September 20, 2011

9/17/11 - Mammoth Caves NP

You could almost say “National-Parks-Я-Us” since that's our focus on this trip.  Each one has something that makes it unique.  Mammoth Caves National Park has the longest surveyed cave system in the US--although George insists that Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns NP is going to end up being longer.  But the operative word at this point is “surveyed”.
Yes, it’s long—something like 392 miles have been surveyed—and we didn’t walk them all.  We’ve visited Carlsbad Caverns and Oregon Caves, and I think Mammoth is very disappointing.  Let me explain why. 
Anyone who had worn the same shoes in another cave needed to have them decontaminated.  White-Nose Syndrome is killing the bats, and they think the spores are carried by people as they go from one cave to another.  I told the ranger I wore my boots when we visited Carlsbad last February so I got to soak my boots for 5 minutes in a bleach solution.   I told her I couldn't sit that long without something to read--so she loaned me a book about invasive plants in the south.  (I studied it, but didn't see any in the cave.)
There are a bunch of cave tours you can take.  We’d thought we'd take the New Entrance Tour or the Mammoth Passage Tour.  When we got there, a volunteer said that he wouldn’t consider a trip to Mammoth Caves complete without going on the Historic Tour.  So while I had my feet in a plastic dishpan, George bought the tickets. 
It’s 2 miles of tromping through a cave without much to see, but we learned some interesting things.   
We saw where slaves mined nitrate for saltpeter to make gunpowder for the War of 1812. 
We learned about the slaves who served as tour guides in the early 1800s.  We saw graffiti from early tourists, where they either carved their names or used candle smoke to write them on the ceilings. 
We squeezed uncomfortably through the section called Fat Man’s Misery.  And George hardly ever got to stand up straight.
We looked down the Bottomless Pit—we couldn’t see the bottom either.  We climbed 155 steps to the top of Mammoth Dome, but it was too dark, and too closed in to get much perspective.
Apparently we weren’t in the section of the cave where there were ornate formations.  Our part was just a walk through a big old limestone cavern, with big chunks of rock that had fallen from the roof.  (The guide told me they don’t call them “cave-ins because it makes the tourists nervous.)  As you can tell, lighting wasn’t very good.
Okay, I’m through complaining.  In retrospect, we probably picked the wrong tour. 
We’re not going back.

More pictures at this link

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