Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Mammoth Cave

UNESCO site, innit

In the cave

A thousand school children in "Grand Central Station"

Walking up into another part of the cave

Fallen cave ceiling


Stalactites from the ceiling and stalagmites from the ground

On our way out

Making a quick getaway before we get arrested

Wigwam Village!

November 21, 2011

We were leaving Indy today and were starting to head south, hopefully to find some warmer weather! We got up around 7:30, packed up and said goodbye to Mina. The weather was still really gray and it wasn’t much better as we crossed over the state border into Kentucky, my 28th US state. Our first stop, which wasn’t much of a stop, was at Fort Knox. We were able to see the bullion depository building alongside the road but couldn’t get close to it or take pictures. We circled into the fort entrance and there was a security stop there so we stopped to ask if there was any visitor centre or whether there was anywhere we could take pictures from. The man told us that we shouldn’t take any pictures as our camera would be confiscated! Driving back into Kentucky we regained our lost hour as we went back into the Central time zone. We hadn’t realized around here how much we switched time zones as we’d soon be going to Eastern again in Eastern Tennessee, then back to Central in Western Tennessee, before finally settling in Eastern when we get to Georgia! Thankfully the clock in the car automatically updates so we were able to keep track of where the hell we were! Elizabeth felt quite as we were driving and I really thought she was going to be sick and I kept asking her if she wanted to stop. She said she was OK and we carried onwards. By this time, the rain had started to fall quite heavily and it wasn’t much fun driving. It sure does explain why everything is so green around here though!

As we reached some of the forested area in Kentucky it felt like we were going back in time to some of the Civil War battles fought around here – the tree cover was abundant, the fog was drifting in and out and there was quite an eerie feeling staring into the forests. As we closed on our main destination for the day, we passed lots of really cheesy touristy sites, such as Dinosaur World complete with plastic looking models of the large creatures. We had hoped Mammoth Cave National Park, where we were heading, would not be quite so gaudy and tacky!

As we arrived at Mammoth Cave we saw a whole lot of wildlife – mostly turkeys on the run from Thanksgiving and Eastern white-tailed deer. When we got to the national park visitor centre we found the list of tours available and decided to go on the New Entrance Tour. All the tours here had to be paid for and the only way to see the main areas of the caves was on a tour so we didn’t have much choice. The tour we had chosen started in about 45 minutes so we decided to get some lunch while we waited.

We had lunch at the café in the hotel on site and it seemed like everyone here was in grumpy mode today. The woman giving us menus wasn’t very pleasant and the waitress was not very nice, either. We both had a bowl of lukewarm chilli and a grilled cheese sandwich for some over-inflated price which perfectly set us up for what was to come!

Mammoth Cave is a UNESCO site and is considered to be the world’s largest cave. There are around 392 miles of cave passageways and thought to be hundreds of miles of still unmapped areas. When we arrived for the start of our tour there was a group of about 50 fourth grade students waiting to get on the tour buses. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours with 50 eight year olds?

Unfortunately, everything on the tour was designed for them and all the “stories” that we were told about the cave were dumbed down for the children. The tour consisted of three stages. The first section was a walk down around 300 steps. The steps were through a narrow entry in the rocks and at times you had to go through sideways. Elizabeth was feeling a bit claustrophobic but I managed to keep her focused on keeping moving. We got stuck behind a family who were going quite slowly down the stairs so by the time we reached the first stopping point the guide had already started talking to the children so we missed the first part of his “lesson”. The tunnels around us were apparently like the NY Subway and this area was obviously Grand Central Station. The guy who had discovered this “new” entrance to the caves had given these areas the nicknames. The ceilings in this part of the cave had actually collapsed which made the cave even bigger than it had been and you could see on the rocks the different lines where the previous rock layers had been. Even though we were in some larger spaces, Elizabeth still felt a bit uneasy and I think the lack of any natural light made this worse.

