Summer Road Trip!!!!
One year after our Epic Trip across the country, we were itching to get back out on the road! We had one week off so we decided to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, which we had to skip on our 2013 Trip due to the government shutdown, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which we had intentionally saved for when we were living on the east coast.
We spent the 11 hour drive reminiscing about our Epic Trip, trading stories back and forth, “Remember when…” We then played a game recalling every single day of our 70-day trip in order by listing one or two events that happened each day! We were able to come up with several stories for each day without forgetting a day including some days that just involved driving 10 hours across Nevada. We hope to never forget those stories.
We stayed in a hotel just 20 minutes outside of Mammoth National Park. We woke up to torrential rain and realized this is probably one of the best National Parks to visit in the rain… since it’s all underground! To see the caves, you have to take the guided tours. They have a ton of options with different focuses like history or geology.
We decided to take the Beginning Caving Tour, which goes off the defined pathways and is intended to give you a taste of exploring new pathways or areas of a cave. To protect yourself and the cave, you have to wear a one-piece jump suit which comes in handy while you are crawling on your stomach from one room into another. Unfortunately, it also meant that larger cameras weren’t really an option. Then again, the areas we went were totally dark except for our headlamps, so photos would have been tough anyways. It was truly an introduction to caving and we didn’t see or learn much about the history of the cave, but we did learn how easy it would be to get lost. The guide took us in several circles and always surprised us by revealing that we had already see this particular opening or feature, just from a different direction. After that tour, we probably wouldn’t ever try exploring a cave on our own. We also were glad that we didn’t sign up for the more advanced version of the tour that lasts 6 hours… 6 hours of crawling on your hands and knees or sliding on your belly in the dark without much to see isn’t really our idea of fun.
There isn’t much in the surrounding “cities”, but we thought we should try eating at a local restaurant. It was an Italian restaurant that had a few nice reviews, so we went expecting a standard place with menus, but there was only two choices for entrees! Neither were very good, but it was quick! We then returned for another tour focused more on the history and discovery of the cave. The local park ranger was entertaining with his Kentucky accent, dry humor, and vast knowledge of the cave’s history.
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system known in the world, with 400 miles of surveyed passageways! The cave was mainly created by water dissolving the limestone and hollowing out large areas. The water level later lowered, creating large dry rooms supported by the stronger sandstone. So most of the cave is totally dry and doesn’t have any stalactites/stalagmites.
Sometimes there is a small crack in the sandstone ‘roof’ allowing stalactites to form creating a more traditional cave architecture. We found photography to be really tricky because the tours moved along pretty fast and it’s so dark. You really need a tripod to get any great shots.
Much of the cave is just large open rooms, which eventually lead down to the underground River Styx. They used to have boat tours on the underground river, but those were discontinued in the early 90’s. During the high-season (summer) they do have tours to view the River Styx.
It was interesting to explore the cave, but after doing the two tours we felt like we had a good sense of it. Instead of staying another half day, we decided to leave ahead of schedule and add a visit to the Maker’s Mark distillery to our itinerary instead.