Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky


Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave

April 21-22, 2006

by Jess Stryker

Click on any photo for a larger image. Hold mouse pointer over photos for descriptions.

The photo above shows the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave. With over 350 miles of surveyed passages, Mammoth Cave is longer than any other known cave. While called a cave, Mammoth is more accurately described as a system of interconnected caves or passages. I have a map on my wall that shows cave passage locations under the park and it looks somewhat like a bad case of varicose veins. The passages twist and turn and branch off from each other in many directions. There are 4 separate levels of the cave, in one area near the historic entrance there are 4 levels of passages one above the other. Evidence of exploration and mining of the cave for minerals by prehistoric men was found in the cave in the form of the spent torches they used for light. But apparently sometime around 2000 years ago the cave was abandoned (or avoided for some reason) and men didn't enter it again until early European settlers moved into the area in the 1780's. The European/Americans immediately saw an opportunity, and began to exploit the cave. Notably the cave was mined for saltpeter using slaves in the early 1800's. The saltpeter was used to make gunpowder. By 1816 the cave was being developed and marketed as a tourist attraction. Slaves that formerly worked the mines now became guides for tourists, and these slaves also did much of the early exploration of the cave passages. In addition to the cave system, the park includes a 27 mile section of the Green River, ponds and historical buildings.

Mammoth Cave

There are many available cave tours. They were working on installing a new cave lighting system and other facilities at the time of our visit and apparently some facilities were closed for construction. We found the information regarding tours a bit confusing, we seemed to get conflicting information on which tours were being offered and restroom availability. I wasn't feeling very good, and didn't relish the idea of 2 hours trapped on a tour in a cave, so we decided to only take the short, basic "Discovery Tour". Instead of caving we spent a considerable amount of time exploring the above ground part of the park. To be perfectly honest, we've been in a lot of caves over the years, but we hadn't been in Kentucky before!

Mammoth Cave NP Visitor Center
The Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center.

 

Mammoth Cave Historic Entrance
Looking up from inside the Historic Entrance.

 

Mammoth Cave
The passage just inside the entrance is called Houchins Narrows.

 

Mammoth Cave
Another look at Houchins Narrows, on the way to the Rotunda room from the cave entrance.

 

Mammoth Cave
They were installing new lighting during our visit. This is a tunnel they drilled to drop the lighting wires down into the cave. Normally it would be hidden from view.

 

Mammoth Cave
A hint as to the amount of wire it takes to light the cave. The wires will be buried under floor of the cave.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Rotunda room. 140 feet below the surface, directly under the Mammoth Caves Hotel lobby.

 

In the early 1800's a saltpeter (calcium nitrate) mining operation was set up in the cave, and the large Rotunda room was used for processing the saltpeter. Dirt from the cave floor contains calcium nitrate. Slaves were used to haul this dirt in carts from other parts of the cave to the Rotunda. Wood frames were filled with the dirt, then the dirt was leached with water to dissolve and remove the calcium nitrate. The water used for leaching was piped in from outside of the cave using wood pipes. After leaching the soil in the frame, the leach water was collected in pipes under the frame and from there it ran down into wood storage tanks. From the tanks a hand pump was used to pump the water through wood pipes back out of the cave. You can still see some of the wood pipes on the cave floor in Houchins Narrows between the Rotunda and the historic entrance. Once on the surface, the leach water was further processed to remove impurities by filtering it through barrels filled with wood ash. Finally the remaining filtered water was boiled away, leaving the saltpeter crystals. The saltpeter crystals were packaged and shipped to factories in the Eastern U.S.A., where it was used as an ingredient for making gunpowder. Much of the saltpeter used for making gunpowder for use in the War of 1812 came from Mammoth Cave. The mining operation closed down around 1815 when the end of the war caused a decline in the demand for saltpeter.

Mammoth Cave
A wood frame used to leach soil in the Rotunda.

 

Mammoth Cave
Another wood leaching frame. In the background you can see the collection tank for the leach water. A close up of the tank is in the photo below.

 

Mammoth Cave
A collection tank for the leach water running out of the wood frame above. Note the wood pipe to carry the water from the bottom of the frame to the wood collection tank.

 

Mammoth Cave
Closer view of a section of the wood pipe that was used to transport water into the cave for the saltpeter mining.

 

Mammoth Cave
Water droplets reflect the light on the cave ceiling.

 

Mammoth Cave
A bat hanging upside down from the ceiling of the cave.

 

Mammoth Cave
Audubon Avenue is a large passage that is adjacent to the Rotunda.

 

Mammoth Cave National Park Above Ground

 

Mammoth Cave
This is the outlet of the River Styx into the Green River.
The River Styx flows through Mammoth Cave.

 

Mammoth Cave
Board walk on the trail to the River Styx Spring.
That's Julie with the umbrella hiking in the rain!

 

Mammoth Cave
This old water level marker in the river bed was installed a bit too close to the tree!

 

Mammoth Cave
The Little Hope Cemetery located on Cave City Road.
I hope the cemetery name is not a commentary on the eternal fate of those buried here.
Then again, it was one of the only cemeteries we saw in this area that wasn't next to a church!

