Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mammoth Memories

The world's longest known cave system can be found in Central Kentucky and it goes by the name of Mammoth Cave. It is aptly named, as Mammoth Cave has more than 400 miles of explored area.

Evidence suggests that visitors have been coming to Mammoth Cave for around 4,000 years. The remains of a Pre-Columbian man were discovered in the cave in 1935. He was crushed by a large rock as he was mining minerals. Ancient items have been discovered in the cave system, items such as: cane torches, gourd fragments, woven grass moccasins and cave drawings.

1797 marks the year that the first white man is supposed to have discovered Mammoth Cave. John Houchin is said to have been hunting a bear and he followed the injured bear into the cave.

Mammoth Cave is one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America. Tourists have been visiting the cave since 1816.

In 1841 the cave was owned by Dr. John Croghan. He believed the cave air could cure tuberculosis. That winter he took 16 patients into the cave and housed them in stone and wood huts. When some of his patients died those that were still alive left and the tuberculin "cure" was discontinued.

The picture below is of a tuberculosis hut that still stands in the cave today.

The Colonel and I joined the ranks of Mammoth Cave visitors when we toured the cave in June of this year.

We decided we wanted to take the Historic Tour. This tour would take us to the natural and historic entrance to the cave and lead us to the classic Mammoth Cave landmarks that have been visited by writers, scientists, military figures and celebrities of the 1800s and early 1900s.

We stood in line to purchase our tickets when a young couple asked us if we wanted to purchase their tickets. They were not aware that the tour would last about 2 hours and they would not have the time to take the tour. Their tickets were for the 10:00 Historic Tour...perfect! So we purchased the "scalped" tickets at face value.

Everyone who bought a 10:00 ticket was asked to wait beneath a shelter outside the building until our guide came to fetch us. A park ranger gave us the safety-what-to-expect spiel. There were going to be some tight spots to navigate and some crouching involved. There would be 440 stairs to be climbed up or down. The tour would cover 2 miles in the afore mentioned 2 hours. The difficulty meter would be set at moderate and the cave temperature would be in the mid 50s to low 60s.

Our guide and her helper (she would stay at the end of the line to watch for stragglers) came and we proceeded down a long, ever down-sloping path to the historic entrance of the cave. The closer we came to the cave entrance the cooler the air was around us. We had to walk down steps to gain entrance into the cave.

The first awe inspiring site we came across was called the Rotunda. The area was impressive in size. The rounded ceiling was cathedral like.

Moving further into the cave we saw the Giant's Coffin. It was a huge piece of rock that had fallen from the ceiling hundreds of years ago (still made you wonder if you were safe within the bowels of Kentucky).

This is a picture of the Mammoth Dome and the 155 steps we had to climb. Very beautiful but if you are afraid of heights don't look down.

The tight spots we were warned about came at "Fat Man's Misery".

We had to serpentine our way between tight places. Remember they called this "Fat Man's Misery" back in the day when most everyone was not a large as we are today...but we all made it through.


Then there was "Tall Man's Agony". There was much crouching and bending over I can tell you.

We did not see any bats as we looked up at the ceilings but we did see some smoke writings. These were signatures and dates left behind by early tourists using smoke from candles during the days past when the cave tours were given by candlelight. We saw the dates of 1839 and 1855 written there.

Our tour was ending and we made our way back to the entrance of the cave.

The tour ended just in time for lunch and we ate at one of the three places at the park, it was called TrogloBITES (I know cute, right?). It is your basic burger, fry and soda joint.

Visiting Mammoth Cave has been on The Colonel's "Bucket List" long before the phrase was coined or we all knew what one was (aka his childhood). I didn't even know it was on mine until I did it.

I think a visit to the world's longest cave system should appear on every one's Bucket List.

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