Posted in life
When we received an invitation to Drew and Molly's wedding, just outside Nashville, J and I immediately thought about whether we could incorporate another national park into our trip. We discovered that the Smokies, all the way on the eastern end of Tennessee, are pretty far from Nashville, but Mammoth Cave is only a couple of hours away.
We had less than two full days to spend in the park but still managed to fit in a lot. Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world; more than 400 miles of caves hollowed out by an underground river that has fallen to lower and lower levels over the course of thousands of years. There are several different tours you can take through different parts of the cave, with different lengths and levels of intensity.
J and I went on two cave tours, both longish ones. The first was the Grand Avenue tour, which covered four miles in 4.5 hours, including a break for lunch. We passed through some majestic caverns, narrow passageways and gorgeous formations.
The next day, we tried something a little different with the Introduction to Caving tour. We'd considered the Wild Cave tour, but it sounded like it might require more upper body strength than I have. In retrospect, I probably could have managed. We found that the National Park Service really talks up the difficulty of the cave tours, probably because it's so difficult to get someone out if they get hurt or can't handle the exertion. I'm still glad we chose the Intro to Caving tour, because the Wild Cave tour is 6.5 miles long, which would have taken too much time.
We still got to do and see some really cool things that the vast majority of visitors to Mammoth Cave don't experience. We saw some gypsum formations up close, squeezed through some truly small holes and passageways and even did a short canyon walk. We covered about two miles in three hours.
We also went on a couple of short walks on our second day in the park, killing some time between lunch and the Intro to Caving tour. First we went to Echo River Spring, where J sampled the cool, pure water emerging from the cave:
Then we walked from the Visitor Center to the Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave and River Styx Spring. It was a long, uphill walk back from the spring on a warm day, and we stopped at the Historic Entrance again to feel the 54-degree air welling up from the cave, luxuriating in the natural air-conditioning for several minutes before continuing back to the Visitor Center.
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