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.
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.
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.