 

Heritage Trail

The Heritage Trail starts near the hotel and loops around the old guide's cemetery.

Heritage Trail
There's a woodpecker with a red head at the base of the tree. He wasn't cooperating with me taking his picture.

 

Heritage Trail
Looking up through the tree canopy.

 

Heritage Trail
Overlooking the Green River Valley.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Dogwoods were in bloom! The white flowers in the sun contrast with the green forest.

 

Heritage Trail
Dogwood blossoms.

 

The Green River

 

Mammoth Cave
Turnhole bend on the Green River. Green is a good name for this river!

 

Mammoth Cave
River tours are available on the Miss Green River.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Green River Ferry. It's free!

 

Mammoth Cave Baptist Church

 

Mammoth Cave
The historic Mammoth Cave Baptist Church was founded in 1827.

 

Mammoth Cave
Julie inside the church. It looks like they are in the process of restoring the building.

 

Mammoth Cave
"WILLIAM FLOYD
COLLINS
BORN JULY 20, 1887.
BURIED APRIL 23, 1925.
TRAPPED IN SAND CAVE,
JAN. 30, 1925
DISCOVERED CRYSTAL CAVE
JAN. 18, 1917
GREATEST CAVE EXPLORER EVER KNOWN".

(William) Floyd Collins was exploring Sand Cave in 1925, when a rock lodged on his leg and he became trapped. A frantic rescue effort followed, which became a major media event. Newspaper and radio updates followed the progress, and a reporter actually crawled into the cave and interviewed him while he was trapped! Thousands of people came to the rescue site. So many showed up that vendors set up concessions and souvenir stands and a carnival-like atmosphere ensued. The rescue effort failed when the cave ceiling collapsed between him and the rescuers. They could no longer provide him with food and warmth, they frantically get digging, but Floyd died a few days later of starvation and exposure. His body was later removed and displayed for tourists in Crystal Cave, which he had discovered. When the Park Service purchased Crystal Cave, his family requested his body be moved, so it is now buried in the cemetery at the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church. For more on the tragic story of (William) Floyd Collins, and the nationwide media circus that surrounded his attempted rescue, Click here.

 

Sloan's Crossing Pond

 

Mammoth Cave
A nature trail winds around the Sloan's Crossing Pond.
We saw lots of critters around the pond!

 

Mammoth Cave
Croak!

 

Mammoth Cave
A well-fed snake!

 

Mammoth Cave
Turtle.

 

 

Other sights

 

Mammoth Cave
A sinkhole on the Turnhole Bend Trail. Sinkholes result when the caves collapse.

 

Mammoth Cave
A vine creates an interesting pattern on a tree.

 

Mammoth Cave
Engine and car from the Mammoth Cave Railroad. At one time the railroad transported tourists and supplies to the cave.

 

Mammoth Cave
Pretty wildflowers.

 

Facilities

 

Mammoth Cave
The visitor services are located across this bridge from the Visitor Center.

 

Mammoth Cave
A coffee shop serves breakfast and lunch.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Travertine Restaurant dining room doubles as a museum, with historic photos on the walls.
It is worth ducking in to take a look at them.

 

Mammoth Cave
Historic furniture from the cabins is displayed in the Travertine Restaurant entry.

 

Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave Hotel lobby entrance. All of the visitor services are in this building, including gift shops, an ATM, the coffee shop, the Travertine Restaurant, and meeting rooms.

 

Mammoth Cave
Julie in the hotel lobby.

 

Mammoth Cave
These are the "Heritage Trail" units, which are adjacent to the building hotel lobby building and are the closest rooms to the Visitor Center and visitor services like the restaurant.

 

Mammoth Cave
A typical guest room in the Heritage Trail hotel wing.

 

Mammoth Cave
The hotel has tennis courts.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Sunset Terrace rooms are motel-style units, located a short walk from the other visitor services.

 

Mammoth Cave
These small, single unit historic cottages sit in a semi-circle across a large lawn from the visitor services building. They only accommodate 1-2 persons each.

 

Mammoth Cave
The Woodland Cottages are one-4 room rustic cabins. They can accommodate up to 16 people.
They are located on the far side of the Visitor Center, a short hike from the other visitor services such as the coffee shop and restaurant.

 

The Mammoth Cave Campground is located a short hike from the Visitor Center. There are 2 other campgrounds located elsewhere in the park. All of the campgrounds have toilets, picnic tables, grills, and water. None of the park campgrounds have electrical, water or sewer hook-ups. There is a gas station, store, laundry, and shower facilities located adjacent to the Mammoth Cave Campground.

For more information on Mammoth Cave, including available cave tours, see the National Park Services Mammoth Cave website at http://www.nps.gov/maca/.

For reservations or more information on booking a room at Mammoth Cave see the hotel website at http://mammothcavehotel.com/.


Unrelated

 

Mammoth Cave
To get to Mammoth Caves we flew into Nashville, then drove up to Mammoth Caves. On the way we passed the Metro Baptist Church, which was hit by a tornado a couple of weeks earlier.

 

 




Text and Images by Jess Stryker. Copyright © Jess Stryker, 2006. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for student use of photos for non-profit school/class projects.