What better way to spend (yet another) hot, humid day than beneath ground where the temperature hovers around 56 degrees. Our first stop was at the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center. This is one the best and most informative centers we’ve viewed.
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world and yet the full extent of this underground labyrinth remains unexplored. Most of the information given on the cave records it length at 365 to 390 miles but as recently as 2012 ten more miles have been added to the total system surveyed, making it 400 surveyed miles to date. Geologists believe there could be 600 miles or more of yet undiscovered passageways.
Archaeologists have evidence from artifacts left behind, that from 4,000 to 2,000 years ago, Indians mined minerals and salt from the cave. Cave exploration appears to have ceased after that until the cave was (re)discovered anew by settlers in 1798. The settlers found a new use for the cave and its resources, that of mining saltpeter. Saltpeter is used in the making of gunpowder. A portion of that mine can still be seen today on one of the many tours offered by park services.
After the War of 1812, the “mammoth” cave’s notoriety grew and by 1816 it had become a tourist attraction. In 1838, slaves owned by the cave’s owners became tour guides for the many visitors. One of the slaves, Stephen Bishop, became legendary. Bishop, a self-educated slave started as a guide at the age of 17. He was the first man to explore many of the cave’s vast miles. He was also the first to cross the previously impassable Bottomless Pit and to discover some of the cave’s life forms. Mammoth Cave became a national park in 1926. At that time only 40 miles or so of the cave’s passages had been surveyed and mapped out.
Today we know that the cave’s underground system expands well beyond the park’s borders. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1981 and became a core area for the International Biosphere Reserve in 1990. Being a World Heritage Site means that the cave was deemed to be of international importance and deserves to be protected. Being listed as an International Biosphere Reserve means that Mammoth Cave’s workers and its area residents strive to live in harmony with the cave’s diversified ecosystem. The two should protect the integrity of Mammoth Cave for future generations.
The National Park Service offers a variety of tour options. A word of advice, decide upon and book your tour early if planning a visit to the park as they fill up fast. The tours permit only a limited number of guests at a time. That number depends on the tour selected. Each tour group has it’s own ranger guide and begin at specified times. We chose the Frozen Niagara tour for our first visit.
Both photos show the cave’s ceiling Our guide was very knowledgeable. He imparted how the cave system came to be formed by the slow dissolution of limestone by groundwater over thousands of years, and pointed out the different formations we encountered. Stalactites are the formations that hang from the caves ceiling, stalagmites are the formations that form from the ground upward. An easy way to remember which is which is, stalactite has a C in it for ceiling and stalagmite has a G for ground.
I did my best to take a few photos of the formations but the cave is dimly lit and camera flash is not permitted inside.
After we completed our Frozen Niagara tour, Don and I walked down to the Historic Entrance to the cave. It was much smaller than we had anticipated but the welcome breeze blowing through the elongated wind tunnel was very inviting indeed. In fact later, back in the truck with the air conditioning turned on and set at 60 degrees, we remarked how much cooler than wind tunnel had been as compared to the trucks air.
Topside, we were lucky enough to witness a doe and her fawn cross the road in front of us but I was too slow to react with the camera. I did get a few wild turkey shots though. The park is teeming with them.
We highly recommend a visit to Mammoth Cave, one of America’s first designated national Parks.
Shortly after arriving back at our campsite a thunderstorm came up suddenly and Don and I had to hustle in a torrential downpour to take the lights down and bring the awning in. We were drenched. One things for certain though, that little impromptu shower sure was refreshing.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid………………………