My eighth national park was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We picked this one to visit over spring break because we could drive there instead of fly. The drive up there was beautiful–lots of rolling hills and horse pastures. It was so rustic and calm that it made me relax a little bit in the middle of a tough semester!
Mammoth Cave is a national park because it is the longest cave system in the world. Yes, you read that right: the longest cave system on Earth is in Kentucky. Not only is it the largest one, but it’s still growing. The rangers there told us that they think it’s so big that the end of it won’t be found by the end of my grandchildren’s lifetime. Right now, they have found over 400 miles of tunnels and caverns within the system.
Obviously the rangers are not going to let visitors wander the caves by themselves; there would be so many people who would get lost and never find their way out. We chose two tours, the first of which was the Domes and Dripstones tour. This tour starts off with a few hundred steps to get you down into the cave. As someone who hates heights, this journey down was scary. They were the kinds of stairs where you could see in between them, which made me super nervous. I made it down though, and the rest of the tour was spectacular. The cave has various parts that are living, dormant, or dead. Living caves are what I usually imagine when I hear the word “cave” because this is the part where stalagmites and stalactites are forming.
One of my favorite parts of visiting Mammoth Cave was experiencing total darkness. It’s really terrifying, but it’s amazing to sit there and try to see things even though you know you can’t. I’ve been to caverns before–we like to take my little cousins to Linville Caverns sometimes–but the size of Mammoth Cave is just incredible. The rooms are massive, and there are even parts where water is pouring through the ceiling like a waterfall.
Any time you leave the caves, you are required to walk across these squishy black mats that were soaked with chemicals. This is to prevent White Nose Syndrome from leaving the caves. White Nose is a disease that kills bats. It’s wiped out a lot of them across North America, and the National Park Service takes these precautions so that, if you go in a cave where White Nose is, you don’t track it out with you. We saw three little bats in the cave who were hibernating together, and from a distance they looked really cute and cuddly. I can safely say that if they’d flown at me, I would’ve felt differently about them.
The other tour we did is geared towards handicapped people and has an elevator that goes into the cave. This tour shows you the cafeteria. Yes, a full-blown cafeteria with serving lines and everything. It’s no longer in use, but a long time ago people would take day trips into the cave. The owners would serve them lunch in the cafeteria. It was extremely creepy (it felt like a horror movie because it was so dark and quiet!). We also got to see the signatures of people who had been there long before we had. Back in the 1800s, slaves were the guides in the caves. People would write down their names and the year they visited, and some even wrote thank-you messages to their guides.
Mammoth Cave is very different from the other parks I’ve visited. It is very cool, but it ranks lower on my list at #7.