This blog recorded my short trip to Mammoth Cave National Park on Independence Day holiday 2018. The trip costed 2 days in total: one day for the most famous Wild Cave Tour and the other for Historic Tour. I also took the Domes and Dripstones Tour in 2017, but Wild Cave Tour is the one I highly recommended.
Due the unique features, this national park is full of tourists all over the year, which makes sense that all type of tours need to be reserved in advance. Most tours have flexibility on daily schedule so people could make it at the expected time window if reserving about one to two weeks ago. But Wild Cave Tour makes it an exception. Before 2018, Wild Cave Tour could be only reserved on weekends. As a result, tourists usually need to check the availability half year ago due to the limited spot and popularity of this specific tour. But luckily, the national park changed the schedules of Wild Cave Tour to weekdays. That being said, people need to ask for a leave if they want to get this underground experience. But this really works out for offering more spots and nowadays tourists doesn’t need to look for the spots ahead of time that lone. Two weeks to one months beforehand should be fine.
Since Wild Cave Tour would cost 6 hours total, we chose to live in a nearby city one night in order to build up energy. We booked an Airbnb in the city of Glasgow, located at southeast of Mammoth Cave National Park and costed 25 mins to drive. Suzanne is our host. She is a super host on Airbnb and she is teaching middle school special education. She is also a very nice person and has a passion for traveling the world and of course, welcome people with different cultures. During our stays, she cooked the breakfasts for us which makes me feel so warm. Her house is clean and quiet. She collected some art works of impressionism and she likes painting as well. If I remembered correctly, her house has three rooms posted online and all of them are with great value. If you are planning to visit Mammoth, I would highly recommend here! (Suzanne on Airbnb)
– A Little Bit History –
Before sharing with you some travel tales for Wild Cave Tour, I would like to introduce the history of Mammoth Cave National Park briefly!
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. As of October 2017, 412 miles has been discovered. However, geologists think there could still be 600 miles undiscovered passageways. The human beings and the exploration in Mammoth Cave was a timeless story: The early Kentucky settlers manufactured the gunpowder used saltpeter found in cave; The slave owners used slaves to be tour guides to operate cave as tourist attraction, and one of the slave named Stephen Bishop had huge contributions to map the cave and named many of the caves’ features; The park was established as a national park in 1941 … Please check the detailed timeline below if you’re interested. This was captured at Visitor Center.
Mammoth Cave is one of the nation’s largest karst landscape, which is a topography formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks. Limestone is the common rock for this cave and it’s readily dissolved by acidic water to create cave passageways. The acidic water is come from the green river which bisecting the east and the west of the park. But, most specially, Mammoth Cave also has an insoluble sandstone roof that protects the rocks below it, thereby formatting this spectacular underground wonder. Due to this specific karst landscape, Mammoth Cave established a sister park in China – Shilin Stone Forest National Park, to share the best practices and experience. I attached a short video to help you quickly understand the geology formation of Mammoth Cave.
– Wild Cave Tour –
This picture was captured in the visitor center and it layout the typical equipment for underground exploration. Our experience of Wild Cave Tour proved it to be so true! Luckily, tourists only need to prepare a pair of over-the-ankle boots, while all other equipment would be provided at the beginning of the tour. But please make sure you have over-the-ankle laced boots with aggressive tread, since you might be denied to access if you have insufficient footwear.
The tour began at 9am and the guide checked with the footwear and offered informative instruction of the whole tour. Then we took the bus to receive all needed equipment, including protective suits (beyond our own clothing), helmet with headlights, and gloves. Our exploration team on that day was kind of a “geek” team 🙂 , which consisted of data scientists, software engineers, computer programmers, but also had one nurse and two physicians. Two of them have served in the military which provided me with a sense of emotional security.
After we got into the cave, we started our strenuous journey with experiencing a mixing of outdoor activities including crawling, hiking, climbing, and canyoneering. There are two guides, one is always at the first, and the other stayed at the tail just in case someone fell behind. I only took two energy bars and a bottle of water, which were proved to be enough since you don’t want to bring too much to weigh you down. I enjoyed most of this tour with other guys’ companionship and humor. But the part made me feel uncomfortable is crawling. Even though I don’t have claustrophobia, I did feel physical constriction on my chest and emotional nervousness when passing through ~25 inches crawling space. There is no photo being taken from the cave as I didn’t bring my camera in. Here are some pictures I “stole” from others who had the same experience as me.
It was known that Mammoth Cave is the home for bats, but I haven’t had the chance to see a real one. I saw many cave crickets on the cave walls. They were much alike spiders and most of them spent their whole lives in caves. There is a special “flower” called “gypsum flower” in cave. The gypsum flower is actually not a real flower but a type of mineral in flower shape which is extremely fragile.
– Historic Tour –
Historic Tour is much more friendly compared with Wild Cave, and it lasted only two hours so it became into our plate next day. The guide would stop at several spots and introduced funny history behind it. One spot was called “Fat Guy Misery” and it was just like its literal meaning that it might be a misery for you if you are overly large. But I would think it should be called “Tall Man Misery”.