Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mammoth detour

Bill and I spent the last three days visiting my dad and love-mom in Nashville, Tennessee: a quick trip wedged between responsibilities at home and the summer arrival of college kids.

Since Bill had bypassed Mammoth Cave in Kentucky throughout his life, I insisted we pull off so I could give him a taste.

I call Mammoth a "backwoods National Park." While it is a piece of our national parks system, it is on a smaller and less grander scale than say Yellowstone, Glacier or the Great Smoky Mountains. Tucked in the woods of central Kentucky, its unassuming above-ground facility belies the majesty of what lies beneath.

Its history goes back 200 years, when the cave system was explored by enslaved locals who mined saltpeter for gunpowder used in the war of 1812. Over time, nearly 400 miles of caverns were surveyed and opened for the world to enjoy. The most extensive cave system on earth, geologists think there could be 600 miles of yet undiscovered passageways.

Five years ago I accompanied a dozen Girl Scouts to Mammoth for three days of hiking and exploring. Our four-hour cave hike was three hours too long for my daughter Katie, who lost everything in her stomach as she hiked. Be aware: there is a real malady that afflicts a few people who descend into caves: something like a claustrophobia/motion sickness combo. Very unpleasant.

Anyway, the Mammoth folks generously offer a 'teaser' view of the caverns for free. It's called the "historic entrance," just down the hill from the visitor center. We hiked to the enormous opening and passed a waterfall, walking about 50 yards into the cave and were stopped by a barrier. A stiff wind raced out of the cavern and blew over us, a good 25 degrees colder than the outside air.

The history and sheer grandeur of the Mammoth Caves is not to be missed in a lifetime. Go see it!

No comments: