Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Tourism - Kentucky
Do you love to go spelunking or potholing? Well, then here is a great trip you can take the whole family on. Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky, USA, has the longest cave system known in the world.
This is a must-see for people who love to explore caves. The park, most of it, is located in Edmonson County, Kentucky -- smaller parts of the park extend into Hart and Barren Counties.
The Nolin river is a tributary that feeds into the Green River just inside the park. It is a lovely area that begs to be explored and enjoyed. The park has a lot to offer vacationers and local people. One can enjoy watching the wildlife while hiking, fishing, or paddling on the rivers.
Near the park are many other attractions to visit, like Dinosaur World, horseback riding, museums, and even a Wild West town for those who love to see what the past out west was like. Antique shopping in the area is also an option to enjoy.
Mammoth Cave is the second oldest tourist attraction in the United States. In Kentucky, it is at the top of their tourist list. The cave system is 350 miles long and 379 feet deep. That is a lot of cave for a passionate spelunker to explore!
There are semi-subterranean waterways, like River Styx, flowing through the caves. One can take a guided cave boat tour which would be a unique memory for your vacation albums. The National Park Service provides guided tours throughout the accessible parts of the cave system. These lighted tours include 'Grand Avenue, 'Frozen Niagara', and 'Fat Man's Misery'. Depending on which tour you choose, it takes from one to six hours to enjoy. For the more adventersome tourist, there are some tours that get a little wild, which will take you off the beaten path and into some muddy crawl spaces and dusty old tunnels. Lectures are provided on each tour by a NPS guide. Each tour has a different lecture so that visitors can learn more about the different facets of the cave system.
The history of the Mammoth Cave is just as fascinating as the tours and immense size of the whole system. Evidence shows that human inhabitants living in the area spans six thousand years. In Mammoth and other caves in the area, remains of Native American peoples have been recovered. Some mummies found are indicative of ceremonial burial, with pre-Colombian funerary practice. One ancient miner from pre-Colombian times was found in 1935 under a boulder that had fallen on him. The victim was given the name "Lost John" and buried some where in an undisclosed location in Mammoth Cave, out of respect to Native American peoples.
There are, of course, legends tied to the discovery of Mammoth Cave. It seems that two brothers, John and Francis Houchin, when out hunting in 1797, were the first Europeans to discover the cave. The story goes that one of them tracked a wounded bear to a spot where a large opening exposed the cave interior. This was near the Green River. Frank Houchin owned land not far from the cave. However, other entrances to the cave system were apparently on Houchin's land. A book titled 'The Longest Cave', written by Brucker and Watson, asserts that the cave was known long before the Houchin brothers chased that bear into it.
Research in the late 1950s, led by Patty Jo Watson of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, showed that prehistoric hunter-gatherers inhabited the area. The hunter-gatherers eventually learned how to domesticate and cultivate edible plants and began an agricultural society.
Explorations over time have connected all the shorter caves in the area into one huge Mammoth Cave.
Mammoth Cave National Park is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Preserve.
Mammoth Cave National Park with cave tours is a year-round tourist site. You can find information online for lodging, camping, recreation, and cave tours.