Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dinosaur World: Cave City, KY

After spending the night in a Wigwam, eating breakfast at a restaurant that still has a smoking section (it was full) and before we explored abandoned Funtown Mountain, there was Dinosaur World. There are three different Dinosaur Worlds, one in Florida, Texas and Kentucky. Cave City, Kentucky is located near Mammoth Cave Park and was obviously once a booming tourist town. There are still motels, gift shops and other attractions, but the whole town feels largely stuck in time.

Unlike Funtown Mountain across the street, Dinosaur World seems to be doing quite well—they're even open every single day except Christmas and Thanksgiving from 8:30am - 6pm. Dinosaur World features more than 150 life-sized dinosaurs set along an outdoor, wooded path. I read a review where someone complained that they weren't animatronic, but it was the low-tech nature of it all that appealed to me most.

I wouldn't consider myself to have an extensive knowledge of all things dinosaur-related, but I was blown away by how many different kinds of dinosaurs have been discovered. It's one thing to read about their different traits and sizes, but it's another thing entirely to see them up close and in person. Dinosaur World also has a "Mammoth Garden," and if there's one extinct species that we should try to resurrect, it should be the Wooly Mammoth.

Some of the dinosaurs looked predictably scary, but others looked so silly that they made me laugh. Nature is such a weird and wonderful thing, and it wasn't hard to draw connections between dinosaurs and modern-day creatures like birds and lizards. We'll probably never know what it's like to share the earth with dinosaurs like the ones we imagine, but a day at Dinosaur World was more than sufficient to quell that urge. And if all of the Jurassic Park movies are to be believed, resurrecting actual dinosaurs is most likely a terrible idea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery

After meeting my eighth Muffer Man, I headed back east toward downtown Jersey City and stopped at the Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery. The cemetery was incorporated in 1831, after a cholera epidemic forced the city to create a larger cemetery on the outskirts of town. The site of the cemetery had previously been host to several Revolutionary War skirmishes and to an active ammunition bunker during the War of 1812.

The cemetery was badly neglected and abandoned until a volunteer group took over in 2008 and began to clean up and restore the grounds. It was during these restoration efforts that a series of tunnels and chambers were discovered through an old door set into the hillside. The tunnels were filled with bones, unburied coffins and boxes of munitions leftover from the war. Unfortunately I didn't get inside of the tunnels, and in fact, I was lucky enough to get inside of the actual cemetery. 

When I finally found the entrance, I discovered that the gate was locked. As I started to walk away disappointed (George Michael-style—head down, Charlie Brown theme playing), I noticed a man approaching the gate from inside of the cemetery. I went back and asked if I could "just look around," and to my surprise he unlocked the gates and waved me in. He mumbled what sounded like "the ghost got out again" as he was re-locking the gate, and I laughed until he said it again and I realized he was actually saying "the goats got out again."

All summer long the cemetery is using goats to help clear the weeds, and they were apparently having a hard time keeping them inside of the cemetery. I'm very grateful to the man that let me in, and to the other man tending to the goats who allowed me to explore the grounds ("Get some shots of the goats," he said. "They won't bite!"). I'm assuming they were the two veterans who now live in the caretakers cottage in exchange for watching over the cemetery, which sounds a lot like my dream job that I never knew existed. 

Although I would have loved to explore the tunnels, the cemetery grounds are plenty fascinating on their own. If you just wandered into the Jersey City cemetery, you would have no idea that it was abandoned or was once in such bad condition. It's only when you take a closer look do you start to notice broken stones, sunken graves and areas still covered in weeds.

The Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery immediately reminded me of Eastern Cemetery in KY—both places were saved from years of neglect and abuse by a group of caring volunteers. Additionally, the cemetery regularly hosts fundraising events such as movies, plays and concerts, with all proceeds going toward their maintenance, upkeep and preservation efforts.