Tag Archives: Mammoth Cave NP

June 28-30: This trip is turning into a cautionary tale

I have good reason again why I haven’t blogged for three days. First, I’m fine, or at least I haven’t hurt myself again. Second, Merlin is also fine. However…

So, I did decide to go back to Mammoth Cave on Tuesday and take another tour. This one was the historical tour, and it was much more like what I’d expected Mammoth Cave to be than the tour I’d taken the day before. We went down from the natural entrance (well, one of them, and the one that’s been in use the longest, since 1816), and walked down to a huge room called the Rotunda, seeing some of the history of the cave along the way. One of the reasons the U.S. did not lose the War of 1812 was because saltpeter mined in the cave was used to make gunpowder for the troops after Britain blockaded out ports (up till then, almost all gunpowder was imported from Europe).

A slightly blurry view of the main natural entrance to Mammoth Cave.
A slightly blurry view of the main natural entrance to Mammoth Cave.
Looking back up at the natural entrance from inside the cave.
Looking back up at the natural entrance from inside the cave.
The best photo I was able to take of the Rotunda.  Note the round formation on the ceiling.
The best photo I was able to take of the Rotunda. Note the round formation on the ceiling.
The ranger with a kerosene lantern, showing us what things would have been like for early explorers and tourists.
The ranger with a kerosene lantern, showing us what things would have been like for early explorers and tourists.

Beyond the Rotunda, we hiked about two miles in total (and went up and down over 500 stairs). Through a place called Fat Man’s Misery, where the passage narrowed down (below the waist, above the waist it was several feet wide) to about a foot, and you had to go sideways to get through. We also had to crouch down to get through several passages. It was in one of the latter that my camera fell out of my (always otherwise secure before) pocket and crashed onto a rock.

I picked it up. It looked fine. Only one tiny ding along the outside metal edge of the lens, but otherwise not a scratch. Then I tried to turn it on. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

And this is why I only have photos of about the first third of the Historical Tour of Mammoth Cave.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the tour was wonderful. We climbed 200 metal stairs up Mammoth Dome and through all sorts of interesting formations, and learned more about the slaves (in particular, one named Stephen Bishop, who was the first to explore many of the passages tourists see now, and who was so famous people requested him as their tour guide), and about the tuberculosis sanitorium (which still boggles my mind – why anyone would think that chilly and damp and dark would be good for lung conditions is beyond me). It was fascinating and beautiful.

But when I emerged from the cave, my camera was still dead. And nothing I could do would resurrect it.

So that night I looked up to see where the nearest Best Buy was, and it was on my way to Fort Knox to visit Danielle Hart. So I made note, and the next morning I stopped there. They could do nothing for the camera, not that I was exactly expecting them to be able to. But what I didn’t realize is that a) there are different sizes of Best Buy stores, and this was a smaller one, and b) Best Buy doesn’t carry a lot of digital cameras anymore. I’d bought the one I broke online, but that wasn’t an option given that I’m on the road with no permanent address, and that I needed one right away. I tried several other places, too, but nada.

So after trying several other stores, too, with no luck, I went on to Danielle’s. She lives in a really nice half a duplex on Fort Knox, so I had to go through security to get in, which was much more lax than it is at Fort Lewis back home. AAMOF, I now officially have permission to come and go from Fort Knox for the next six months if I so choose [g].

Danielle (and her daughter) and I had a great visit. We went out for Greek food, and I got a wonderful cat fix from her two Siamese kitties, Hector and Penelope, and, incidentally, did my laundry [wry g]. And we talked pretty much nonstop. The thing about Bujold listee friends is that we automatically have so much in common and so much to talk about (besides, any house with that many books automatically feels comfortable). Danielle is also a football fan (Detroit Lions), so that was fun, too.

She put me in her cats’ bedroom/library on a really comfortable air mattress. And took me to two more stores in my still-unsuccessful hunt for a new camera. I do hope she can come out to Washington sometime so that I can return the favor (minus the camera).

This morning I drove into Louisville, Kentucky (about 45 minutes north of Fort Knox) in search of a bigger Best Buy. Two more Best Buys later, I finally wound up in one with an adequate selection of cameras, and am now the proud possessor of a refurbished Nikon a couple of steps up from what I had. It basically operates the same way, but it has an even better optical zoom (it also cost about $70 more than my old camera [sigh]. But at least now I can take photos again.

I got seriously stuck in traffic trying to get back out of Louisville (I hadn’t intended to go there at all before my camera-tastrophe) but I did finally manage to fight my way clear. I’m now in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the oldest town west of the Appalachians, on my way east again. Harrodsburg is a pretty little town with a lot of really old (from this West Coaster’s viewpoint, anyway) pretty buildings.

Beautiful downtown Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Beautiful downtown Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Chicory blossoms along the sidewalk in Harrodsburg.  Chicory is all over the roadsides in Kentucky, along with a lot of Queen Anne's Lace.
Chicory blossoms along the sidewalk in Harrodsburg. Chicory is all over the roadsides in Kentucky, along with a lot of Queen Anne’s Lace.
One of the many cool old houses in Harrodsburg (I love the fanlight above the downstairs window, and the porch on this one).  I walked around town for over an hour this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
One of the many cool old houses in Harrodsburg (I love the fanlight above the downstairs window, and the porch on this one). I walked around town for over an hour this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

There’s an old Shaker village just up the road, too. I’m going to explore it tomorrow before I head east towards North Carolina over the subsequent couple of days, and two more friends to visit.

Oh, and the weather feels like nice August at home! It’s cooled and dried out considerably!

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.