Thursday, May 9, 2013
MAMMOUTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK, KENTUCKY
Mammouth Cave is without a doubt the biggest cave in the world, covering 73,000 acres and 400 miles of underground territory. That figure may grow as cave explorers continue to map and explore to find the end of this massive underground water-formed labyrinth. The cave isn't the only mammoth thing, the cave cricket above is from two to three inches in length. It doesn't make sounds like our above ground crickets.
We arrived at the visitors center one hour before our reservation. That hour was nicely filled by a film and the displays. Because of my difficulty to do stairs, we signed on for a short tour that only has 12 steps and an optional 98. The tours are many and varied; you will have a lot of choices. Mammouth has tours for every adventurous spirit. I took pictures of one of the films figuring it would have much we will not see on our tour, such as this altar rock.
When the cave was in private hands, people were invited to get married in the cave along with their guests.
Through a hole in the limestone roof, water cascades into the cave from a sinkhole above that captures water during heavy rains.
The cave system was occupied by various indigenous people at least 7,000 years ago. Their rush torches undecayed on a rock; evidence of their fires at the bottom of the cave from the discovery entrance. While we don't know much about current cave mappers/explorers, we do know a bit about the old timers.
Stephen Bishop, a self-educated enslaved person became a legendary guide and explorer. He began guiding visitors at the age of 17 in 1838. He was the first to get by the daunting "deep hole" and opened up many miles of the cave. (Not pictured.)
An amateur explorer, Floyd Collins, died in the cave in 1925, trapped under a boulder in a sand cave. No one was able to rescue him. Sensational news coverage spurred the government to make it a National Park in 1926.
From an original seven miles of cave, Mammouth has grown, and grown. In 1993, it was a 370 mile cave. The current mappers/explorers continue to push deeper and deeper into unknown areas, often crawling like ants in a tube to discover new "rooms". The explorer above has an inflated roof to keep water from dropping on him and his stuff while he sleeps and eats.
The film had photos of several different types of bats in the cave. These are only as big as your thumb.
Caves are losing millions of their bats to a disease called white nose. It started in the East and is moving west. It has reached Mammouth in a part of the cave where no visitors travel. So, they figure the disease was brought in by the bats. But, as a precaution, you walk across a haz-mat to clean your shoes when leaving the cave, and they ask you to clean before you enter if you've visited a cave or a mine within the last five years. It is a critical disease probably brought from another country on someones feet.
We know we won't be going on the underground river tour, but isn't that an exciting idea? I swam across an underground river in a cave, hanging onto a rope, in Cave City located in Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County, CA. where I live. It was an amazing experience.
A plant that grows in the cave. The connection to the outside, bats, birds, insects, fish, salamanders, all play their part in this unique eco-system. Fascinating.
This colorful fall of eroded limestone is golden and beautiful. I'll post my own pictures from the cave tomorrow, since we have washday and other chores today. I'm bummed because early in the tour, a drop of liquid fell on my head, and, unbeknownst to me, one drop hit my camera lens. Most of my pictures are smudged. Lighting is such and the ability to learn quickly how to take photos in a dark cave, means my pictures are disappointing. In this little tour, you don't find the fans and the bacon and multiple colors I've seen in other caves. A woman on the tour complained, "Carlsbad is much prettier. I wasn't impressed with this cave." Considering how little she saw of Mammouth, I feel lucky to be here, at this point in time, in a cave of great significance and renown the world over. Millions of people go through this park every year and find beauty here, as we did.