Sunday, March 21, 2010

"A grand, gloomy, and peculiar place" (21-Mar-2010)

Okay, so that picture above was supposed to be the "Welcome to Kentucky" sign, but I didn't quite take the picture in time as my car passed. I would have just pulled over to take the photo, but there was a surprising amount of road construction in this part of the country, so oh well; it was nice scenery and a sunny, warm day though.

Driving through Appalachia these past few days has filled me with so much wonder and awe. Our country is so beautiful and I was feeling bit envious at those who lived in this region. Being surrounded by the mountains and rolling hills really brings you back to life and does wonders for the soul.

Today I explored Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky! It was discovered by the Native Americans more than 4000 years ago and is the largest underground cave system in the world. In fact, our guide told us that if the second and third longest caves in the world were joined together, Mammoth Cave would still be the planet's longest cave and have nearly 100 miles left over! Crazy.

Here is the entrance:

This room is called "Rotunda" due to its round shape and is the 6th largest "room" in the Mammoth Cave system.

This rock formation is called "Giant's Tomb" and using a flashlight and shadow techniques, our tour guide was able to "lift" the lid off of this tomb :)

Also, our tour guide described how tours were first conducted back in the day and he turned out all of the lights then lighted a small lamp. I don't recall experiencing anything that dark in my entire life.

This sign was funny. They actually named this section "Fat Man's Misery" due to how narrow it is. The ceiling also drops significantly so if you're taller than 3 feet, you'll be crouching. I hit my head pretty badly while taking this picture due to not watching where I walked :P

In this large room, our guide elaborated about the history of the cave when this part of the country was still under water (LONG ago; Mississippian Sea). The hard body parts of sea creatures made mostly of calcium carbonate settled into the sea bottom and pressure and heat transformed these sediments into limestone.

We also learned about the bats in the cave which are no bigger than your thumb. Most of them were hibernating this time of the year though. There didn't seem to be many insects or sources of food for the bats inside the cave so I asked the tour guide what the bats fed on while in the cave and he jokingly replied "lost tourists..." :) But then he said that they come to the surface at night to feed on insects while following the same flight path, night after night.

Here we got to see some stalactites. This part of the cave didn't feature many of these formations, but rather was focused on the vastness and history of the cave.

This last part of the cave was the way out. We had to climb this very large, high staircase to reach the surface as we had traveled more than 300 feet underground. I took that second picture near the top of the staircase as the group ascended.


This last photo describes the cave system as a "honeycomb" formation, but our tour guide described it as a large bowl of spaghetti flipped upside-down. The hard, bowl dome is the surface and all the strands of spaghetti randomly weaving in and out of each other are all of the tunnels. We only did a 2 mile tour of this 367 mile cave system, so there is much more to discover. The quote title of this post was recited by our tour guide as the conclusion of the tour. An early guide named Stephen Bishop described Mammoth Cave as "A grand, gloomy, and peculiar place...". I definitely felt the "grand[ness]" of this place, but perhaps the gloom he describes was associated with the lack of lighting back in the early days?

If I had more time, I would have done one of the longer tours where you get to use helmets with headlamps! I highly recommend visiting this park if you are able. There are all sorts of different tours for all ability levels and interests.

I am now in St. Louis, MO and will write more tomorrow night!



  1. Great pics! I feel like I'm right there with you!

  2. Oooh, the fat man's misery part makes me feel all claustrophobic! What an awesome experience Doodle! I honestly didn't even know this cave system existed - and to think that part of the country was once under water?! Crazygonuts! Can't wait for your next post!!

  3. this is very exciting i think i would be checking my hair for bats the whole time though.

  4. Awesome, Dan! I would love to go there someday!