MAMMOTH CAVE, 2013, MIDWEST ROAD TRIP TO GET MY HEAD BACK ON STRAIGHT


It was time; indeed, it was past time, to get back into the woods again, even for a day or two.  A good hike in the mountains around Tucson would help, but I really wanted to get deeper into the woods.  The Vermilion Community College Scholarship Banquet is held the last Thursday of April, and twice I have canoe tripped into the Boundary Waters before the banquet.  I decided I would do the same this year.

I also decided I could probably see Mammoth Cave National Park on the way, if I went to Minneapolis by way of St. Louis, and drove from St. Louis to Mammoth Cave.  The distance is about 330 miles, but it is good road the whole way, and on a Friday I did just that.  Illinois, in exceptional drought the year before, was now in flood.  I could have canoed in the forests along the road, or in the open fields that would not be ready for planting for some time to come.  I was just behind the latest storm, and as I reached Mammoth Cave in late twilight, the temperature was in the low 50s, down 30 degrees from the day before.

The next morning, I awoke to fog over the Green River Valley, which cuts through the center of the park.

Morning Fog, over Green River Valley

One of many springs

Mammoth Cave is truly mammoth.  It is the largest cave in the world, nearly three times the length, in passages, of the next largest.  With more than 400 miles (650 km) of passages, the Cave offers several tours.  With my time limited, I took two tours, one in the original entrance, the other in the new entrance, that was blown up to make way for an entry point, back before the cave became a national park and entrepreneurs took people down into the cave, people wearing top hats, long skirts and high heeled shoes.

Saltpeter for gunpowder used in the War of 1812 was made here;

Saltpeter for gunpowder used in the War of 1812 was made here;

Bat on wall

In between the tours, I walked the 12 miles (20 km) of trails near the visitor’s center, then took a wildlife flower hike to relearn what I once knew about wildflowers, such as jack-in-the-pulpit and trillium.  The trees were just beginning to leaf out, and the temperature was mild.

Phlox

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

IMG_3046 IMG_3047

The Second Tour took us in a different entrance, one that was blown open when some cold air was exiting the cave and a small hole discovered.  This one descended about 270 steps and went through a wider variety of terrain.  There are longer tours that will show more of the passages, and there are caving tours, for those who want to see what exploring is like.

Gate to keep people from touching stalactites and stalagmites, since one touch will destroy any future growth. Past generations of visitors did this.

IMG_3064 IMG_3083 IMG_3084 150 meters below ground.

On Sunday, I drove back to St. Louis, first looking at the Green River Ferry:

Green River Ferry

….and doing one more trip around an area over one sinkhole and looking down on an underground river, above ground further south in the park, and here emptying in to the Green River.  This part of Kentucky is full of sinkholes.

Underground river emptying into the Green River.

Underground river emptying into the Green River.

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