Day 8 - A Nice, Quiet Day of Cave Exploration

Published: June 2nd 2017
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Today was a nice quiet day of cave exploration. We bought the tickets for an 8:30 and a 12:45 tour of Mammoth Cave yesterday, so our only obligation of the day was to show up. For some reason, we both slept well last night, in spite of the bed being a little hard. After a quick breakfast, we headed over to Mammoth Cave National Park around 7:30. We stopped at the entrance to take the obligatory picture, unfortunately we were the only ones around so we couldn't get a picture of both of us together. We had plenty of time, so we did a little hiking over to the Sand Cave on a path right next to the entrance. Then we headed over to the Visitors Center, but it was still a little early as they didn't open until 8:00. Once open, we just puttered around the Visitors Center waiting for the start of our tour. We decided would use our time constructively by watching the obligatory 20 minute movie shown at every National Park explaining it's history and features.

About halfway through the movie, it occurred to me that I should really check the ticket to verify the tour start time was 8:45 as I had remembered. Of course the tour was really 8:30, and it was now 8:25 so we had to hustle over to Shelter B as marked on our ticket to meet up with the ranger and the other tour members. It looked odd at 8:30 when no ranger had shown up and there were only a handful of people milling about, so I asked if anyone was waiting for the Gothic Avenue Tour and someone said they thought that was over at Shelter A. So we hustled over to Shelter A and asked the ranger who had just arrived if this was Gothic Avenue Tour, and sure enough we had just made it in time.

The ranger (Ranger Charlie) was an old timer who said he had been with the Park Service for 30 years, and he was funny and full of stories. He led us down to the Historic Entrance, same as last night, and indeed the first few minutes covered the same ground as last nights Historic Tour. But then we turned right and headed up into what he called the "attic" of the cave. This part of the cave was mostly dry, so there weren't many formations. But it still had the big rooms and high ceilings typical of Mammoth Caves. This part of the tour was filled with lots of ceiling graffiti, mostly from the early 19th century. By the mid 19th century, they figured out that writing on the ceilings was probably not good for the cave, so they changed tactics and built small stone piles from the rocks on the floor as monuments to the richer tourists who would pay to have them built. These monuments lined both sides of the trail and most dated back to the mid-19th century.

It turns out the early tour guides were mostly slaves left over from the saltpeter mines of the earlier 19th century and the War of 1812. When the War of 1812 ended and the saltpeter mines were abandoned, the slaves who used to work in the mines and knew the caves well were used as tour guides. To make a little extra money, they would originally write the graffiti on the ceiling for the rich folks, and eventually built most of the monuments. Even after the Civil War, the freed slaves continued to work as tour guides.

We really enjoyed this tour and always like to hear the history and the stories from the rangers. After the tour we first followed the rangers recommendation and did a little more hiking down to the the River Styx Spring Trail. This is an underground river that comes up out of a cave. It was pretty around there. Between the cave tour and the hike, we had worked up an appetite and were ready for a little lunch. The park had a formal restaurant and a small cafe and ice cream parlor with sandwiches. We opted for the cafe and pulled pork sandwiches that were actually very good. After lunch we just hung around a little longer until I could no longer resist the ice cream that just hit the spot.

By then it was 12:30 and we headed over to Shelter B (this time it was correct) to wait for the ranger. Ranger Lauren was young and very nice, actually I talked to her later and this was her first summer as a ranger , she had just graduated with a degree in history and theater. Obviously those were perfect qualifications for a Park Ranger! This tour entered at a man-made entrance cleverly called the New Entrance. There was a short bus ride over, but the New Entrance was awesome! It is VERY narrow, twisted and steep with about 200 steps down. This part of the cave is very wet and active. We really enjoyed the steps down into the cave as it was much different than the other parts. The next sections were similar to the earlier tours, but there was a building anticipation for what was called Frozen Niagara as Ranger Lauren told us the history of this part of the cave. By the time we arrived, our expectations were pretty high, but we weren't disappointed. Turns out the formations around Frozen Niagara were much better than we had imagined and we were very impressed. This part of the tour also included an optional 49 steps down and then back up if we wanted to go behind the Frozen Niagara formation. Of course we went, and were able to get some great pictures too! Then it was out of the cave, back on the bus and back to the Visitors Center.

By the time we made it back to the bike it was getting close to 3:00, and Jody wanted to visit Big Mike's Rock Shop we had seen on our way in to see if she could find any good stones for her jewelry, She found a few, and we were back at the hotel by 4:00. It had been over a week since we had turned on the television, so we thought that we would catch a little news since we had some time to spare. We lasted about an hour until we remembered why we were not watching television and turned it right back off.

For some reason, there's not a lot of choice for dinner in Cave City, KY. There was one BBQ place that looked good, but since we had pulled pork for lunch, we decided to go back to the same restaurant we visited last night. At least we knew the food would be great! I had the same enchiladas as last night and Jody had an enchilada dish also. Both were excellent! Tomorrow we are off to Bowling Green, KY to visit the Corvette Museum. We were hoping also to visit the Corvette Factory Tour, but we may not be able to get tickets. There are none available online until Monday, but I will check when we get to the museum. If not, we may also go to the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green. It may seem like a lot of caves lately, but we are in cave country, and since we like them so much, we may as well see them while we are here.

22.0 Miles Today

1209.0 Miles Total

0.0 Gallons Today

33.037 Gallons Total

Additional photos below
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