12 Mar 2007

Mammoth Cave National Park - Part 1

My idea of Mammoth Caves, before I saw the actual thing, was of huge, well-lit giant sized caves that you could just walk in and explore on your own. It turned out to be so different, when I finally got to see it, that I mentally laughed at the image I had created in my head.

The drive from Alpharetta, GA to the Mammoth Caves, KY took us five and half hours and we arrived tired but eager to see the caves. I expected this national park to be like the Grand Canyon where the actual attraction is just a small stroll away from the parking lot and you can just walk around and see the sights. But this was not to be. We soon learned from the visitor center that we had to ride a bus to reach the caves and take a tour, with a park official, to see them. We bought tickets for the New Entrance Tour leaving at 11.45 the next morning.

We walked around a bit in the park, saw the Historic Entrance to the caves, had dinner, went to our small neat little hotel rooms, and called it a day!

Entrance to the caves

The next day dawned cloudy and cold and we set off with a busload of kids to see the caves. The entrance to the cave looked like a tiny room with a heavy metal door. Say, if I had just dropped out of the sky near the door, I would never have guessed that it led to a completely new world below. The interior of the cave was damp, gloomy and dimly lit by artificial lights. The steep, narrow steps took us deep down into the bowels of the cave. At places, the stairway was so narrow that both sides of your body and head could touch the walls of the cave. And a peep over the railing in some places showed deep wells. Needless to say, I have never seen, heard of, or experienced anything like this.

Narrow passageways in the caves

In the middle of the trip, the officials, after due warning, turned off the lights inside the cave. The kind of darkness that enveloped us was awe-inspiring. Now I know what they mean by complete darkness. The eyes don’t adjust to the darkness no matter how long you stay there. It is for this reason that the cave bats and fish in the underground river are eye-less. The group tried to stay quiet to experience what complete silence felt like, but it was a lost cause with so many young restless kids with us.

It was fascinating to see the cave decorations or speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites, as they are popularly known), in the Frozen Niagara section of the caves. These wet formations come in various shapes and sizes and take millions of years to form!

Wet formations inside the caves

It was only after the tour I realized that a whole new world existed beneath the ridges and mounds and tall trees on which we were walking and that thought kept me captivated for a long time.

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