I’m currently writing this blog from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Since leaving the Smoky’s I have travelled through Kentucky and Tennessee to Arkansas. While in Kentucky I visited Mammoth Cave National Park. This was the first time in my life I have been in a real cave system. And by real I mean the worlds longest known cave system. The park ranger told me explorers have mapped over 400 miles of continuous cave. An astonishing fact is they believe the cave has many miles that haven’t been found yet.
Less than 4% of the cave is open to the public so I immediately opted for the longest tour available. It was a gloomy day and the rain started as I arrived at the visitor center. The park features TV screens with tour times and availability. I chose the 2 1/2 hour tour. A bus drove us 4 miles to the cave entrance. It felt like we were entering a underground bunker. The cave door is pressurized so we had to enter a chamber and neutralize the air before entering. Because the weather was bad my tour group was very small. This gave me extra time to explore the caves.
We started off down a 280′ stair case that naturally winds the caves system. I had no clue how narrow the passages were going to be. I had to duck and squeeze my way through the passages. We finally made it to the famous Snowball Room. Here we took a break and the Park Ranger gave us some history on the park. The Snowball Room was used for parties and opera performances in the early 1900s. The caves ability to echo the sound made for a great venue. I couldn’t imagine getting there with only lanterns. The cave has no natural light and is very dark. The temperature stayed around 60 degrees throughout the tour.
It was raining hard 250′ above us and water was finding its way through every crack and crevasse. We turned off the cave lighting and listened in pitch black. You couldn’t see a thing. I have never seen darkness like that.
As we continued on the cave started to open up. The cave is completely natural and only a fraction required human work. Mother Nature created something amazing here.
Nearing the end of the tour we came across the Frozen Niagara. This is the famous waterfall made of stone. Pictures do not do this part of the cave justice.
I was very lucky to have a camera capable of taking photos in near darkness. Many people couldn’t capture the caves on their cell phones. In most photos I had to crank up my ISO to 25600 and set the aperture wide open. I was using my super wide lens (14mm). This combo on my Sony A7sII allowed me to photograph the cave system. Something no one else in the group was able to do. The image quality isn’t the best but I’m happy I will have these photos to remember the worlds largest cave.
We exited the cave through another pressurized door. Next time I visit MCNP I want to do a longer tour without lighting. The cave has many interesting facts and bizarre stories. I only had time to scratch the surface of what really lies below this park. We are very lucky to have a place like this in our country.