Usa on the road

Mammoth Cave: a nature wonder

In the middle of Kentucky, not far from Glasgow, we can find one of the underground’s most famous national parks in the United States: the Mammoth Cave National Park.

To be honest, we had never heard of it, because  in one of those parks that are little known outside the U.S. and where few foreign tourists venture.
First of all, this park is located in one of the states that are not usually beaten by organized tours that’s probably why “word of mouth” tourism does not generate curiosity and interest.
Reading the Kentucky chapter in the U.S. travel guide we found a small paragraph that talks about the Mammoth Caves, but we did not realize the extent, the grandeur and the reputation of these underground caves.

We have discovered the Mammoth Caves thanks to our friends in Glasgow.
They are family friends that I met, thaks to my dad, when still studying English in junior high school.
We have always kept in touch and we finally came to visit them with all the family.
We spent almost a week with them during our “USA on the road” in October 2011 and in a beautiful autumn day Larry proposed a visit to the caves for the next day.

No sooner said than done.
We started early in the morning and after about half an hour we are on one of the roads leading to the National Park.
A wonderful sight in nature, with colorful red and yellow autumn trees and animals roaming around free and happy.
We even saw wild turkeys!
Of course, all animals living in the woods of the National Parks are untouchable, so you can imagine how well the animals are living there!

Enraptured by nature we slowed down, then we realized to run into delay and  we anxiously arrived at the ticket office.
Just in time to reach the group heading out for a walk in Mammoth Passage Tour, a trip that lasts about one hour and can not be booked in advance.

Off we go!

The first part of the tour is on board of a small bus.
Our guide, a park ranger, begins to tell the story and give us some background  information about the park we are visiting.
The thing that immediately strikes us is that beneath the streets that we went across so far and we are driving in that moment, there are about 390 miles (ca.630 km) of explored tunnels … and who knows how many yet to be discovered!

We get off the bus and we see a small, insignificant and anonymous metal door: the entrance!
We begin to go down in single file along a concrete staircase and, wonder of wonders, a riot of stalactites and stalagmites welcomes us in the first “room”.

It ‘a succession of “ohhhhhh” and “ahhhhh” every time we move and we go deeper into the maze of tunnels.

In one of the caverns the ranger points out a stalactite which has the form of a strip of bacon: a pretty strange comparison, but it is known that at the end we always think to food! 

We finish off by a narrow strait and a staircase of 130 steps and we descend into the Drapery Room, which really seems to a room with lots of draped curtains.

The suggestion of the ranger, and even our own, is not to get to the bottom if you are claustrophobic, as the last part of the descent can be overwhelming.

When we got outdoors we enjoyed the autumn sun that welcomes us just outside the metal door while waiting for the bus that takes us back to the Visitors Center.

Last step: feet cleaning. Everyone visiting the caves, when returning to the visitor center must walk on a mat that removes fungi, bacteria or spores traces coming from the caves. This is done to prevent the White Nose Syndrome that every year causes the death of thousands of bats.

Do not try to avoid it, then. It is a critical step to respect nature above and below ground.

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