We then walked up a small hill and saw some fossils in the rock and came to another large open area. Again we arrived after the guide had started his talk and all we heard was some stupid story about Godzilla visiting the cave and falling asleep on the top and how we could see his toes poking out. Of course, his “toes poking out” were just three rocks which were long and round. It was annoying that rather than telling us how three such different rock formations had come about in the cave we got to hear a story about a fictional creature which is irrelevant to the geological makeup of the cave system. Because of the ceiling collapses, much of the edges in the cave were rough and pointy but one area we went through had not suffered a collapse. This area had much more smooth and wavy rock faces.

About this time I started having problems with my camera and the flash started misfiring. The camera was trying to pop up but wouldn’t but it was still flashing, and as a result it was making a cracking sound and giving out a horrible burning smell. This happened quite a few times and even gave me a couple of nasty little shocks. I carried on trying to take pictures but I wasn’t having much luck. It didn’t exactly add to the average experience we were having.

Along the way to the final stop we saw some cave crickets which looked a bit like spiders crawling along the rocks. When we reached the final stopping point the group was really spread out and so many people wouldn’t move forward and we couldn’t hear the ranger. Elizabeth got annoyed and pushed through so she was closer to the front. As it happened, it wasn’t worth getting closer to the ranger as he spent about 10 minutes praising the behavior of the kids, yet again not bothering to tell us anything much of use. The final stop was at the Frozen Niagara, a formation of rocks which looked something like falling water apparently. This area was discovered by the guy who “owned” this section of the cave and he used it to attract tourists away from the main entrance of the park until the National Park Service purchased the land and made one big national park. We went down some stairs at the end to see some of the falling water cascading in the cave and of course all the kids wanted to do this too so we joined the screaming hordes. We exited the cave at a different exit and were picked up by the tour buses and taken back to the visitor centre.

Back at the visitor centre we were told about white nose syndrome which can affect some of the creatures which live in the caves and so we had to go through soapy water to clean our feet off. Elizabeth decided to complain about the tour as it had cost us a lot of money and it was really designed towards the children. We didn’t specifically ask for a refund but we expected to get something especially as so many people we’ve dealt with at national parks are helpful and friendly. However, the girl here was not helpful at all and when we asked to speak to her superior she said they weren’t available. Elizabeth said we would wait by her desk until they became available and the girl proceeded to call her manager and get permission to call the police, which she then did. It was such an over-reaction and could have all been averted if we could’ve spoken to someone with half a brain cell. Elizabeth filled in a complaint form but I doubt anything will actually come of it.

We drove to Cave City where we were staying and checked into our Wigwam Village. Yes, we were actually staying in a wigwam although this concrete incarnation was nothing like the real ones. There were only three of these wigwam villages left in the US and we just happened to be passing one so Elizabeth thought it would be fun to stay. The woman at reception was not very cheery or talkative so we just grabbed our key and headed around to wigwam #3. It was really small inside but quite cosy and certainly very, very different! They all looked like they needed a bit of a freshen up and a new layer of paing but it was only one night so we tried not to look too closely!

We drove into Bowling Green in the evening to try and exchange my camera. I made sure I took a picture before we went in so the flash smelt really bad when we took it in! The girl at the customer service desk couldn’t believe the smell was so bad and they easily agreed to give me a new camera. Unfortunately they didn’t have one in stock but they reserved one in Knoxville for me as that was where we were heading tomorrow. She took the old one off our hands and we headed out camera-less! As we had driven a fair way to sort out the camera we decided to have some food nearby and we’d picked up a brochure at Mammoth Park that listed a place called Toots. They served one of the local specialities which was catfish with hushpuppies and Elizabeth got this. I settled for a Mexican chilli burger and a Sam Adams Octoberfest beer. The food was really good but I think Elizabeth had her fill of deep fried food for a while!

Back at the wigwam we were keen to get a decent night of sleep and I soon dozed off watching the TV (which looked older than the wigwam!).

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