Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky to Columbus, Indiana
After thanking and saying goodbye to Randy we left his house in Nashville, Tennessee and headed for Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky for our cave tour. Beneath Mammoth Cave National Park lies the most extensive cave system on Earth but after much exploration the full extent of this water-formed labyrinth remains unexplored. Mammoth Cave is three times longer than any other known cave system and although 350 miles have been surveyed geologists estimate that there could still be hundreds of miles of undiscovered passageways. The cave system is home to one of the world’s most diverse cave ecosystems with about 130 forms of life with many special and unique cave dwellers who are unable to live anywhere else. Life depends on energy from the surface and life in the cave is not separate from the rest of the natural communities found in Mammoth Cave National Park. Above the cave and amongst the forested lands and hills of Mammoth Cave National Park there are many animals including deer and turkeys and the nearby Green River is also a haven for wildlife and is one of North America’s most biologically diverse rivers. Amongst the unique cave creatures which inhabit Mammoth Cave are the eyeless fish and the cave crayfish. These remarkable creatures live in darkness and have no eyes or colour pigmentation but although sightless they have acute sensory systems that allow them to mentally picture their environments!
Prehistoric people explored the caves over 4,000 years ago and evidence gathered by archaeologists indicates that these prehistoric people collected crystals and other salts found within the cave. However, it was not until 1798 that the cave was rediscovered with Mammoth Cave playing an important role at the very beginning of the American tourist industry. Mammoth Cave became one of the earliest tourist attractions becoming an attraction in 1816 and alongside the Grand Canyon and the giant sequoia Mammoth Cave showed that big was beautiful and appealing to tourists from America and around the world. Mammoth Cave became a National Park in 1926 and was fully established in 1941 with knowledge of the cave system gradually improving. Mammoth Cave National Park became a World Heritage Site in 1981 and became the core area of an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990 cementing its status as an international treasure.
We enjoyed a tour of Mammoth Cave and learned more about the stunning rock formations including stalactites that defy gravity and the mighty stalagmites that rise from the cave floor! However, these rock formations are not the main attraction of the cave. There is a giant roof of shale and sandstone which forms to create an umbrella preventing the slow dripping of water into the cave and as water is needed to form stalactites and stalagmites so you do not get these formations throughout the cave system. Instead Mammoth Cave is a long system of subterranean rooms and passageways which twist and turn throughout the cave and vary in size from enormous to so small that people can barely squeeze through! Most tours explore including ours explored these vast underground rooms, but the ‘Frozen Niagara’ and ‘Domes and Dripstones’ tours provide opportunities to see the stalactites and stalagmites. We enjoyed the ‘Historic Tour’ which told us the history of the cave and where we saw the ‘Bottomless Pit’, ‘Mammoth Dome’, and crouched through ‘Tall Man’s Misery’ and we also saw the ‘Old Saltpeter Mines.’
After our tour of Mammoth Cave, we travelled to the Woods and Waters Campground which was in south Columbus in Indiana. As we were travelling to Chicago the next day it reduced the distance travelling to Chicago. Shawn asked the group how we wanted to spend our evening in Columbus. We got talking about watching an American Football game and then somehow, we ended up at Columbus East High School to watch a high school American Football game! I am not sure how it happened, but it seemed we had a well-connected Trek America tour guide in Shawn who was able to think outside the box! It was an everyday, authentic all-American experience. The whole town seemed to be at the football ground watching the game, or were they? Everyone, especially the teenagers just seemed to be walking around and socialising. There were cheerleaders chanting the teams name and some guys were chanting through horns. It was great to be there and I was thrilled when the home team scored a touchdown! The whole stadium erupted into cheers and celebration! It is not something I have experienced in the UK, but I was happy that I did in America even if it was just for one exciting evening! Shawn tried his best to explain what was going on, but I think I would need to watch a couple of games to fully understand it! However, I knew what a touchdown was and that was an awesome moment of celebration for the high school students! It was also another one of those everyday authentic American experiences that made the trip even more special.