompasses all aspects of the Commonwealth’s history from the time of Kentucky’s Early People, the Native Americans who hunted and farmed the land. Exhibits show what it was like to live on the Kentucky Frontier in the late seventeen hundreds and how the Great Depression and World War II influenced the state’s development and its people.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city’s most prominent building is the State Capitol, about 400 feet long and 185 feet wide, built of granite and white limestone in the Italian Renaissance style, with 70 large Ionic columns, and a dome 205 feet above the terrace line, supported by 24 other columns. The Capitol was built in 1905-1907.

Kentucky State Capitol Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Capitol is the fourth permanent building since statehood in 1792. It was built to replace the earlier 1830 capitol, still standing and available for tours in the historic downtown area.

Old State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drinking it isn’t the only way to enjoy Kentucky bourbon. That’s why your tour of the Bluegrass should also include a trip to a candy shop. A Kentucky schoolteacher-turned-entrepreneur named Ruth Hanly Booe is credited with inventing bourbon candy. In 1919, she and another teacher, Rebecca Gooch, set up a candy business in the Prohibition-closed barroom of the Old Frankfort Hotel in Frankfort. The saloon-turned-candy shop was a big success. Ruth became sole owner in 1929.

Rebecca Ruth Candies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The idea of making bourbon candy supposedly grew out of a chance remark during Frankfort’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1936, when a friend of Ruth’s pointed out that her mint candy and bourbon were the two best tastes in the world. Candy made using her secret recipe is still sold by Ruth Booe’s descendants at Rebecca Ruth Candies. You can tour the factory in historic downtown Frankfort at 116 East Second Street, a short distance from the state capitol.

Rebecca Ruth Candies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our informative tour included the story of Ruth Hanley Hooe, a museum of olden candy making equipment, a view of the candy production line, chocolate sniffs, and a bourbon ball sample. We took a bunch back with us to the motorhome for additional research.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. During Prohibition the distillery was permitted to remain operational making whiskey for “medicinal purposes”.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons—Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, Hancock’s Reserve, and Elmer T. Lee—are bottled and sealed by hand.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses. Then we toured inside the Blanton’s Bottling Hall and saw signature bourbons being filled, sealed, labeled, and packaged—all by hand. 

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All tours are complimentary and include a tasting of Buffalo Trace Small Batch Bourbon, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon, and Bourbon Cream Liquor.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart

Keeneland: A Special Place

Located in the Horse Capital of the World, Keeneland is an internationally renowned racecourse and the Thoroughbred industry’s leading auction house

Kentucky is the undisputed mecca of the Thoroughbred industry in the U.S., both for breeding and racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year since 1875 this truth has been reaffirmed on the first Saturday in May, when sport’s brightest spotlight turns toward Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Its reputation as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” is well-deserved. The same goes for the race’s record attendance numbers which eclipse both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But those who follow the sport beyond the Julep-fueled weekend know that much of the prestigious race’s success is owed to another place a mere 80 miles east.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region, Keeneland plays an important role in both Thoroughbred racing and breeding. A fundamentally different kind of race track, Keeneland was purposefully conceived to serve as a lasting monument to the sport’s heritage and tradition.

From its inception in 1936, Keeneland’s founders, led by respected horsemen Hal Price Headley and Major Louis Beard, intended it to be a special place—one that symbolizes the best in Thoroughbred racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the story goes, after the closing of the Kentucky Association Track in 1933 during the thick of the Great Depression, Lexington was suddenly trackless for the first time in a century. While much of the country wandered adrift in search of food, shelter, and work, a committee of 10 local industry veterans hatched a plan to create America’s first not-for-profit track, one that would serve the community and reinvest proceeds into improving the grounds and fattening race purses.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decision to act during such a period of economic chaos proved fruitful for the group. Jack Keene, a colorful character and world-renowned Thoroughbred breeder and trainer who had kicked off his goal to build a private racing and training facility during the high of the roaring 20s before things went sour, was willing to part with his dream for a bargain. He had already constructed a foundation with potential in the form of a mile-and-a-furlong track and a stone castle and barn built from limestone mined in Kentucky, but work was still required to get the track up and running in 1936.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland’s role as a beacon for the sport soon expanded in 1939, thanks to the donation of over 2,300 volumes on the sport of horse racing by Lexington businessman William Arnold Hangar, who sowed the seed for the Keeneland library, which today contains nearly 200,000 books and approximately 250,000 photographs and stands as one of the world’s largest research and reference repositories on Thoroughbreds.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the track has received its fair share of updates and improvements over the decades, little has changed aesthetically. Keeneland was officially designated a national historic landmark in 1986, and if you’ve ever seen the 2003 movie, Seabiscuit, you’ve seen the pristine setting firsthand, as most of the racing scenes were filmed there.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2009 the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system of all of the country’s 65 Thoroughbred tracks, and ranked Keeneland at the very top.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Keeneland continues to be guided by that original mission, taking a leadership role in the industry and preserve racing’s storied history.

Each April and October (October 4-26, in 2019), the nation’s best Thoroughbred owners, trainers, and jockeys converge at Keeneland to compete for some of North America’s richest purse money. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the world’s leading Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other sales company, including 95 horses that won 103 races during the Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners and 21 Kentucky Derby winners.

