Mammoth Cave National Park Catch up! We arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park with a little over an hour to spare before our first cave tour. Fortunately I had planned ahead and we had purchased tickets for the cave tours a couple of months in advance. The poor souls who showed up with the intention of buying tickets same day were sorely disappointed. Much of the tours were sold out for several of the upcoming days. Great Onyx Cave Tour
Our Thursday tour was the Great Onyx Tour. While operated by the national park service this cave is technically outside of the park. But with the discoveries that are made every year linking more and more miles of Kentucky cave together, they suspect that one day Mammoth Cave and the Great Onyx Cave will be linked. The Great Onyx tour was different from others in that it was a "lantern" tour. Meaning the only light available in the cave during our tour was cast by the gas lanterns. The tour was a couple hours long, very informative and provided the opportunity to see several limestone formations. The previous owners of the cave were meticulous in requiring the cave be preserved. We were very impressed with how successful they were. We didn't see any vandalism or evidence of human oils that essential kill all stalactite and stalagmite growth.
Historic Entrance We returned to the Visitor Center with just enough time to purchase general admission tickets to the "old entrance" to Mammoth Cave. We hadn't even known this was an option before our arrival. We found out just in time and were able to explore the enormous entrance - the room was large enough to hold a large plane! Mammoth Cave truly is MAMMOTH in size. We learned that it is the largest cave system in the world at over 400 miles mapped and estimates of upwards of 1,000 miles. And all of this is within a 7 square mile area above ground. The geology of Kentucky is such that the layers of limestone have been capped by sandstone and shale and when rainwater worked its way underground in the form of sinking streams, it hollowed out the cave as underground rivers and carved tunnels and rooms and slot canyons. The sandstone "roof" has remained intact. Only in places where water leaks through the ground/roof are limestone formations present. Views from Sunset Point
After the cave areas closed, we took a short walk on national park grounds to watch the sun set before visiting the one restaurant in the park. We were only at Mammoth Cave for one night and opted to stay in the motel so we didn't bother with camping or cooking. The following morning we had our "big" tour. We signed up for the Grand Avenue tour. This is a guided tour, four miles in length through the parts of the cave accessible to visitors. It also combines most of the tours - so if you do this one you've nearly done them all. It was just what we wanted. However, we were surprised with the large size of the tour group ~ 60 people. We made certain we were at the front during those four hours so we could actually hear what the guy had to say and have the opportunity to take a few pictures without a million people in them. At first we weren't quite sure how much we would like Mammoth Cave. Narrow Walls It is very different from Lehman Caves and others we have visited that are rich with stalactites and stalagmites and other limestone formations. But as we weaved through enormous rooms with multiple tunnels branching off, narrow underground slot canyons and changed elevation several times, we gained an appreciation for what we were experiencing. We thought it was very fascinating. The last stretch of the tour was through the "Domes and Dripstones" section and it was here that we were rewarded with all the limestone formations. Echo River Springs Through this stretch it was obvious the difference in preservation between this cave and the Great Onyx cave. But the formations were still incredible both visually and in size. Very cool!
When our four miles concluded we were bused back to the Visitor Center from which we went on a few mile hike down to the Green River and then to Echo River Springs before heading up to the Visitor Center. It was a pleasant stroll through beautifully wooded land. And from there, as late afternoon fell we departed for Cambellsville, Kentucky.
We really enjoyed Mammoth Cave (park #25!) and would love to go back!
Pictures are here.