Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave Travel Blog

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George and I waiting for the Mammoth Cave tour
My husband had spent a few minutes last night reading the tour descriptions on the park website and finally decided on the relatively short but sweet New Entrance Tour. George worried throughout the night and morning that perhaps this wasn't the "best" tour, i.e. the most scenic and hitting the cave highlights for newbies, since the person who took our reservation wasn't knowledgeable about Mammoth Cave.

In the morning we stopped at one of several Cracker Barrels along the 90-mile route to Mammoth. That had to be one of my least favorite meals there. Perhaps I've never had breakfast there, but I thought for sure it would be pretty tasty like most of their dinners are. Instead, the Grandma's special of wild Maine blueberry pancakes were disappointingly tasteless and overcooked, as was the bacon.
The tour guide gives his welcome spiel.
But I tried to eat what I could in order to fill up for the day. At least the tomato juice was tasty. George, on the other hand, had a scrumptious Uncle Somebody breakfast.

After breakfast we headed north to Kentucky. We arrived in Mammoth about an hour and 15 minutes later, just making the 12:15 designated arrival time. We got our tickets and sat outside in one of the shelters waiting for the tour to start. About 30 minutes later a young ranger appeared and started talking about the tour. As he was talking, I looked around at all the people gathered and realized that we may have been the only couple sans children in the group. I had noticed that most of the people in the visitor center were families, but I wasn't clear whether our tour was the family friendly tour or not.
Inside the cave
Clearly, it was. George had first suggested going on a 4.5 hour tour that was described as physically demanding, and for reasons that aren't even good enough to list here, I vetoed that and opted for a shorter tour. I definitely wish now I had agreed to the longer tour, although as you will read shortly, our tour was certainly entertaining enough.

We all piled onto school buses and drove about 3 miles into the park. The buses stopped and we all piled out. Before heading down into the cave, the ranger provided an overview of the tour and reminded people that if they had a medical emergency, it might take several hours to evacuate them since access to the cave is limited. I'm not sure how anyone could prevent a heart attack 30 minutes before it happens, but it seems like that was what was expected.

After the spiel, we finally headed down in the cave. We had to descend about 250 feet down nearly 300 very narrow steps and passageways, passing quite possibly the largest crickets I've ever seen (about 5 inches long) and a huge black spider that was half hidden in a crack in the cave ceiling. George and I were right behind the ranger who flashed his light on the spider. He explained that one ranger had freaked out when she saw it and tried to stifle her fear in front of the visitors. It was indeed a large spider, about 4 inches long, and probably a good thing that many people didn't see it.

The New Entrance was first discovered by a spelunker in 1921. From what the ranger explained, this part of the cave had not even been explored by Indians.
Our first group stop was in a large area called Grand Central Station since it contains several entranceways. We sat on benches and waited for the rest of the group to catch up while the ranger talked about how caves are made. This cave--as perhaps all caves are?--is made of limestone, and the sections we were led into were mainly expansive rooms in which the limestone had been worn away by time and water. Several visitors asked whether or not the ceiling would collapse, and the ranger patiently pointed out again and again the arches supporting the ceilings.

The terrain was quite hilly, and my thighs definitely got a workout. At one point, I heard the kid behind me panting and I didn't feel so bad being a little out of breath. Though we only covered 3/4 of a mile, it felt like much longer, which George attributed to the initial descent into the cave.
Near the end of the tour we finally came upon decorative formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, smooth bumps or protrusions in the cave floor, and what is known as Frozen Niagara, discovered in 1923.

According to the tour description, we passed through several landmarks, most of which were pointed out to us but not named, including Roosevelt's Dome, Silo Pit, Grand Central Station, Big Break, Fairy Ceiling, Flat Ceiling, and Frozen Niagara flowstone formation. We have photos of many of these, but as described in an earlier blog, will be added once I find a camera cord. Many of the photos actually came out spectacularly between our flash and the low lighting in most of the area.

The funniest part of the entire tour was overhearing a kid exclaim when he came upon George, who was spookily backlit by the yellow light, stopping to take a photo, "I thought he was a wolf!" And his dad quickly shushed him.
George got a big kick out of that.

We had passed wild turkey coming into the park, and on our way back to the visitor center passed a couple more, as well as fawn. After the tour, we stopped off at the Mammoth Cave Hotel to get a souvenir fridge magnet--we have quite a collection of several places we've visited over the years. The hotel and visitor center didn't offer much, so then we drove around the park to explore.

I had hoped to hike a trail to Maple Springs, but once we arrived at the trailhead, I realized that A. we didn't have a map, B. the trail was much longer than expected, and C. it was about to rain. So we turned back and headed to Nashville for dinner. The highlight of the winding drive was driving onto a ferry that took us across the Green River, which truly is green.
George mentioned that songwriters like John Prine have written about this river, and certainly if we had our kayaks on this trip with us, I would've made us stop to kayak down the serene river.

The ferry forges across only about 50 feet, but the water is deep enough to flood a truck, so the ferry is definitely needed. It's actually run on biodiesel, and I had noticed that the Hotel was big on advertising the ecoproducts they use to clean the place. Even the rangers talked about minimizing our impact on the environment, and this had to the be the first tourist site I've visited that emphasized environmental issues. It was a pleasant surprise that our federal government has finally opened its eyes and is making this statement, and I hope more sites follow suit.
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George and I waiting for the Mammo…
George and I waiting for the Mamm…
The tour guide gives his welcome s…
The tour guide gives his welcome …
Inside the cave
Inside the cave
in the bus on the way back to the …
in the bus on the way back to the…
At the visitor center. It looks li…
At the visitor center. It looks l…
Fording the Green River
Fording the Green River
The drive through the park
The drive through the park
Mammoth Cave
photo by: WaltJake