The children have been on Spring Break since April 2, so we thought we'd take advantage and go somewhere for a few days. My son was angling for Ottawa, Ontario, but much as my husband and I love traveling to Canada, we convinced him Mammoth Cave in Kentucky was a better choice this time. None of us had ever been there, and it is an easy drive from here.
I researched the park a bit before we went, and polled some online friends about it, too (thanks again, S97 Moms, for your input!). Looking into it first, rather than just showing up, turned out to be the smart thing to do, as my assumptions of the place were all wrong. For instance, I had assumed there would be just one tour, but in fact, there are a number of different tours to take. You see different things on different tours, and enter the cave in different locations depending on your tour. Most importantly, it turns out tours sell out, so you really should make reservations ahead of time to avoid disappointment. I made our reservations less than a week before we went with no trouble, and when we arrived at 9:00 a.m. just a few days later, almost every single tour for that day was sold out, so I was really happy for those reservations.
We ended up choosing the Historic Tour because I wanted to go in the big entrance, and because you see two miles of the cave. I'll admit, I was a teeny bit nervous about the whole cave thing, worried that I'd feel claustrophobic or panicky, especially because there are some very narrow and low-ceilinged spots on the tour, but I closed off that part of my mind and forged ahead.
It was a warm day, in the 80s F (unseasonal for Kentucky this time of year, but we were happy for the taste of summer!), and we could feel the cold air blowing up out of the cave even before we could fully see the entrance. Down, down, down we went, out of the sun, into the darkness.
It was beautiful, other worldly, and almost unreal. We had to keep telling ourselves "this is real!"
Photography was a challenge. My camera is a point-and-shoot with different settings. I experimented just a bit, and ultimately ended up using the flash.
The cave is very spacious in the first part of the tour, but after you go around Giant's Coffin, slightly over half-way into the tour, things get very narrow. The tourists have to go single file as things get smaller and smaller (ala Willy Wonka's chocolate factory) until you eventually have to squeeze yourself through something called Fat Man's Misery.
There are my kids in Fat Man's Misery. It turned out to be very tolerable because it's extremely narrow only around the legs. I had to stoop a bit in places, too, but I could always spread my arms out, and having that freedom around my torso and head was psychologically very soothing. I didn't really like that it was so twisty and turny, because that meant I couldn't see where it ended, but overall it was fine, and actually kind of fun! You're only in that part for about 5 minutes anyway, and you pop out into a really spacious area (complete with bathrooms!).
The tour seems to go very quickly once that narrow part is behind you, and then you have a long climb up out of the cave, back into the sunshine, and an uphill walk back to the visitor's center. Walking up the hill in the unaccustomed heat and sunshine had us wishing for the coolness of the cave again! We wore jeans and jackets for the tour, but we had shorts at the ready in our van, so we all changed into our warm weather clothes before hiking down to the spring and the Green River.
The grounds of the park are beautiful. It is very hilly and rocky, very scenic, and the summery weather made for a lovely day.
We also drove a bit around the park, mainly because we wanted to use this ferry.
They never built a bridge, and have this little ferry running back and forth, back and forth. I wonder how many tourists use it just for the fun of it, the way we did? Probably quite a few.
Things to know about the tour: no bags of any kind allowed, including waist packs and camera bags (I stuffed my coat pockets with keys, tissues, and my wallet, happy that my pockets zip closed!), but you can bring a flashlight and a camera. My kids loved having a flashlight in the cave to peek into dark recesses and search for graffiti.
There are many souvenir rock shops near the park, which had my daughter bouncing in excitement in her seat. We opted for Big Mike's, probably because he had the most billboards.
There were two buildings in the parking lot, and I think they were both part of Big Mike's. One was a gem and rock shop, and the other building had all the typical cheap souvenir stuff. At the gem and rock building you could buy 50 marbles for $5.00, so my son filled a bag and left it with my husband, who, along with my daughter, was taking a really, really long time browsing the gems and rocks. My son and I decided to check out the other building while we waited for them to finish up, and much to our surprise, right there by the front door of the other building was a bin of marbles, 100 for $5.00. What? My son was incredulous. He raced back to the other building to tell my husband not to buy those over-priced marbles after all, then came back to get twice the marbles for the same price.
We drove around the towns of Horse Cave and Cave City and came across a Wigwam Village!
I was under the impression that Wigwam hotels were only along Route 66, so I was surprised and thrilled to see this! I screamed to my husband "Stop the car! I must take a picture!" It is still open for business!
We were only gone for 3 days, and did quite a bit of driving. We drove to Lexington on the Bluegrass Parkway, stopping in Bardstown at The Old Talbott Tavern for dinner. Bardstown was so charming! I would loved to have explored it a bit more than we were able to do. We spent the night in Lexington, then continued on the Bluegrass Parkway, past all the lovely horse farms (ranches?) that stretch for miles and miles and miles. I brought along my crochet afghan that I've been working on forever (pictured here) to work on in the car, but the scenery was so beautiful that I just stared out the window. We stopped in Maysville, KY, to walk around, and found that to be a charming little town, too. Anytime I am in a southern river town I wonder why I don't live in one.
I have more photos of our trip in this flickr set if you'd like to see more photos of Mammoth Cave, or my photos of Bardstown, Maysville, and the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park in Chillicothe, OH.
My son was quite the stickler on this trip. He gets seriously annoyed when anyone refers to North as "up" or South as "down." Anytime my husband or I would say something like "we'll drive south down through Ohio" or "I thought the trees would have leafed out more down here" my son would clear his throat and say "Down?" with a very superior lift of his eyebrows. He reminded us repeatedly there is no such thing as up or down on a map, and directions are only north, south, east, or west. ONLY. Unless you are referring to elevation, keep up and down out of it. Right. Okay. Got it. Traveling with an almost-teen is Fun!
We got home last Tuesday night, so my kids have had some do-nothing vacation days at home, which honestly they love more than anything else. We've been getting The Brady Bunch through Netflix lately, and I've been catching an episode here and there with them and loving it! When I was a kid watching this show, Mike and Carol were just old parents, so I was shocked at how young they looked to me now. This prompted a bit of googling, and I discovered that Florence Henderson was 35 when the show started, and 40 when it ended. This revelation was earth shattering. I am older than Carol Brady. OLDER. THAN. CAROL. BRADY. Holy crap.
Carol and Mike are awfully cute, though, all lovey dovey newlyweds. I can appreciate that part of it now that I'm a grown up.
(P.S. I just had my two-year blogaversary! Woot!)