Sunday, April 18, 2010

They Call it "Mammoth Cave" for a reason...

Into the depths of Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Yet another chapter of the spring break history trip - this one perhaps the most unique. Unlike my geographer/geologist father, I couldn't have told you one geologically interesting fact about the place. So, in most cases, I will allow the photos to speak for themselves. I only wish you could sense the scale of some of the stalagmites and stalactites adorning the cave system.

Although Mammoth Cave has 365 miles of surveyed passageways, experts say there could be another 600 miles of unexplored caverns! Holy crap. With about 130 life forms and miles of waterways, the cave is the most extensive in North America and probably on earth. Evidence of ancient life ranging from 2,000 - 4,000 years ago is evidenced within the cave. The site became one of the first tourist attractions in the nation, beginning in 1816. However, the cave was not established as a National Park until 1926.

Early settlers to the rural Kentucky area discovered a number of uses for the cave. They mined for saltpeter - a main ingredient for gunpowder. A number of these workers were slaves. The cave served this purpose during the War of 1812 and became rather famous as a result. One slave, Stephen Bishop, was leased by his owner and perhaps became the cave's first tour guides. Over the next one hundred years, amateur explorers, guides, adventurers, and tourist visited the cave with little experience, safety, or supervision. On amateur caver named Floyd Collins was trapped in the cave for several days before he finally perished. The publicity from this event ushered the National Park Service into the scene to be the site administrator and guardian to visitors and natural resources alike. (Visitors were once able to rip off stalactites and other features from the cave walls as souvenirs, not realizing these formations take thousands of years to grow.) Below are a few photos from our underground adventure - a very deep subject indeed!

Please visit the park's website to learn more about the site's incredibly rich history and beauty.

To get to the cave, we first had to use the NPS ferry to cross the nearby Green River. Hmm, wonder why they call it that?

This is the "Historic Entrance" of Mammoth Cave, the site where the first visitors entered two centuries ago.

The nearby river system was a hotbed of incoming and outgoing tourists as well as goods to provide for them.

Dr. Steven Andrews on the shores of the Green River.

Before we entered one of the cave's many entrances, Ranger Liz with the NPS offered us some background information.

This was the first picture within the cave I took.

Fellow History student Justin Shope walks ahead of me on the skinny stairway as we make our descent into the abyss.

Just don't look down if you are afraid of heights...

This corridor leads you to one of the main cavern areas known as "Grand Central Station."

I don't remember if this view is looking up or down! It all looks the same in photo form!

Yeah, yeah. What's so special about these? Well, you can't tell in the photograph, but these rocks are the size of automobiles.

The cave ceiling, looking about 15 feet up, I believe was called "The Grand Canyon." This spot is about 200 feet below the surface.

Another ceiling shot.

This formation was like a massive waterfall. For some comparison, the shiny rails at the bottom right are stairs. Yeah, they're that big.

I was looking directly up at the ceiling below this formation. Cool, huh?

I was rather pleased by how some of these shots turned out. As you can guess, it was really dark in most places. Ranger Liz even turned out the lights at one point so we could have a "total darkness" moment. And it was! Mammoth Cave is pretty far out there as far as wilderness goes, but definitely worth a visit for anybody interested in nature, history, or a simple good time.

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