It turns out that weekdays in December are a ridiculously good time to visit Mammoth Cave. The Frozen Niagara Tour and the Historic Tour had “participant limits” of 36 and 110 people, respectively, but only five people were on each tour today. According to the ranger who led the first tour, they get 5000 people a day during the summer, and the day after Labor Day that number immediately drops to 300 per day. Today there were perhaps 30 people in the park.
My love of spelunking is well documented, and today continued that proud tradition. I probably would have spent more time underground, but the requirement for visiting Mammoth Cave with a ranger and an imminent winter storm limited the options. That said, the Frozen Niagara Tour (which I remembered from a trip when I was eleven) and the Historical Tour (which I’d never done before) were both awesome – while Carlsbad has bigger rooms and more decoration, Mammoth was carved by underground rivers and as a result has hundreds of miles of passages, some the size of highway tunnels. During the two tours a handful of very creepy cave crickets and cave spiders appeared from the shadows, and a very cute pack rat and tiny bat also made appearances. Some interesting facts:
- Organized tours of the cave began in 1816, making Mammoth Cave one of North America’s oldest tourist attractions.
- Last year the length of surveyed passages was 360 miles. This year it is 392. They expect to be over four hundred miles of explored caves by summer. Mammoth is easily the world’s longest cave system.
- The cave has twenty-eight entrances, seven of which are natural.
- The name of the cave comes from the giant passageways, not the prehistoric elephant.
Tonight I’m in Bloomington to visit Audrey (she’s on a job at the University of Indiana) then, weather permitting, it’s off in the direction of Kansas and Oklahoma for some further exploration.