Once we realized that Mammoth Cave National Park was only about an hour and a half from Louisville, we added it to our list of things to see during our trip. The day after the wedding festivities ended we packed up the camper and headed down the road. It felt great to arrive at the campground at noon instead of spending all day in the truck. Then I remembered that we had changed time zones so it was actually only 11am. Even better!
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of traveling as retirees. We frequently forget that we can adjust our schedule as needed – and on the fly. So, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rocked the retirement thing that day. I knew as soon as we got the camper set up Kenn would be asking “So, what do you want to do today?” so I headed him off at the pass. I told him “I don’t want to do anything today. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m tired of being in the truck. I just want to sit outside and read.” Not to mention that we had spent three days people-ing. As much as I enjoyed meeting people and visiting with everyone, this introvert’s batteries were completely drained. I needed to recharge. And I did. All day. Kenn got in the truck and went out exploring later in the day. I stayed at the camper with my Kindle app. It was heaven.
The next day, well rested, we headed to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Now, there are two things to know about Mammoth Cave. (Well, more than two but I’m only going to list my top two here.)
- Unlike most national parks, there is no entry fee at Mammoth Cave. According to one of the rangers on our tour, this was a part of the deal when the land was bought up by the state before being given to the federal government: the families who had lived on the land would never have to pay a fee to go “home”.
- Mammoth Cave is named for the large size of the cave system; there are no mammoth fossils. (Fossil loving me was greatly disappointed, LOL.)
While there may be no fee to enter the park, visitors interested in touring the caves must purchase tickets (which do cost money) for ranger-led tours. There are a number of tours to chose from; we went with the Domes & Dripstones tour. We arrived at the park an hour or two ahead of our tour just to get the lay of the land. This gave us a chance to locate the stamp for our National Parks passport book and to buy the required souvenirs; in this case, a Christmas ornament. Note to self: check all gift shops before making a purchase. We bought an ornament in the first shop and I found one I liked better in the third shop which meant backtracking to the first shop to make a return. Not really a big deal but it could have been avoided with a little extra care on my part.
We decided it would be a good idea to pick up a couple of bottles of water to take with us on the tour. (When my throat gets dry, I start coughing and my throat gets dry a lot during allergy season. It’s not COVID people, it’s just allergies!) While Kenn was in line to get water, I noticed that the shop also sold soft pretzels. Since I never like to pass up the opportunity for a soft pretzel, I asked him to get one. Y’all, this was the biggest soft pretzel I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t even complain about the $8 price once I saw it.
By the time we finished sharing pretzelsaurus (including scraping off most of the salt) the rest of the tour group had arrived at the shelter. Ranger B arrived to give us the required safety briefing, we loaded up onto two buses, and were on our way. Ranger Alex regaled us with information about the park on the way to our destination. One interesting tidbit: Although the park is forested, there are no old-growth trees since it was predominately farmland for many years. Planting trees was one of the functions performed by the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
The tour began in a sinkhole where Ranger B reminded us not to touch the rocks. Due to the fact that the caves do not receive rain, wind, etc. they don’t want the oils and lotions on our hands to damage the delicate ecosystem. Admittedly, I did touch the rocks a couple of times. In my defense, for once, it wasn’t a matter of me being contrary. (Shocking, I know.) In one spot it was just reflex to put up a hand to keep from bumping my head on a rock. (I had already banged my head when getting on the bus, LOL.) The second time I was navigating a section with a low ceiling and narrow path; my foot slipped on the damp floor and it was either touch the rock with my hand to catch my balance or touch it with my face. I chose the least painful of the two.)
The group stopped at two or three areas while the rangers gave us more information regarding the early days of the park. And, as always on a cave tour, there was a point where the lights were turned off just to show what true dark actually looks like. I have the utmost respect for spelunkers, especially the ones who did their scouting without modern equipment; I wouldn’t want to be exploring a cave system with nothing better than oil lamps.😬
In my opinion, the most spectacular scenery was in an optional section near the end of the tour.
The original entrance to the caves is still in use but we just missed a tour group and weren’t interested in waiting around for the next one so we just snapped a couple of pictures and went on our way.
White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has wiped out 90% of the bat population of Mammoth Caves. One phase of fighting this disease is that, at the end of each tour, all participants must walk across bio-mats soaked with disinfectant to remove any contamination possibly transported out of the caves on footwear.
All in all, a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. The next time we find ourselves in the area, we’ll probably stop in and take a different tour.
Have you been to Mammoth Cave?
Most importantly, soft pretzels, yes or no?