We'd both driven by the exits on Interstate 65 promising miles and miles of cave adventures, and I've had plenty of friends talk about their trips to Mammoth Cave. It was time to check out this natural wonder and national treasure for myself.
We drove in on a Saturday, met up, grabbed lunch, and headed to the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor's center, where we had our pick of afternoon tours. I had researched all the various tours, their durations, and which underground attractions they included. When we looked at the options available that Saturday, we decided the two hour, two mile long "Historic Tour" was our best bet, and for $12 each it wasn't a bad deal, either.
I took A LOT of pictures on the tour, so I'll let them tell the story.
Our ranger tour guides briefed us about Mammoth Cave before leaving for the tour, and before heading underground we learn about the parts of the caves we will be exploring. As you can see, the tour group was pretty large.
As soon as you rounded the corner to descend these stairs to Mammoth Cave's natural, "historic" entrance, you felt a cool breeze hit your face, like you're standing right in front of an air conditioning vent. Mother nature's "A/C" keeps the caves at a constant and cool temperature all year.
Our first site once we walked down the first corridor was the "rotunda", a huge and expansive room (that this picture does no justice for). Next, a look at some of the leftover mining operations from the 19th century, where they dug for minerals to make gunpowder.
A staircase up to one of the cave's natural "auditioriums".... and walking through some breathtakingly large caverns.
Next stop, "Giant's Coffin". As you see in the picture on the right, this large rock formation looks like a humungous coffin. Someone (presumably in the 1800's) decided to leave carve "Cozad" onto it. The rangers have no idea who or what "Cozad" is... maybe a name for the giant?
The group stops near the "Giant's Coffin", probably one of my favorite parts of the tour because the rangers turn off all the lights so we can all experience the greatest absence of light possible. You can only experience such a degree of darkness this far underground or at the bottom of the sea. Notice the black walls of the cave? That's not the stones... that's soot that's been soaked up by the limestone and gypsum stones from the oil-burning lamps used by tour groups and miners hundreds of years ago.
And look closely...
There was plenty of graffiti left over the years, too. It was really cool to see folks leaving their mark even back in the 1800's.
After those expansive caverns comes the steep, short, and extremely narrow parts of our trip... also known as Tall Man's Misery and Fat Man's Misery. (And no, in that last picture, Travis is not carrying a purse. I made him carry my camera bag. Haha.)
A look down a bottomless pit... and the seemingly endless stairs that brought us back up toward the surface, and up to the top of "Mammoth Dome".
Smiles... even after 2 miles of underground hiking. More stairs- this time back up into civilization and the harsh sting of sunlight. Once out of the cave, we're proud to know we are now part of an elite group of cave explorers along with these cool cats from 1910.
Once done with the tour, Travis and I are pretty hungry. We ask the ranger to suggest a good local restaurant. That led us to the Porky Pig Dinner in Pig, KY. Yes, that is a real place.
The diner's food was, well, diner food. Nothing spectacular, but it tasted good after working up the appetite in the caves. There was a nice mix of people, too. One table was full of young German travellers, another surrounded by locals who I suspect had probably been there chatting over coffee most of the day. The service was fast and friendly. My favorite part of the experience was being greeted by the diner's very friendly resident dog, affectionately named "Pound Hound".
Next it was time to set up camp...
Travis and I found a nice campsite right in the park's main campground area. $20 a night and access to a real restroom sealed the deal for me.
I got the tent ready and then started the fire, because even when it's 90 degrees outside, camping just isn't camping without roasting a marshmallow and sitting around a fire.
The next day, it was time to hit the water.
We rented a canoe from Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak, located just outside the main park entrance, and spent the next 3.5 hours enjoying the gorgeous views offered along the Green River. I imagine this trip would be especially lovely and peaceful during the fall colors.
Once again we had worked up an appetite, so before hitting the road for our respective cities, we decided to try out a Mexican restaurant we saw near the Interstate. El Mazatlan did not disappoint! Not only was the interior cheery and the menu extensive, the food was great. Not just mexican-food-in-rural-kentucky great, but it could easily compete with some of the best mexican restaurants in Lexington.
I highly recommend their queso, salsa, and chips! The vegeterian fajitas were quite tasty, as well.
I'm so glad that after many times of passing the Cave City exit, I finally stayed long enough to check it out. I barely scratched the surface of 365 miles of Mammoth Cave that have been explored (geologists predict there may be hundreds more to be found), so I definitely hope to come back.
Next time, I'll give myself more than 48 hours to explore this awesome Kentucky attraction.