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Located in western Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park definitely deserves a look. Ive always been a cave enthusiast and have seen the usual attractions found in almost any cave, but Mammoth isnt "any," cave. It is an awe inspiring underground world that runs for mile after mile creating what may well be the longest cave system on earth.
Mammoth Cave was first visited by white explorers in 1799. Native Americans however had visited its depths for hundreds of years previously. Their remains have been found far inside the cave along with the remains of the torches that lit their way. Even the footprints they left have been discovered in isolated passageways.
During the War of 1812 Mammoth Cave was an important source of nitrates used in the manufacture of gunpowder. The remains of these nitrate mining operations are still in the caverns today providing a fascinating glimpse into the early industry of the area.
Its a good idea to book your tour in advance since some tours do sell out. Reservations can be made via the National Park Services website and picked up in the visitors center the day of your tour. A wide variety of tours are offered ranging from one to several hours. You can pick between an easy hike to a strenuous test of endurance. Keep your physical limitations in mind when choosing a tour.
We took a short tour that began at the natural entrance which is reached by a short, steep walk from the visitors center. The cool cave air hits you like an air conditioned blast on a hot day. You wont regret taking a light jacket along.
The cave ceiling at the entrance is low. Look for tiny bats hanging here, just above your head. Our guide informed us that there are thousands of bats in the cave, a fact that caused discomfort to some of our companions but there were no bat confrontations that day.
The entrance passage opens into a large chamber. Youll begin to notice what makes Mammoth so different. There are few of the "usual," cave features such as stalactites, etc. These features are present in some of the caverns but not on the scale of say, Carlsbad Caverns.
What makes Mammoth stand out is the size of the chambers. You could literally drive a train through some of these passages which are actually dry, underground riverbeds. One chamber is 1 ½ acres in size.
These fantastic caverns have been attracting tourists since early in the 1800s. Many of them wrote their names on the walls but a word of caution to the modern visitor, dont try to imitate the 19th century cave enthusiasts by adding your name. Youll get arrested and fined.
Our tour ended all too soon but with small kids its probably not a good idea to take a long tour. There were no restroom facilities along our route, nor any drinking water so be sure to take care of these needs before entering the caves.
Everyone was fascinated by the caves. The large tour group of about 40 people grew reverently silent upon entering the massive passages as though impulsive chatter might shatter the sanctity of this natural cathedral. Indeed church services were held here in the 1800s. Apparently the Pastor would collect all of the lanterns before service then preach for hours without risk of the congregation leaving early.
If you like caves, or even if you dont, a trip to Mammoth Cave is well worth the time. Be ready to be amazed.