Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Heights don’t bother me.  But one time I crawled on my belly in a narrow cave.  I’m still not comfortable in caves.  It was not a problem in Mammoth Cave National Park.  The name says it all.

You may recall we buy Christmas ornaments as souvenirs to reduce bulk.  Now we need two trees to handle them [a sign of how fortunate we have been].  So last year we started collecting national park pins.  They are even smaller.

Historic entrance to Mammoth Cave

We bought a pin in Great Smoky National Park in August.   It was in a package with pins from four other parks, three of which we had visited.  The fourth was Mammoth Cave.  No problem; we just decided we would see the cave on our next trip.  A four hundred and fifty mile detour is short compared to some we have taken.

Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941.  But people have been venturing into it for four thousand years.

Beneath a sandstone capstone are over 365 miles of surveyed passageways looping much like spaghetti through a 350 million year-old limestone layer.  That is more than twice as much as any other known cave, and geologists think only about a third of the probable passages have been explored.

Artifacts show prehistoric people used the cave about four thousand years ago but stopped using it around two thousand years ago.  It remained unused until rediscovered in 1798.  It quickly became a tourist attraction.

Today’s park covers over eighty-two square miles.  There is no entrance fee, and the above-ground park offers boating, fishing, bicycling,  and camping.  There are trails to hike, drive and horseback ride.

“Deceptively strong for their small size,” O4-2T steam engine used to pull cars to Mammoth Cave from the Glasgow Junction of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

There is a charge for a variety of underground tours.  Tours ranged from an easily accessible Frozen Niagara tour to a “physically demanding” Grand Avenue tour.  There are many choices.  It was late in the day and Alie’s RA prevents her from walking far, so we chose the relatively short Mammoth Passage introductory tour which begins at the historic entrance and passes through passageways so large I was prompted to ask if they had been mined out.  Along the way, we saw artifacts from both prehistoric peoples and early American saltpeter mining operations.

The spaces are huge; I had no claustrophobic reaction. Alie volunteered to take the next day off so I could take one of the more demanding tours, but I am still not a fan of caves, and we moved on.

No flash photography is permitted, so these photos are the best I could produce. Click on them to enlarge.

P.S.  Paraphrase of Rule 4 above: Choose to substitute curiosity for fear.  We have visited many caves over the years.  My favorite is Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park.  It’s passages were narrow but the formations were very unusual.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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10 Responses to Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

  1. Keith & Loraine says:

    Another fantastic history lesson
    lesson of our nation. Still beautiful pictures and thank you. Hugs to you both. LB

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You are so lucky to view these beautiful caves! I too buy ornaments for souvenirs!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, Ray, I enjoy caves but am no fan of tight spaces. I even get nervous with the cement barriers they put up on freeways! I never would have been a good spelunker. I like Mammoth. Have you been to Carlsbad? –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    • ralietravels says:

      I have been there. There is an interesting novel set in Carlsbad by author Nevada Barr, “Blind Descent.”
      I have probably taken a half dozen commercial tours over the years. I liked Luray Caverns in Virginia, but my favorite, as noted above, is Lehman at Great Basin NP. Were I to take the time, I think some of the longer more difficult trails at Mammoth would be interesting.
      For whatever reason, I did not feel the same sense of claustrophobia in an Austrian salt mine, a Wyoming trona mine or iron and coal mines; one ancient copper mine in Wales, however, was uncomfortable because it was narrow, low and one often had to lean to the side as that was how the vein of copper went. As is often the case, before I wrote this reply to you, I had not focused on the amount of time I have spent underground and am grateful for the experiences.


  4. Are there mammoth’s bones? Or the name of the cave is connected with its size only?

    Liked by 2 people

    • ralietravels says:

      The name is a comment on the size only. The main entrance was so large and rectangular [naturally formed] that it reminded me of a Wyoming mine I was in that had a two lane road back to the mine face.


  5. SCLMRose says:

    Fascinating! I felt claustrophobic in a cave but I still went to see two: a small one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. I really like Luray Caverns the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have not made it Mammoth Cave, but I can highly recommend Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Visiting it was like entering a different universe.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yongjia Song says:

    Can you imagine the passageway is 412 miles when I visited there in July? Time elapsed so fast and people are full of curiosity to explore unknown area.

    Liked by 1 person

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