Keeneland’s beautiful, park-like grounds are open to the public every day. Fans also are welcome to visit the famed Keeneland Library.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans and horsemen alike are welcome to enjoy its spectacular racing, attend one of its annual horse sales, or simply visit the grounds and celebrate Keeneland’s timeless beauty.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For guests interested in learning about the history of Keeneland and wanting an insider view of operations, guided walking tours are available. This outside walking tour takes guests through the Keeneland Paddock and Grandstand, grounds, and when available, to the Sales Pavilion. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour lasts for one hour and largely takes place outside—rain or shine. During the race meets in April and October, tours are available Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Worth Pondering…

To be born in Kentucky is a heritage; to brag about it is a habit; to appreciate it is a virtue.

―Irvin Cobb

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: Connecting People with Nature

Connecting with nature at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland. Today, over 250,000 visitors enjoy Bernheim each year.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born in Schmieheim, Germany on November 4, 1848, Bernheim immigrated to the United States in March, 1867 at the age of eighteen with only $4 in his pocket. But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After struggling for several years he moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard. By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition and died in 1945 at the age of 96.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim was a man of vision. Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon, Bernheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the more popular trails, the 1.3-mile Lake Nevin Loop circles the 32-acre manmade Lake Nevin, a feature of the landscape design created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1948. This mostly flat and gravel-paved trail crosses through many of Bernheim’s beautifully landscaped gardens and connects to several other trails. This trail highlights Lake Nevin’s features, including the cypress-tupelo swamp, bluegrass savanna, and its irrigation duties for Bernheim’s arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in to the visitor center, Kentucky’s first LEED platinum building for information to help plan your visit. Take time to relax, explore the gift shop, grab a bite at Isaac’s café, and learn about sustainable design.

Each month Bernheim sponsors special events for visitors. These include nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about wildlife and nature at Bernheim’s Education Center. Stop in to view their art gallery, explore exhibits, and enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Room where you can watch birds, small mammals, and bees interact with their natural environment.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience Bernheim from atop the oldest structure, the historic fire tower. A volunteer naturalist will lead you 961 feet up the flights of stairs for one of the best views in the state. The incredible scenery will leave you amazed as you take in the knobby landscape that surrounds Bernheim.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang out in the tree-tops in our Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located in Clermont (near Jim Beam Distillery), 30 miles south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on KY-245, then turn right into the entrance.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The arboretum is free to all Monday-Friday; weekends and holidays, $5 per vehicle.

Grandma’s RV Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville (I-65 at Exit 116); distance to Bernheim Forest is 7 miles

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Discovering the Joys of Kentucky Bourbon

Each distillery along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has a unique story to tell

Bourbon is big.

Along with Willie Nelson and his country music classic, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” we headed southeast to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching from Louisville to Lexington, then southwest along the Bluegrass Parkway, the trail is a trademarked destination made up of nine member distilleries. Over several days, we toured four of the chosen nine and then veered off to a new craft distillery. Like the four that are featured here, each had a unique story to tell, interlaced with a rich history and distinctive style.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon “distinctive,” you say? Heck yes. While once considered the drink of the common man, bourbon’s status has swelled in recent years, as sales have surged. Production has exceeded 1 million barrels annually for the past five years, driven by the demand of younger customers and an appreciation of small-batch and single-barrel bourbons, the premium equivalents of a single-malt scotch.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the uninitiated, a primer: All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are stringent regulations, set by Congress in 1964, that make bourbon exclusive within the spirits world. To be labeled a bourbon, it must be made in the United States using a grain mixture that’s at least 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof (62.5 percent alcohol); and it must be bottled at 80 proof or more.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling through verdant hills, Kentucky is a blend of genteel traditions—Churchill Downs, mint juleps, the stately white fences that frame the horse farms—and pure Americana: Louisville Slugger, Muhammad Ali Center, and Bill Monroe.

Barton 1792, Bardstown

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a sleepy valley in Bardstown lies the sprawling Barton 1792, an old school distillery with an old school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves.

Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Bardstown, we headed down the winding roads to the home of Maker’s Mark Distillery a National Historic Landmark nestled in the rolling hills of Marion County. Any bourbon tour would be incomplete without a stop at Maker’s Mark who has been producing its bourbon whiskey (they spell it “whisky” in honor of the company’s Scottish roots) since 1840.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are plenty of signs along the way to get you there in time to dip your own souvenir bottle in their signature red wax.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buildings from 1881 still stand, used in the production of brands such as Blanton, Stagg Jr. and Van Winkle, whose rare 23-year-old bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, fetches more than $1,000 a bottle.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in the late 1700s, Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest U.S. distillery that has continuously produced bourbon. The reason being, during Prohibition (1920 to 1933), it was one of six distilleries licensed by the federal government to sell whiskey for “medicinal purposes.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“A person could get a prescription from his doctor and receive 2 quarts per month,” says our tour guide.” And when Prohibition was canceled, Kentucky was the healthiest state in the Union.

Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wild Turkey Distillery tour reveals an intriguing combination of tradition and modern mass production. In the fermentation room, for example, 70-year-old cypress tanks stand next to modern stainless steel ones.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns , the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad).

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ll be back. Our well-practiced taste buds will demand it.

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart