REVIEW

Travel Review: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

March 21, 2010
Aaman Lamba

One afternoon with much time on our hands and no interest in sampling yet another plastic fantastic American city, we decided to go spelunking. A drive down I-65 through Kentucky took us past towns that proclaimed themselves "The Town Where Lincoln Never Spent a Night", "The Home Of The National Corvette Museum" and the tantalizing turnoff for Fort Knox, finally reaching the advertising-festooned exit for Cave City and Mammoth Cave National Park. A few miles of undulating country road took us past The Largest Gift Shop in Kentucky and Dinosaur World before the tourist traps petered out into virgin forest.

Our early afternoon arrival meant we had limited options for tours that would explore the world's largest cave system, over 375 miles in length and at least thrice as large as its closest competitor, the Jewel Cave, South Dakota. Fortunately, thanks to the cryptic choice of time zones and daylight savings time between counties, we had gained an hour and were not too late for the New Entrance Cave Tour, which we were assured, went far and deep.

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The surrounding countryside, especially in the depths of winter has a stark beauty. It doesn't have too deep valleys and streams, given that most of the water has retreated underground to carve out the cave system.

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An old graveyard, including the grave of Stephen Bishop, guide, cave explorer, and slave of erstwhile owner Franklin Gorin

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The New Entrance was added in 1921 by rival businessmen, hoping to capitalize on the tourist interest, but discovering after weeks of digging that it was linked to the original cave system.

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The New Entrance takes one down over 250 feet into Stygian darkness, dimly lit with electric lanterns.

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This is a relatively new part of the caves, with water still carving out strange caverns from the limestone.

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Some have a rather suggestive shape.

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The tunnels have been polished, by water, not humans, to a perfect smoothness.

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This is the first breakpoint, at level 3, out of 5, in this tour, and where the knowledgeable guides, who grew up around the area, share the history and geology of Mammoth Cave.

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Rooms of stalactites and stalagmites are a welcome break from the narrow crushing tunnels.

The Frozen Niagara, Mammoth Cave

This formation bears the name The Frozen Niagara, no points for guessing why.

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One welcomes the outside world with a palpable sense of relief as one exits three hours later.

As an aside, it is regrettable that we do not have the same kind of tours available for our Indian cave systems in India, and foolhardy visitors leave the authorities barring access, as with the Devil's Kitchen, or Guna Caves, in Kodaikanal.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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Travel Review: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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Author: Aaman Lamba

 

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