The longest cave in the world is found in Kentucky with over 365 miles of explored caves to wonder and get lost in. Although if you’re not an experienced cave explorer than you have to be escorted inside because it would be too easy to get lost and not be found for a long time as so many of the passageways look the same. Fortunately there is also a lot to explore outside of the cave as well with almost 80 miles of trails to hike and the Green River in this 53,000 acre national park.
Mammoth Cave National Park is not on our National Parks Monopoly Board but has been a destination of interest for us and this spring we had to opportunity to join some friends and visit this cave. I get a little nervous before entering any cave due to claustrophobia but after going in Wind Cave and Jewel Cave I’ve learned that these caves are so enormous, especially where the tours are, that I forget I’m underground in a cave most of the time which allows me to take in the surroundings and enjoy the cave. I recommend getting to Mammoth early in the day as the tour tickets go fast at this popular National Park.
The pathways are fairly easily managed and there is plenty of light to navigate by, once your eyes adjust, while being led through the tunnels by a ranger. Just be prepared for a lot of stairs. There are several tour options available which take you to different parts of the cave and highlight different formations and the historic events that occurred in certain areas such as mining saltpeter which is used for gun powder and holding church services during the hottest times of the year. We chose to take the Historic Tour as our introduction to Mammoth Cave.
After meeting at the predetermined location we began walking towards the historic entrance which was all downhill for us. Following a brief talk covering the rules and guidelines inside the cave we headed down a long staircase going inside the cave. There was a set of doors to go through and we were inside this dark, cool, and damp maze. I was surprised to be underground exploring a cave this quickly. My prior experiences all required an elevator to get inside the cave and yet here we were. It was hard to see much making the lighting seem rather dim. As it turned out, our eyes just needed to adjust as moments earlier we were in the sunlight. Once our eyesight was adjusted for these cave conditions, it was much easier to take in these unique surroundings.
This two hour tour goes up and down, sometimes with stairs and other times just on a dirt path. It winds around boulders and man made structures used at different times during the many uses of Mammoth Cave. In some of the areas there are names written on the walls and ceilings from before becoming a National Park. There are naturally carved areas larger than most houses and tiny narrow openings that only one person can squeeze through in this winding system of tunnels. These passageways were all carved out by running water which continues to make new areas even today. Just at lower levels. Such amazing sights and beautiful formations to remember because photos are difficult and a tripod is not allowed on the tour. I just set my camera on a rock or the floor to keep it as still as possible to get the best pictures I could when there was time because the group was stopped. Otherwise you could fall behind and that was not a pleasant thought.
Without lights it would be so dark you couldn’t see your hand right in front of your face. And when there is no one else near you it is so quiet all you can hear is a loud high pitched buzzing coming from the moving parts in your ears as air moves over them. Even with all the people on the tour there can be a sense of loneliness in such a large rock structure and a fear of getting lost in these numerous caverns. Good incentives to stay with the ranger leading the group and continually counting everyone that started this tour with you. After walking for about 2 miles you begin to see familiar stones again with daylight soon after. The tour is complete. Ready to do it again?
After being below ground for a couple of hours we decided to explore above ground for awhile to take in the scenery and an amazing spring day under the sun. The rock formations here are also beautiful and help translate to the rocks below ground. The main difference is that these rocks are subject to the harsh elements of the Kentucky climate such as wind and rain and snow and ice. There are plants growing all around breaking these enormous boulders into smaller rocks over time. All of which either does not occur underground or in lesser amounts. Plenty of this to climb on or around if you’re young enough. For the rest of us, the trails are relatively easy to navigate so everybody can enjoy time wondering through the woods and catch a glimpse of the Green River which is largely responsible for the depth of the tunnels inside Mammoth Cave by controlling the falling water levels over many thousands of years. Amazing how these different environments work together to make such a creation.