June 27: Rain, caves, and really good BBQ

Today (not counting a short shower yesterday afternoon) is the first real rain I’ve had since Mt. Rainier, my first afternoon on the road. On the bright side, it has cooled the temps down from the upper 90s to the mid 80s. On the downside, apparently you’re supposed to drink the air in this part of the world it’s so humid.

Rain is a winter phenomenon in my world. Well, a late fall, winter, and spring phenomenon. It’s not supposed to rain if the temperature is above 65dF. It’s just not.

That said, I’ll take what cooling I can get [g]. And it only lightninged and thundered a couple of times, way off in the distance, so that’s good.

This morning I drove the forty miles or so from Bowling Green to Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is a place I’ve wanted to get back to ever since my second honeymoon (my honeymoon with my second husband, that is). We got married, after living together for over a year, in the courthouse in Bloomington, the day before Thanksgiving, 1987. We then drove to his parents’ house in suburban Cincinnati, and spent the next two nights on the foldout couch in their family room (I did mention we’d been living together for over a year at this point – it was more a formality than anything else), where his dad had been smoking cigars all evening.

Yes, I’d told my now-ex that tobacco smoke makes me ill. I don’t think he or his family believed me until I woke up on the morning after Thanksgiving looking, as I was told, rather green. But I had my heart set on us spending the rest of the weekend at Mammoth Cave, so we drove on down. It was too late to go in the cave that day, so we planned to do it the next day.

And, you guessed it, I woke up the next morning so sick that we ended up driving straight back to Bloomington. I was out sick from work for two weeks.

So. I’ve been to Mammoth Cave NP before, but I’ve never been in the cave. I’ve been wanting to come back and rectify this ever since, and today I did.

Not just a national park.  Mammoth Cave has world importance.
Not just a national park. Mammoth Cave has world importance.

I got a ticket to something called the Domes and Dripstone tour, which was two hours long. It was interesting, but not at all what I expected until almost to the end. Most of Mammoth Cave (at over 400 miles mapped so far, it’s the largest cave system in the world) is a dormant cave, which means there’s no longer any water working on it. All of that part is mostly big piles of jumbled rocks and squeezes through spaces between them. To get down in the cave to begin with, we had to go down 280 extremely narrow, switchbacking metal stairs. By the time we got close to the bottom, I was really wishing I’d counted them. I swear it felt more like 1000. At least it didn’t hurt my rib or anything else.

By the time we got to what’s called Frozen Niagara, where there’s still water creating formations, we were almost through the tour. But that part really was amazing. And I did get some okay photos of it.

There were two stops on the tour where we sat down on benches and the ranger told us about the cave.  This was the first one, and where he did the obligatory "let's turn off the lights" thing.
There were two stops on the tour where we sat down on benches and the ranger told us about the cave. This was the first one, and where he did the obligatory “let’s turn off the lights” thing.
My best photo (still pretty lousy) of Frozen Niagara.
My best photo (still pretty lousy) of Frozen Niagara.
Flowstone draperies.
Flowstone draperies.
A much better photo of more flowstone near Frozen Niagara.
A much better photo of more flowstone near Frozen Niagara.

For me, the human history of the place really overshadows the geology. They’ve been giving tours here for 200 years. The first tour guides were slaves. Part of the cave was once a tuberculosis sanitarium. And one poor fellow by the name of Floyd Collins was exploring a nearby cave looking for a connection to Mammoth in 1925 when he was trapped by a rockfall. They couldn’t get him out, and he died two weeks later, still stuck, from exposure. It was the biggest news story in the 20s that didn’t have anything to do with Charles Lindbergh.

The visitor center here does a really good job telling the human history of the cave, and the movie that goes with it is narrated by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs and The Deadliest Catch), which is the second time I’ve run across him narrating something like this (the other time was at the Kansas History Museum) on this trip.  It’s a bit disconcerting.

Tonight I ate my first barbecue of the trip, at a bustling little joint in the little town of Cave City. I had a brisket sandwich, which was so piled with beef that I had to eat it with a knife and fork. It was falling apart tender, smoky, and the sauce was amazing. If you ever find yourself in Cave City, Kentucky, I highly recommend Bucky Bee’s Barbecue.

The history of the cave piqued my interest enough that I’m thinking about taking another cave tour tomorrow morning. This one is called the Historical tour, and takes the route that the early tours did. I think it ought to be interesting.

Then it’s on to Louisville, and hopefully to see Danielle, another Bujold listee (or former listee). And then on across the rest of Kentucky to North Carolina.