Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spring Trip! DAY 2: Cave City and Mammoth Cave!

After a lovely visit at Serpent Mound, we began our long trip to Cave City, Kentucky. Google Maps says that it's a trip that should have taken us a little over four hours.

Google Maps is a liar.

We drove through torrential downpours, standstill traffic, more torrential downpours, and countless hills and valleys. There were points at which if felt as if we had driven all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. No matter how long we drove, the answer to "HOW MUCH LONGER," was always met with a tired, "about two more hours." This has since become an in-joke, a rallying cry, and an all purpose answer to all manner of questions.

The boys' cabin.
We eventually made it to Jellystone Park Camp, our home for the first two nights. Our amazing crew of parent chaperones called ahead and had a feast of pizza waiting for us, and we let the kids run around exploring together to burn off some of the energy built up by twelve hours spent on buses.

The lights-out portion of the evening went surprisingly well. It was late, and everyone knew we had a long day ahead.

The next morning, the kids rose with the sun, and they were treated to a feast prepared by our all-star parent crew. The parent cabins were equipped with kitchenettes, which were used to make toast, fry bacon, and scramble up several dozen eggs. There was also fresh fruit, yogurt, milk, and juice.

Then we loaded up the buses and headed to Mammoth Cave National Park. The drive from our campsite to the park is peppered with an assortment of local curiosities and attractions (a less charitable person might call them "tourist traps"). If you're planning on visiting Mammoth Cave National Park on a family trip (and I've already heard several rumors of people tentatively planning on returning), make sure to plan some time for bumper boats, the Mystery Spot, and the absolutely terrifying looking "Alpine Slide."

Our first cave tour was called the New Entrance Tour. The brochure sums it up:
New Entrance Tour
A wonderful complement to the Historic Tour, this trip includes a dramatic series of domes and pits, typical large trunk passageways, and a short journey through dripstone formations.
That description really undersells just how amazing it all was! First of all, the "new entrance" means exactly that. The entrance to this part of the cave is manmade, and looks nothing like what you would probably expect:

That utility door that that everyone is entering is the entrance to the cave. It looked much more like something out of the television show Lost than an ancient natural wonder.

DISCLAIMER: It is really, really difficult to get good photographs in caves. They are very dark, and frequently cramped. Rest assured that the views in person are amazing! The photographs that follow are... less so.

Just through the doorway is a damp, dank, manmade stairway. 

The manmade portion quickly gives way to the cave itself. Stainless steel staircases and walkways twist and turn through the passages. It's really, really cool. 

Aristea and Lev.

Here's a blurry shot of not-much, but if you look closely, you can get a sense of the scale of the interior. 

Again, this may give you a small sense of the scale of the passages. At the top of this photo, you can see a group gathered around a light. At the bottom, you can make out the ghostly silhouettes of people just in front of the camera who are about to climb the stairs.   

People were regularly exclaiming with wonder, pointing, posing, and generally having a wonderful time. Here are Aristea, Denali, and Margaret gathered around a light at a bend in a passageway. 

Each tour features a guide, who made frequent stops to tell us about the science and history of the cave.  We heard a lot about limestone, the sandstone cap (which is the waterproof barrier above the cave), and the colorful human history of the cave.

Following this two-hour excursion, we all enjoyed lunch together in a cafe in the park. Afterwards, Karl took a large group of kids kayaking above ground on the Green River, while I went with a smaller group on a second cave tour. I'll tell you a little about that tour in our next entry!

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