Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Having arrived safely at daughter LJ’s home outside of Cincinnati, our next objective was to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, something LJ had long wanted to see. This national park is unusual in at least one respect — there is no tourist town adjacent to it! Acadia National Park has Bar Harbor; the Arches NP has Moab; Grand Teton NP has Jackson Hole. Mammoth Cave is surrounded by tiny Kentucky hill towns, none of which seem to have even a downtown. This is lovely if your goal in visiting is to escape from civilization, hike or horseback ride; but know going in that finding supplies locally will be difficult.

I was also surprised to find, back in April when planning this trip, that many of the local RV and state parks would be sold out already. Thus, we were not able to reserve our preferred dates and ended up staying there midweek. “There” was Nolin Lake State Park, created when the Green River (also the engine which created Mammoth Cave) was dammed in 1963 to create Nolin Lake; the park itself opened in 1996 and is one of the most beautiful state parks I have seen — not in the sense of stunning scenery, but rather in the intelligent design and careful construction. Every campsite is crushed rock, large, flat and widely separated from its fellows, giving as much privacy as one could hope for in such a setting. Here’s our campsite:

Note the lovely lake view right behind the campsite! In Maine, the state park campsites have a wilder, more rugged feel, as though they were simply rough-hewn by chainsaw out of the woods such that the campsite is whatever remains when the lumberjack walks away and the stumps are pulled out. This state park was obviously carefully planned and carefully landscaped and the result is, to my mind, much superior (if, admittedly, without that “wilderness” feel). Here are some park views from our site, illustrating the generous spacing between campsites:

One of the curious and charming experiences in visiting Mammoth Cave NP is the crossing of the Green River on the way to the park. The river, where it crosses the road, can’t be more than fifty yards wide; yet, rather than build a bridge, there is a ferry!

Here’s a view from the ferry itself, which holds three vehicles and apparently spends all day traversing the river from side to side, carrying cars across:

One critical piece of information that we wished we had possessed upon arrival is that the tours of Mammoth Cave must be reserved in advance; thus, the only tour that we could get onto was a self-guided tour of the very upper level of the cave. If you want to see the most celebrated features of the cave, however, you must reserve a guided tour. We were there on a Thursday and all the tours were sold out through the weekend except for the self-guided one — but even that required a two-hour wait. So, we bought ice cream and visited the gift shop. Granddaughter Layla was enamored of the plush bats on sale there:

There are a number of excellent walking tours on the National Park grounds, and we used our spare time to explore down to the River Styx, which is the modern tributary of the Green River remaining underground (and which continues, to this day, to erode the limestone under this part of Kentucky, creating new caverns). Mammoth Cave, incidentally, has been explored and mapped for 400 miles — and there are another 600 miles of caves suspected to exist, as yet unexplored! Here are some views of our “hike”:

Our walk concluded near the entrance/exit of the cave itself, and we were astonished at how much colder it was as we passed the entrance! In fact, the cave in summer maintains itself at a temperature of around 60 degrees; knowing this, we stopped back at the truck for jackets before we began our cave tour.

Here are two views of the upper cave entrance (remember, there are six levels to this cave, and all but the top level require a reservation for a tour), one as we entered, the other as we emerged:

And here is a view inside the cave itself; the park service provides just enough light that you can see to walk, although we very much appreciated our flashlights for improving the view of the footing. This easy, self-guided tour, however, features a completely dry floor over which to walk; we are told that some of the other levels are wet and muddy — and there is one six-hour tour that requires crawling the entire way! This tour was an excellent choice for young Layla and I would recommend it for anyone with small children; however, there were a couple of others that we would definitely return to do once Layla is older.

The cave was created by moving water, a river really, eroding out large corridors through which the water could flow. Over eons, water dissolved the limestone below it and thus created another level of caverns while the original level dried out. This process was repeated until now there are six levels of caverns to explore in the aptly-named Mammoth Cave.

The only other thing to note in this post is that upon our return to LJ’s home we experienced a severe thunderstorm. I had stayed in the house that evening visiting with LJ, Mike and Layla and (after Layla went to bed) we watched a TV show together, which was interrupted by a brief power outage; when the power came back on, we finished the show. By the time I said “good night” and went out to the Little Guy, it was raining hard. As I was getting settled in the trailer I heard a strange plunking noise from the bathroom and, looking inside, discovered that it was raining into the bathroom itself! Did I forget to close the cover on the bathroom roof fan? I didn’t think so, but no amount of turning the cover knob in either direction made a dent in the deluge pouring down onto the bathroom floor. So, figuring it was a wet bath anyway, designed to get wet, and there was nothing I could do about it in any case, I went to bed and let it pour.

In the morning I went outside to discover that the fan cover was just gone, blown away in the storm! We walked the neighborhood looking for it but to no avail. I subsequently spent most of the day on the phone with RV dealers trying to find a replacement (without success), so that afternoon we went to Home Depot and bought some plastic sheeting which I duct-taped over the fan for the trip home. So far it’s holding, with two days to go, despite the fact that I have traversed two thunderstorms since. I am hopeful that it will serve until my local dealer can get me a replacement.

You can just barely see my jerry-rigged bathroom fan “cover” at the top of this photo.

Tonight I am staying at a Harvest Host golf course in Batavia, NY called Terry Hills. This appears to be a very nice course but I could not get a tee-time because there were leagues playing this afternoon, so I spent my obligatory Harvest Host $20 buying supper in the restaurant. While I am the only HH member staying here tonight, this particular location is not outstanding; I am in a parking lot adjacent to the miniature golf course within close proximity to a busy highway, so it has been noisy — not to mention a number of mini-golf patrons passing by immediately adjacent to the trailer. I am hopeful that once it gets dark, things will quiet down.

The goal tomorrow is to make it to Albany, NY, from whence it is a day’s drive home. I will be staying at Arrowhead RV and Marina again (see previous post), so I suspect that this will be the last post on this trip. But there will be more trips this summer, including (hopefully) the conclusion of the Maine Four Corners tour to Madawaska by scooter — so stay tuned!

One thought on “Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

  1. This is an awesome post John. I love seeing the adventures you are experiencing! Safe travels and great memories 😀😀


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