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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Journey from the center of the earth

TRAVEL

OK, maybe we didn't go to the center, but it sure felt like it!  This is a travel piece.

My husband and I just returned from an impromptu get away to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Mammoth is open every day except Christmas, so maybe a little get away could be in your future too? If you go soon, the fall colors are an extra bonus.

Many people are freaked out by caves and they think they are dangerous. This may be true of caves you explore on your own, but it is not true of Mammoth--they are very safe. Mammoth Cave, by the way, is the largest cave system in the world.

Some of the tours take you to very large, tall chambers-well over an acre in size--and are well lit. They are more like going down into a huge underground parking garage. Mammoth even has a subterranean dining room called the Snow Ball Room. Of course, other tours are more demanding--steep hill climbs and up to a total 670 stairs. Our favorites are the lantern tours where the tourists carry the provided kerosene or gas lantern.

Whatever your preference, Mammoth Cave National Park has a variety of tours  to suit most people's interests: beautiful formations, historic, and easy strolls to rigorous caving. There are things to do on the surface too.

The most difficult tour offered is the Wild Cave followed by Introduction to Caving. These require belly crawls through 9 - 10" spaces, stoop walking, canyon walking (astride a gap), butt slides, and fallen cave rock climbs. There is a girth maximum of 42 inches on those two tours, I have heard for good reason because there are some tight squeezes through roundish openings!

About two weeks ago, my husband and I decided to drive down to Mammoth Cave National Park for a mini vacation, joking we were practicing for retirement. It was familiar territory; we had been there 2 times before in 1977 and 1981 B.C. (before child). We always wanted to do the Wild Cave tour, but it was sold out on our previous visits (you need to book sometimes 6 months in advance to get in). Since this trip was spur-of-the-moment, Wild Cave was again sold out, but we decided to go to Mammoth anyway.

I first checked on availability of other cave tours online. FYI, once tours are booked, there is a $3.00 fee per ticket to cancel or change them. Sometimes no refund is available if cancellation is too close to tour time, so be sure of what you are committing to. You can also get tickets at the park, but I was not about to make a 9 hour drive there without knowing we could get on our desired tours.

I called the Mammoth Cave Hotel by phone 270-758-2225 to see if rooms were available. You may view their offerings at Mammothcavehotel.com. Prices vary from $50 - $80 something per night. I booked for 4 nights. As long as you cancel 48 hours prior to arrival, you can get a full refund.

I then booked 4 cave tours online : Violet City lantern tour, New Entrance , Great Onyx lantern tour , and Introduction to caving --a Wild Cave junior tour. Presto, all set!

Now to pack. Topside weather this time of year averages 72 degrees. It was 85 degrees last weekend. Cave temperatures are always the same regardless of season: 54 degrees. You will need long pants and a jacket and/or sweater. I like to wear a fleece headband too. Some wear a baseball cap. You don't need boots for the easy or moderate tours, but walking shoes with lugged soles are helpful for tours designated as difficult.

Over the ankle boots with lugged soles are mandatory for Intro to Caving and Wild Cave tours. This rule is enforced and they will not let you go without your boots! They also tell you to bring gloves and knee pads. They don't enforce this and even have some you can use. I say they are a must--they protect your hands and knees from jagged rocks when crawling. The bonus is they keep you dry--cave floors can be wet.  The age requirement is enforced too: 10 years and up for Intro. to Caving and 16 and up for Wild Cave. They provide the hard hat and miner lights. (Click on photo to see example of the crawl.)

I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about the Intro to Caving tour. It's been 26 years since we were there last, which means I am 26 years older. I kept telling myself how bad can it be, they let 10 year olds do it! The tour was led by a former librarian now park ranger-early-50-something-woman. That made me feel a little better.

Once we descended the 260 stairs through the New Entrance, they made us each go through the test hole crawl, a 15 - 20" high opening you had to crawl through the best you could and squeeze through a jagged hole at the end. I did it and thought I can do this! The miner light always shed good light wherever you looked so it gave the illusion of the cave being well lit. I never felt overly confined. The remaining parts of the tour were designed to give you a taste of what you may encounter spelunking and to teach you safe caving practices.

I am glad I did it but would not do it again. It turned out to be providential that Wild Cave was sold out-I think that tour would have been too rigorous for me, although the guides told me there was a 72 year old woman who did it last summer.

Don't let the Intro to Caving scare you though. The Great Onyx Lantern tour is our favorite. It is conducted in a remote area of the cave system and is the most beautiful, I think. Onyx Cave used to be owned by Miss Lucy Cox, who was quite fussy about her cave. She made sure people did not touch the delicate formations or write their names all over. We had the pleasure of being guided by Ranger Ronnie Doyle, who worked for Miss Lucy in his youth (before the cave became part of the National Park). Talk about living history! His great uncle was also the owner of Sand Cave where the ill fated spelunker Floyd Collins  was entrapped in 1925.

So, if you are looking for a get away that is off the beaten track, Mammoth Cave National Park might just be your destination. Lots of history, great scenery, and just 485 miles away via I-94, I-294*, I-80 and I-65.

 

*PS We left home at 9:10am Wed. morning and missed ALL the rush hour traffic around Chicago and Gary. 

Please feel free to ask any questions if you are thinking of going. My husband and I love our National Parks and like to share information! 

 

 

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