TITLE: A Weekend in the Caves
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 31, 2005 1:56 PM
DESC: I took a break this weekend by exploring one of the great geological features of the world -- the Mammoth Cave region of south-central Kentucky.
weekend at the caves
was a great success, both for family and relaxation.
This is a completely personal entry, so feel free
to move on if you are looking professional content...
South-central Kentucky in the US is one of the most
cavernous terrains in the world. My wife, my two
daughters, my mom, and four nieces and nephews met
there for a long weekend of vacation. In our two
days in the area, we visited three different cave
systems, all within five miles of one another.
First up was the magnet that drew us to the area,
Mammoth Cave National Park.
At over 350 miles, Mammoth Cave is the longest known
cave system in the world. On our first day together,
we took the relatively easy hour-long "discovery tour"
of Mammoth Cave, followed by a few hours of hiking
the national park trails. The discovery tour introduces
visitors to the history and geology of the cave via
a gentle walk.
Next time, I'll sign up for the longer, more strenuous
Frozen Niagara tour. If you are a real spelunker, or
want to be one, you can take specific tours that explore
deeper and less accessible portions of the cave.
On our second day, we visited two other caves in the area.
Hidden River Cave
has the second-largest cave opening in the world -- only
is larger. It is also one of only two river cave tours
in the US. The river is small but steady, with crystal
water. You enter the cave by descending through an old
sinkhole located right on Main Street in the town of Horse
Cave. I was amazed to find this cave site while running
through town that morning -- it is stunning. The picture
at the right shows the view as members of my tour were
leaving the cave; I couldn't do justice to the mouth of
the cave from above.
The cave site also hosts a
that is worth an hour or so. On both the cave tour and
museum visit, you learn that Hidden River Cave is one of
the great environmental reclamation successes of the last
half century. This cave was a popular tourist attraction
from 1916 through 1943, when it had to close due to
pollution. The residents of the region had been disposing
of their garbage and sewage by throwing it all into the
many sinkholes that pockmark the area. These sinkholes
feed the underwater river that flows through the Hidden
River Cave. By the mid-1980s, the cave was such a polluted
mess that the town above nearly died. The clean-up has
been remarkable. Through education, folks stopped the
dumping, and Mother Nature repaired herself. The river
itself is clean now, and the cave is clean and pleasant.
We ended our caving with a visit to
which is the best "formation cave" in the area. A
formation cave is distinguished by the quantity and quality
of its stalactites and stalagmites, the features most folks
think of when they think of caves. Diamond Caverns'
formations have spectacular shapes and colors. On this
tour, I learned about The Cave Wars waged in the first
decades of the 1900s by the owners of the commercial cave
tours in the Mammoth Cave region. The owners tried to
increase their own profits by damaging the other caves.
As the most beautiful cave in the region, Diamond Caverns
was a frequent target, and it suffered extensive damage
to some of its chambers. Even still, it was worth a visit.
For the runners among you: I did manage to work in a
short long run on Sunday, an 11-mile out-and-back jaunt
between our hotel in Cave City and the eastern edge of
Horse Cave. The two towns are connected by old U.S. 31,
a two-lane highway. The motorists I encountered were
not malicious, but they didn't seem to think they should
change their behavior to account for a runner in their
midst. Fortunately, I ran 5:30-7:00 AM, and the road
had sidewalks and grassy shoulders.
This was the first break I'd taken from work since at
least March, and my mind enjoyed it. Now, it's back to
work -- with slack built into my schedule for summer.