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day 3: caving continues!

November 19, 2012

Three tours, two very different caves. Some deer, lots of stories. A late night adventure. It was a very good Sunday.

We were out of the hotel by 8:30ish and off to Mammoth Cave National Park, home of the largest cave system in the world. We took an obligatory photo by the park sign (awkward poses and big smiles all around) and then headed through the forested parkland (past lots of unfazed deer) until we reached the information centre. We took two tours – they were called New Entrance and Historic tours, respectively. Our guides were seasoned park rangers, Charlie and Chris, who were as similar as their names (so very much similar, but not quite). Think big and impressively bearded, with great rich voices and senses of humour.

Impressive and rich also describes the caves we saw pretty well. The scale of them was what took me aback. Caverns the size of football fields (or that’s what it felt like), holes that descended down to seemingly nowhere, huge rock formations and archways, columns. I could only imagine explorers coming here by candlelight and being enthralled by the rock walls.

Again, it’s hard for me to tell you what I was thinking as I was walking through the caves (definitely less intense than the caving we did yesterday – no scrabbling along rocks or anything like that – which was fine with me because I’m not sure my sore body could have handled it!). But it was like I was perpetually awestruck by the fact that these caves even exist – that an incredible amount of factors – geological, time, economic and more – conspired to let me experience them as they are today.

Also, a fun fact and something we kept hearing about was that people tried to ‘discover’ caves by using dynamite to blow up sinkholes. I can just imagine it.

As well, something that stuck with me was the number of names and dates carved on the cave walls, dating back to the 1800s. The practice is forbidden now, but cave guides (normally slaves, at least way back when this was happening) would inscribe the names of the rich explorers they were touring around the caves – for a fee of course. There were just so many names. It reminded me that we like to leave things behind that will outlast us. Our guide Chris told a funny story about how the cave guides got their explorers to clear out caves for them (to do their work, essentially). They told them that for a small fee, they could build monuments to themselves (or their states/hometowns), so long as they used the rocks in that “convenient pile”. Pretty entreprising of them, eh?

After Mammoth Caves – which, again, were majestic and INCREDIBLE and seemingly endless (there are still unexplored passages even today, and there are people whose job it is to keep exploring!), we headed to Cub Run. About an hour off the beaten track (through some lovely fields and farms), we found this tiny and lovely town. We were greeted by Linda and Pam, two women who run the cave and the gift shop – whose knowledge spans from bats to the history of the caves and back again. Linda is a preschool teacher who took the job at the caves as a temporary occupation three years ago, and loved it so much she never left. Pam talks to bats like they are treasured friends (especially the teenage bats, who aren’t smart enough to want to hibernate when they should and still flap around).

Cub Run cave is a privately owned cave, and the fact we were able to visit it is totally due to two very brave teenage boys (well, teenagers 50 years ago), who decided to swim into a drainage pipe in freezing cold water to see where it went. They discovered one of the most beautiful caves in all Kentucky. Still, it wasn’t their land! It was a farmer’s. They had to convince him to come look at the cave – and when he realized what a treasure he had on his hands, he brought out some dynamite (of course!) and blasted a larger entrance.

I honestly was not prepared for how beautiful Cub Run cave was. I was incredulous, sharing astonished looks and shocked sounds with everyone else as we walked further into the cave and saw more of what it had to offer.

One of my favourite parts was the cave pond (you’ll see a picture of it in the slideshow), a pool of water, incredibly clear, with ladles at the bottom – because apparently it was advertised as the fountain of youth. But to say it was my favourite part is a stretch, because there were so many breathtaking features. Incredible. Incredible. Incredible.

I have so many more stories, but here are some of my favourite pictures. I have videos as well, but I think they’re going to be too much of a challenge to upload, at least now.

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