Day 4: Mammoth Cave

Day 4: Mammoth Cave

Today was spectacular. Honestly, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. We were just in Lehman Caves last month and did Timpanogos Cave last year. I thought we were caved out. I figured that once you have seen a cave, you have kind of seen all caves. I was so proven wrong today.

I was here as a child and have no recollection of it, so it was a new adventure for us all. Last week, Zak did a great job booking the really cool tours. We did two tours, Grand Avenue (4 hours, 4 miles) and Violet’s City (3 hours, 3 miles.) I had been nervous about spending so much time underground, in the dark, in the cold, with no escape route. However, the hours flew by and there was so much history and science to take in, that it really was impossible to focus on my worries.

The first hike began at 9 and we took a bus to the entrance. From there we were given a few simple instructions and then led down into the cave. 146 steps down. (You know that is a kind of hike I like.) It was breathtaking. I was expecting the whole cave to be filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave features, but it wasn’t at all. The rooms were open and vast and the gypsum sparkled along the walls and ceilings. We hiked (it was a legitimate hike, huge uphills and downhills, switchbacks, and sweating) for four miles underground. Along the way Ranger David told us stories of the history of the cave. How it was formed so long ago and how people have been using it for the past 200 years. It was quite the elite thing to do in the mid 1800s, drawing tourists from all around the world. Slaves were the guides and because the tourists were rich, they were educated. Therefore they taught slaves to read and write and we all know the power of education. The guides would allow the tourists to write their names in smoke from candles for a fee. In fact, there is graffiti from 200 to 100 years ago covering many of the cave walls. Also, the smoke from the lanterns they used caused much of the gypsum to turn black. In the 1930s the CCC laid much of the path we hiked today. It was during that time period that they put in a whole cafeteria, bathrooms, drinking fountain, and other amenities. We peed in a cave today. And one of us may of pooped. That is kind of cool if you think about it.

When we got out of the cave we took a bus ride back to the Visitor’s Center that pretty much followed the route we had hiked. We had a tasty lunch at the lodge’s restaurant and Zak and I had Kentucky Hot Brown sandwiches. Delish!

Our next tour was my favorite. Although we learned a lot of what had been gone over in the morning hike, this one was only lit by the lanterns we carried. It was amazing. We could only see the few feet the surrounded us and we got a real taste for what it would of been like to discover the caves. We saw artifacts from American Indians from over 2000 years ago. Moccasins and a gourd bowl. We saw the locations of mummified remains. The layers of cultural history were complex, yet fascinating.

Although it was exhausting, this was one of my favorite days of the summer thus far. We wrapped the evening up at a hipster place, Burgers and Mussels, in Louisville We counted 14 indications of a hipster restaurant. Another great day on this little journey!

(Flash photography was not allowed in the cave so we have just a handful of pictures.)

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