Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mammoth Cave National Park; Cave City, Kentucky

Three years ago, we stayed in Bowling Green, Kentucky while Ed completed his training at Camping World RV Institute. We never took the time to visit Mammoth Cave, only 40 miles away, and Ed had promised me that we' d come back and see it. So I was determined to seize the opportunity on this trip. Last weekend, we made our home base at the brand-new Cave Country Campground in nearby Cave City, KY.

Mammoth Cave is so-named because it is the longest cave system in the world, with over 367 miles of mapped tunnels. Jewel Cave in South Dakota and a cave in Russia are the second and third longest caves - and Mammoth Cave is longer than the two of them put together! Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941 and became a World Heritage Site in 1981. Geologists estimate than there may be another 600 miles of unmapped tunnels that extend beyond the 53,000 acres of the Park's borders.

The guided tours of various sections of the cave sell out every weekend and this Saturday was no exception. We had a few hours until we could get on a tour, so we decided to take a boat ride on the aptly named "Miss Green River". The Green River flows through the park and is the culmination of all the underground rivers that have carved Mammoth Cave out of the limestone. The river was high and muddy from all the recent rains. Our captain pointed out turtles, warming themselves on the fallen trees on the riverbank.

After lunch at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, we returned for our tour. Members of our group boarded three schoolbuses that had been converted to run on propane. Our driver took us to a man-made entrance to access one the prettiest parts of the cave. Most of the cave is dry, but this part has a short section where dripping water created stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations over thousands of years. We climbed down 250 ft. via extremely steep and narrow stairways and passages.

Our ranger explained that the earliest cave guides hoped to lure wealthy New Yorkers to come visit Mammoth Cave. So they named many of the chambers and formations after places in New York. For example, here is our guide giving us information as we are all seated in a great big "room" they called "Grand Central Station".

After a brief rest, we continued our 3/4 mile walk through another dry portion of the cave.

Finally, we descended 75 steps into the only part of the cave with formations. Here is a type known generically as "draperies". See the curtain folds?

The grand finale of our tour, with yet another New York reference, is the multi-story wall called "Frozen Niagara". As impressive as Mammoth Cave is, we still think no other cave rivals Luray Caverns in Virginia for sheer beauty, interesting formations and colors. But each is unique - we've seen Jewel Cave and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico also - and Mammoth is well worth a visit.

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