25 Jan
2016
Posted in: travel
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Take a Trip: Mammoth Cave National Park

This year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. There are over 400 entities run by the NPS. I’ll share tips from different National Park Service sites we’ve visited throughout 2016.

We had a bucket list of places we knew had to be included on our driving route for our Epic Road Trip to Florida last summer. One of those near the top of the list was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We’ve visited several National Park Service cave-centered units including Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Wind Cave and Jewel Cave in South Dakota. Limestone-eroded Mammoth Cave proved to be much different than our previous cave experiences.

Mammoth Cave entrance

Mammoth is the world’s longest cave system at more than 400 explored miles of caverns, and it’s believed there are 600 miles of undiscovered passages. It’s always strange to me when we visit a cave system to walk above ground knowing there are so many explorable passages below our feet. The park itself doesn’t have an entrance fee, but tours are assessed a small fee. Several types of tours are offered throughout the year. Reservations aren’t required, but are recommended. We made reservations online weeks in advance. If we wouldn’t have had reservations, we wouldn’t have been able to take a tour. All the tours were booked the afternoon we were visiting.

Inside a cavern at Mammoth Cave National Park

We took the historic tour which encompassed the long, fascinating history of Mammoth Cave. Artifacts dating 4,000 to 2,000 years ago from Native Americans have been found in the cave. Prior to and during the War of 1812, saltpeter was mined to be used in manufacturing gunpowder. Remnants from the mining process remain in the cave for visitors to see. Mammoth Cave became a tourist attraction in 1816 and joined as a site of the National Park Service in 1926.

Mammoth Cave Historical Tour cavern

We descended a set of stairs into the entrance for our tour and were met by an expansive space to start our tour with the history of the saltpeter mining. Tight spaces make me nervous, but this tour, for the most part, never caused my blood pressure to rise. There were a few tight spots on the historic tour. I’m tall so I had to watch my head quite often. A few spots required single file passage and turning to the side, but the tighter squeezes were short distances and followed by very large, open caverns.

Mammoth Cave low ceiling

Our park ranger guide was fantastic. He brought the history of the cave to life. He talked extensively of Stephen Bishop, a slave, who became a renowned explorer and guide beginning in 1838. He told us stories of the discovery of the remains of an ancient visitor as well as the discovery of a corset that had been cut-off a woman visitor to the cave in the 1800s.

Mammoth Cave passageway

The historic tour has electric lighting along the tour. There is one part of the tour where the guide turns off all lights to give visitors an idea of the complete darkness of the cave. It was void of light and eerily quiet. I can’t imagine the early mapping of the cave system relying on candles and oil lanterns to make your way through the system, or high society visitors in the 1800s corseted and donning jackets and top hats touring the cave for hours on end.

two children hiking a trail at Mammoth Cave National Park

There are hiking trails above ground at the park. We walked a short trail to view the Green River which meanders through the park land. Being westerners, we were astonished at the vibrant green of the trees in the park and the moss and algae that grew on everything. Camping is also available at the park, including cabins to rent. I hope to be near Mammoth Cave on one of our future adventures to take a different tour of the cave system.

 

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