My family is nothing if not spontaneous. This was especially evident when we headed out for a Saturday breakfast with no particular destination in mind. We were aware that it was Free Admission day at the National Parks and with nothing but time on our hands we decided to go for it and headed to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Visiting Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave is just about an hour and a half from Louisville, Kentucky and 30 minutes from Bowling Green Kentucky. It is nestled in a little town, whose biggest claim has always been the park, and what a claim it is! The size of the park most definitely lives up to it’s name of ‘mammoth.’ The park covers over 52,830 acres, most of it underground. The cave has 420 known miles of passage-ways, researchers have yet to find the end.
Since our trip to Mammoth Cave was a spontaneous one, our family stuck with the cave tour that was being offered for free. When you are looking at the schedule of fees it is called the Mammoth Cave Discovery tour.
The day that we visited, the heat was oppressive. The humidity in Kentucky is unlike humidity anywhere else, the air is so thick that it like one is drinking the air. I tell you all of this because it is very important to be prepared for this type of heat.
The cave stays a constant 54 degrees, we saw some folks with a light wrap while they were walking through the cave but I didn’t think it was needed, and I was wearing a tank top! My 7-year-old, however, complained about ‘freezing’ the entire time. So, my best piece of advice is to use your best judgment when it comes to needing a wrap.
This tour is a self-guided tour, but visitors aren’t without the knowledge of expert guides. At the entrance, a run down of the rules of the cave are given (no flash photos, no touching any wildlife you may encounter, and no touching the cave walls), once in the cave the path is lit by very low lights. Without the lighting, the cave would be pitch black, in fact on some tours, the guides turn all the lights out to show you just how dark it can get.
When we arrived in the area called the rotunda, I was enthralled with the older gentleman who was educating people about the saltpeter that sat in the middle of the room. He was a 5th generation tour guide, he walked the same passages as his ancestors who were slaves. They were leased to the county for $100 per year. The pride this man had was palpable, and for good reason, he was extremely knowledgeable. I could have sat and soaked in his knowledge for hours, my 5-year-old, wanted to keep moving.
At ‘turn around’ point of the cave (for lack of a better term), there was yet another guide stationed, ready and willing to answer questions. He had pictures of the different species of aquatic life that had been found in the park.
The Mistake we made
We then made our way out of the cave, and this is when I realized our terrible mistake. The cave had been our reprieve from the soul-crushing heat, my sweet husband wanted to walk the trail down to the banks of the green river.
My glasses fogged up immediately upon exiting the cave. Remember the detail of the trip being spontaneous? We had neglected to bring things like proper hiking clothes, water bottles and a willingness to hike in the heat.
The trip down to the river wasn’t so bad because it was all.down.hill. The trip back up? It made me feel irrationally angry. It was all uphill and I had a whiny 5 year old next to me (speaking all of the things that I was feeling) and to top it off he wanted to hold my hand in the 8 million degree heat.
Here is what I would have changed, I would have walked the entire trail and stopped in the cave on the way back up the hill. The extreme temperature changes really did a number on me.
All in all, we had a fantastic spontaneous day that was easy on the pocket book. As my 5-year-old said of the trip “I’ll have something to share with my friends at school on Monday when we talk about our weekend adventures!”
Have you been to Mammoth Cave before? If you haven’t, do you plan to go?