Kentucky is known as the Horse Capital of the World, but it’s not just the horse shows and derbies that attract travelers to this state. Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky is the world’s longest cave system, with 365 miles to explore. It’s a spot that all outdoor enthusiasts can’t resist. Read below for more from, A Park in Kentucky That Shines Brightest Below Ground.
“MAMMOTH Cave is one of the country’s less heralded national parks, a quiet gem in the rolling hills of central Kentucky. It’s one of the older ones, too, first authorized in 1926, helped along by the sensation over Collins’s plight and the futile attempt to rescue him. Two weeks of front-page articles in newspapers around the country focused attention on the region and the desire to end the cave wars by bringing many of the caves under government ownership.
It’s out of the light of day that the park really shines. Below those 80 square miles are roughly 367 miles of tunnels and chambers that formed on five levels as the water table fell over millions of years. And cavers are still exploring the unknown here, adding a mile or two each year to the underground maps.
An accident of geology has preserved these caves. Most of Mammoth is covered by a layer of shale and sandstone, cap rock that keeps surface water out. So the caves haven’t eroded to nothing and are now largely dry. But they also lack many of the fancy calcite features, like stalactites and stalagmites, that form when water seeps down through limestone for millions of years.
To see a real “show” cave you have to travel just outside the park, to a private operation like Diamond Caverns, where a break in the cap rock has allowed the surface water to seep in and create spectacular frozen folds in the rock called draperies and “cave bacon,” translucent multihued sheets of calcite.
What Mammoth has, as the name suggests, is size. A few of its chambers are as big as basketball arenas, and some of its major arteries are as wide and long as the Champs-Élysées.
To see the sights, both geological and historical, the park offers about a dozen tours. Most are relatively easy one- or two-hour walks along the major arteries, with plenty of steps but no crawling or tight spaces. On a few of the tours the rangers keep the lights off and visitors proceed by lantern light, an attempt to recreate the ambience of the early cave tours.”
For more check out New York Times Travel.