Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Cave So Big It’s…..uh……Mammoth!

As we traveled down I-65, we decided to take a break and spend a day visiting the Mammoth Cave area and Mammoth Cave National Park.  We stayed in the town appropriately named Cave City, which is surrounded by caves.  Besides Mammoth, there’s Cave Spring Caverns, Cub Run Cave, Diamond Cave, Kentucky Mammoth Cave EntranceDown Under, and others.  This part of the state is riddled with limestone caves, and for every cave there’s at least 20 souvenir stands and one miniature golf course.  While this is a busy place in the summer, it was quiet during our visit, and most of the tourist spots were closed for the winter.  We started our visit at the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center, a modern, well-staffed facility where we pondered over which tour (there are many different types) to take.  Mammoth Cave3 We settled on the discovery tour, which seemed to be a good compromise between what we’d see and the amount of time (1/12 hours).  We queued up behind our tour guide Ranger, and started down the path to the cave.  We entered the cave through the “natural” entrance, the one discovered when a hunter followed a wounded bear into a large hole in the ground.  History doesn’t tell us what was going through this hunter’s mind, but we can assume that following a large, wounded animal with big teeth into a dark hole was not undertaken by the area’s sharpest tack.  Mammoth Cave1 It was a long walk down the stairs and down to the first stop at the “rotunda”, where we stopped to look at the remains of a saltpeter mining operation that dated back to the War of 1812.  This area of the  cave system is not particularly colorful; there are no rock formations or stalactites or stalagmites, just lots of grey rock – but it is huge!  The cave roof soars overhead, and the corridors are easily big enough in most places to drive our motor home through.  The Ranger was interesting to listen to, and gave us just enough information to keep us interested without boring the children in the crowd.  Mammoth Cave2 From the rotunda, we toured other corridors and rooms, ending up in a large room that was once used as a hospital.  A doctor bought the cave in 1839 and touted the room as a place where the “vapors” would cure tuberculosis, which was at the time was a widespread epidemic.  Not surprisingly, the idea didn’t work, and was scrapped when the doctor died of….you guessed it – tuberculosis.  Mammoth Cave Exit The cave tour ended with a long climb back up those stairs, then a hike up the hill back to the visitor center.  Overall, it was an interesting tour that gave us an appreciation for the size (over 350 miles of caves mapped), and the history of the caves and the area. 

After leaving the visitor center, we decided to tour the rest of the park.  We came around a corner and Mammoth Cave Ferryunexpectedly ran into a river without a bridge….but it had a neat little free ferry.  We had to wonder how much money it must take to run a ferry across such a small river as opposed to just building a bridge, but heck, it was fun to ride across.
It’s a large National Park, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we drove the back roads, especially a gravel road we found that followed a winding creek through the woods.  Mammoth Cave Back Road This is a nice place to spend a few days or even a week if you’re interested in exploring caves – you can even go on tours that require you to crawl on hands and knees through small passages while wearing a caver’s hard hat…..not our idea of fun.  Besides, all we could think of while we were underground was hoping we wouldn’t become the U.S. version of the Chilean mine disaster!
We’re headed for Mississippi casino country, and I’m already reviewing colors for our new Prevost motorhome that I’m sure Brenda will win enough money for.  So come back and see how she’s done!

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