First off, if you have never made a trip to Mammoth Cave National Park (MCNP) make sure to put it on the to-do list for 2016! When you take a tour in MCNP, you are not only walking into a geological masterpiece, but you are also walking into a piece of Kentucky’s history that is, for lack of better words, awesome. This is a remarkable experience for all ages, cultures, and interests alike. Above ground, MCNP has miles of biking trails, hiking trails, access to paddling the Green River, campgrounds, and backcountry camping. It’s certainly a trophy in the National Park Service lineup, and we’re proud to have it in Kentucky.
During the winter months the park is fairly quiet. They offer fewer tours and other activities are a bit more calm as well, due to the cooler weather. During the summer months you can explore up to 12 miles of guided tours in the cave system. That’s 12 miles all underground. Seems like a lot for a cave, right? Well, Mammoth Cave has 405 miles of known and surveyed cave in all. There is no other known cave system in the world that measures up to this amount. To put it in perspective, that’s about the same as driving from Louisville to Mammoth Cave and back... twice.
With this being the National Park Service’s 100th year of operation, they have announced 16 fee-free days that they will be hosting. Martin Luther King Jr. Day happened to be one of them. Taking advantage of this, LJ and I decided to go on a couple of tours. Only one was in the “free category” which was the Mammoth Cave Passage tour. Before we hit it, we did the Domes and Dripstones tour, a two hour tour that shows some of the amazing geology of the cave.
During this tour we climbed and descended a lot of steps, 500 some all together. By going deep down into the cave, we could see and understand a lot of the details about how it was created, what minerals are in the cave, how it is layered, a little of its history, and the various types of formations. Some of those formations consist of stalactites and stalagmites, one of the more interesting cave formations that, if undisturbed, are still developing.
The second tour was a bit different. We entered what is know as the “Historic Entrance,” which is located just under the visitor center. This was the Passage tour, which was the free tour and lasted just over an hour. In this tour, we learned a bit more about the history of the cave. We got to visit the Rotunda which is one of the larger rooms in the cave, located near the entrance. When I say large, this room will make you feel tight the next time you go into parking garage. The history of the cave touched on Native American presence in the cave, the cave’s role in the War of 1812, mining operations, private ownership of the cave, slave guided tours, and more.
It’s hard to leave MCNP and not be awestruck no matter how many times you go. There is always something new to learn and something different to see that you probably didn’t catch the first time. We could go into a lot of amazing detail but I encourage you to just go and learn all you can. Also, if you get Jerry as your guide, you are in for an extra special treat.