Mammoth Cave National Park — The Tour (Part 2)

[Sorry for the delay folks!]

We got up bright and early on Friday morning, which was a bit easier because this part of KY follows Central time. We had to pack and check out of the hotel by 730 in order to get a good spot in line at the visitor center before it opened at 8:15 CDT (if we ever come back, the thing to do is to stay at a bed and breakfast much closer to the park; Cave City is a good 6 miles out on small, slow country roads). We got our tickets for the 915 Mammoth Passage tour almost immediately (thankfully). We decided that the Passage tour would be the best, since it covered 3/4 mile over 75 minutes, as opposed to covering only 1/4 mile over 75 minutes. The so-called “Fro Zenaygra” tour was the same length of time, covered less ground, and more expensive. Both were categorized as “easy,” which at National Parks means, “easy for people who sit on their couch all day eating junk food while watching health shows and medical dramas.”

We had some time to burn, first by getting our stuff together in the car:

mammoth cave car


Since they allow neither strollers nor backpack carriers on the cave tours, Caitlyn had to wrap Michael up. We were to gather at “shelter A” for our tour, just behind the visitor center. We got there a little early:


The visitor center is relatively new, and backs right up to the path down to the historic entrance to the cave. So they built this bridge over the descending trail to get from the restaurant, hotel etc. to the new center.


You can see the new center in the background of this cute “mama and baby” shot:


OK, so we started the tour promptly with Darlene, if that was her real name. She gave us some background and some safety tips as we walked down to the historic entrance. Along the way there were some cool rock formations like this one (the photo doesn’t do justice to how tall this thing was, around 40 feet).


Before we descended into the cave she started talking about how we’re going to have some fun and learn some things about liberty, about how an enormous hole in the ground (my words) are a “testament to the liberty we all have as Americans” (her words). Call me skeptical. So we started down the stairs into the historic entrance of the cave. Of course I forgot a jacket, but was actually pretty comfortable down in there.


Lighting was pretty terrible in the cave, as you might imagine, and so I had trouble working Cait’s new camera. So while neat, some of these pictures are bad quality. Early on there were some lights in the cave that made it possible to get some shots. Unlike other caves I’ve been to, this one was particularly open, with no low ceilings. Of course, we were on the “easy tour,” but I was not expecting 20 ft high ceilings! We could have totally brought our carrier backpack…



We hung near the back.


The Rotunda.  Terribly focused.

You can see the dome. I was surprised that it wasn’t lit well enough for the camera to focus; you can see the lighting.


Some artifacts they’ve found in the cave.




Some old wooden pipes to get water in for ancient mining.


And we’re done.

The tour ended with a 5-10 minute discussion of freedom. I wasn’t sure what the cave had to do with freedom. I think she was trying to say that the original owners of the cave were free in their ownership and use of it, and we’re free to use it now. But even that doesn’t make much sense, especially considering the fact that the cave was effectively taken from the original family to be made a national monument. Probably for the better, but I wouldn’t call that so much a “testament to freedom” as a “pursuit of the common good.” She was also sure to mention something about the sequester and its effect on the parks service, so that “You’re not as free as you were a few years ago.” So, not really sure what Darlene here wanted to say, but it sure made me feel good about being an American!

In any case, after leaving the cave I took a picture of Michael (now asleep) and the lens was fogged up. Made for and interesting picture:


And here he is, still asleep, in the visitor center museum:


All around a fun tour. We had some time to burn while he slept until our late morning hike!

(end of part two)


Mammoth Cave National Park (Part 1)

mammoth cave

Three part series on our trip to the Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky.

Last week we had the opportunity to travel south for one of Cait’s friends who was taking her first vows as a nun. Not something you see everyday:

sisters cakeTwelve newly professed Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, with their wedding cake (Nashville TN)

So while we were down there, I decided it might be nice to visit a national park, especially since we were going to be driving right through one. We stayed at a Super 8 in Cave City KY, which was surprisingly tolerable, save one spider and one beetle (that we know of…). Thursday evening after getting back from the reception we went exploring a bit in the park.

sand cave sign

We went on a quick hike, advertised as 0.1 mi one-way, but it turned out to be a tad longer. This was the site of a failed cave rescue 90 years ago, when the cave was first gaining widespread attention. Cait was trying out her homemade baby wrap (I looked for a link on her blog, but I don’t think she’s posted on it yet). She wanted to practice because the cave tours don’t allow baby carriers or strollers in the caves, for obvious reasons.

sand cave cait mlb

This is one of 3 trails in the park that are fully accessible, and as the sign says, you are supposed to stay on developed trails. But as you can see, this is a pretty boring “developed trail,” with a pretty boring view of the cave:

sand cave 3

So I decided to look for other “developed trails,” and I found one, just to the side of the viewing deck:

sand cave trailI’ve never been too keen on a strict interpretation of “developed trails.”

After walking pretty far down there, I could get a much better glimpse of things…here’s a shot of the viewing deck from where I was, and a shot from the deck of me:sand cave collage

From down there I could get right up close to the cave without going in.  It looked pretty interesting, but I started to get nervous having just read about the tragic death which made this cave famous.

sand cave 2

Quick 30 minute excursion, hiking a total of 0.7 miles according to MapMyHike. Great intro to the park, but I was itching to plan the next day’s adventure. So we stopped by the visitors’ center and picked up some maps and guides and talked to a ranger about the cave tour options. We were particularly interested in a tour that Michael would enjoy…scratch that, a tour that we would enjoy having Michael along with us. The ranger kept recommending a great tour for people who have trouble getting around, the “Fro Zenaygra” tour. It took a few times and we realized he was saying “Frozen Niagra,” but eliding the words. We also considered the “Mammoth Passage” tour, both of which keep some of the spots reserved for same-day purchase only. At which point I realized we’d be getting up early to fight our way for a spot on those tours.

We headed back to town for some dinner. It’s hard not to bring those maps to the dinner table, which in turn makes it hard to think about or listen to anything else…oops. I was just so excited! After the obligatory Frosty for dessert we turned in early to get ready for a long day on Friday.

(end of part one)