On a daily basis, when my alarm goes off and I know that I have to go to work, it is almost impossible for me to get out of bed. I have tried everything; the twenty alarm clocks, the roommate yelling, and even putting my coffee maker in my bedroom. I usually don’t wake up late, but anything before 8:00 am just doesn’t work out for me. Therefore, when my friend told me that she would pick me up at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning, I tried to come up with all kinds of excuses for why we shouldn’t go. Luckily, my sense of adventure is way higher than my unwillingness to get out of bed. We had also just booked a cave tour for 3:45pm so there was no viable excuse not to go. So at 6:00 am I got in the car, ready for a 6 hour drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system, and is located in Kentucky. It has more than 400 miles of explored caves and tunnels, but scientists are predicting at least another 400 miles of unexplored area. Although the weather varies in Kentucky depending on the seasons, inside the caves, the temperature is at a constant 54° all year long. We arrived around noon, and made our way to the visitor center. The entrance of the park is free, but you have to pay for each tour. At the visitor center, we received free tickets to a self-guided tour because we came during National Parks Week. We made our way to the cave and after a few steps down, we were greeted by a rush of ice cold wind coming from the cave. The climate changed from 83° to 54°in a split second. So yeah, bring a hoodie.
It was a very short but entertaining trip. The guide inside shared stories about some 2000 year old corpses that were found in the caves, possibly from old native American tribe members. He discussed the case of one particular corpse that was found, who they called “lost john”. This guy was displayed in the caves for many years, until finally removed and given a proper burial.
Our second tour was the Domes and Dripstones Tour. It started off with a bus ride to the entrance of the tunnels. It being Easter weekend, the tour was full and crowded with children. Due to the narrow tunnels, we had to form a line and follow each other. Having no patience with people and especially children, we decided to go in the back of the line. This was definitely a good idea; it gave us more time to take pictures and we did not feel too pressured by those behind us.
The caves are crawling with various types of animal species. Although there are technically a 130 species that use the cave on a regular basis, we were only able to spot cave crickets. These crickets, who look a lot like gigantic spiders, spend much of their lives in the cave but get to the surface at night to gather food. As we made our way through narrow tunnels and staircases, we arrived in a giant cave. There, our guide told us to sit down and be extremely quiet (didn’t quite work out with all the children around). He then turned off all the lights in the cave, and suddenly we were all overwhelmed by the darkness that surrounded us. This is pure darkness. The one where your eyes do not adapt. It is dark enough for the flame of a lighter to light up the entire room. Some cave animals, such as troglobites (cave dwellers), have adapted to survive in a lightless environment. Examples of such animals are the eyeless fish and crayfish. These animals have no skin pigmentation since they have no need to protect themselves from the sun. Theyhave also developed highly sensitive sensory organs in order to prey.
I wish I could have been in that cave alone when the lights got turned off, to experience absolute silence. Imagine, pitch black and no noise. How long until you would go crazy? This cave really made me realize how used we are to light and sound. So find yourself a cave; wander, explore and learn to use all your senses.
The address of the visitor center is 1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259. Since there are many trails to hike on in the forest on top of the cave, the best time to visit is between the months of April and October. Just make sure you don’t go on a national holiday, or the place will be packed with tourists. If you can, explore Mammoth National Park on a weekday; the lonelier you are in the tour, the better your experience will be.
*** Sorry for the lack of “inside the cave” pictures, I underestimated how dark it would be in there, and didn’t have my proper DSLR camera with me.