This year in the spring my friend talked me into doing a dual family vacation. The plan was to hit Mammoth Cave National Park and visit the Smokies on the way back to NC. The drive to Mammoth Cave NP is about 10hrs from Raleigh so the drive isn't horrible. We stayed in Cave City, KY which gets most of its business from tourists. The first thing the kids did was play in the parking lot to get out their pent up energy from sitting in a car all day.
The next morning we hit the park.
There are several hiking trails and places to visit around the park but to tour the caves you have to pay for a guided tour. The main cave entrance is a stair case that leads down to a large door that blocks the entrance of the cave.
The first thing you notice once the cave doors open is the air temperature. The temps in the cave stay near the same temperature year round. This cave system is one of the largest in the world. You can fit a football stadium in some of the larger space areas.
The expanse of the cave is hard to grasp and the history is very interesting. People lived for many years in the cave and it was even a quarantine for tuberculosis patients at one time. When the caves became a tourist attraction slaves led most of the tours. Most of the cave is natural but there is plenty of evidence of settlements and mining activity.
Several places have graffiti written by tourists going back as far as the early 1800's. There's several tours you can choose from and they range in times and distances. We did 3 and my favorite was probably the lantern tour. You walk behind a guide with the only light being a gas lantern you hold.
It gave you a sense of what it must of been like to be an explorer. It's hard to believe people first explored these caves with candle lit lanterns. During all the tours the guides will turn off all the lights just so you can see how dark it is. Supposedly the other place you can see total darkness like this is in the deep ocean. You literally can not see your hand in front of your face.
The features in the caves are incredible and the engineering to weave paths around the caves was impressive. In one tour you have to squat, squeeze and maneuver your wave through several areas.
The kids loved it and felt like they were having a real adventure.
Water dripped down along the walls in several areas creating amazing stalactites.
I was annoyed at first that the only way to see the caves was having to pay for a tour. I quickly changed my mind after brief moments in the cave. Paths lead in all directions and you can easily see how someone could get lost. A cave can get dangerous quickly especially if you have no light to guide your way.
Another value of the tour guides was their knowledge of the caves and stories they'd tell. All of the guides were entertaining and seemed to have a genuine love with the caves. They also did their best to me make sure everyone was safe and having a good time.
Because of the artificial light it was difficult to get great pictures. It's a very humid environment and with the water dripping I had to take extra care to not get my camera wet. There were some features I couldn't resist taking pictures of.
It's worth mentioning these caves their own wildlife. There's blind crawdads and fish, salamanders and insects that only live in these caves. We were lucky enough to see a couple bats but unfortunately they are suffering from a fungus that is killing them off. The caves have a special walkway you walk across at the end. The walkway is filled with a substance that kills any fungus spores that might be on your shoes to prevent spreading it to another cave
This park truly is amazing and I don't know how I had never heard of it before. Perhaps I had but living on the west coast when I was young I figured I'd never get to it. I'm not sure when we'll be able to visit this park again but it's something everyone should see at least once.