Monday I went spelunking in Kentucky. I’ve never been spelunking before and generally I am not a fan of tight spaces. I decided to step out of my comfort zone because Mammoth Cave National Park is the largest known cave system in the world. It’s current known size is 404 miles. I learned this and much more on the tour that took me 250 feet below the surface.
As I drove the seven or so miles from the highway to the tour office in the park I saw only one car. I envisioned another quiet national park during this unseasonably chilly spring. First I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full and then concerned when I checked the message boards only to discover that most of the tours were sold out. I went into the lodge, quickly got into the ticket line and was delighted to learn the benefits of purchasing just one ticket. I was able to purchase a $12.00 ticket for the New Entrance tour which was starting in 25 minutes, giving me just enough time to explore the Lodge’s little museum and not enough time to get worried about being 250 feet below the surface on a two hour tour.
There are several tours available at Mammoth Park, including those with lanterns and others that involved headlamps and kneepads. My particular tour was with three bus loads of people, was a strictly walking tour but did have a few tight spaces. Once we descended the hundreds of steps into the cave, our Park Ranger explained that the cave area we were exploring was once owned and operated by a gentleman who was trying to lure wealthy East Coast clients. The large space we were gathered in was called Grand Central Station. There was also the Subway, the Hippodrome, and Frozen Niagara. While in Grand Central Station the ranger enabled us to experience total darkness when he turned off the lights and asked us to cover anything that glowed(watches, shoes, phones). It was total darkness; I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face nor anything at all. We continued on in our portion of the limestone labyrinth getting an opportunity at the end to see elaborate stalactites, stalagmites and columns, which is when the stalactites and stalagmites reach each other creating a continuous column. Our ranger spoke of the millions of years it has taken the cave system to develop, the ongoing caving to discover more of the system and finally encouraged all of us to learn more about our history and our heritage. I wanted to jump up and share about my trip, a multi-week history/literature field trip, but I resisted.