Kentucky: a road trip through the state - Part 56 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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The park was officially established on July 1, 1941. It covers an area of 52, 830 acres with the most important feature out of sight under the Kentucky hills. Out of sight is a limestone labyrinth that became the heartland of the national park. While the surface of Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses about 80 square miles no one knows exactly how big and how far the cave system extends. So far more than 400 miles of the five level cave system have been mapped, however new caves are continually being discovered so at this point no knows just how far they extend. However this is still the longest recorded cave system in the world that has been explored and mapped, plus it is a United Nations World Heritage site.
It is the geology of the area that has enabled this system with two different layers of stone under the hilly woodlands. First there is a sandstone and shale cap which is as thick as 50 feet in places and these act like an umbrella over the limestone ridges below. Fortunately for us the umbrella has a number of leaks caused by sinkholes. It is from these that the surface water makes its way underground and so eroding the limestone into a honeycomb of caverns. In many places the flow of the Green river has also carved out the area. The site is dotted with amazing natural features, ranging from stalactite galleries and underground rivers to a huge chamber known as the Grand Avenue. The upper more accessible sections do have some lighting installed but when you enter the deeper areas of the caves you need to rely on the lantern lit tours.
They do not glamorize the underworld with studio style lighting. While you are walk through you never forget that you are deep underground. Most often on a tour the ranger gets everyone together and then switches off the lights, the darkness is total and absolute. He will then light a match and the tiny dot of light illuminates the gathered faces.
Mammoth is still is as ' grand, gloomy, and peculiar' as it was when Stephen Bishop, a young slave and early guide first described it. He found and mapped some of Mammoth' s passages using just an oil lamp. He died in 1857 and his grave is part of Mammoth’s history; it lies in the Old Guide' s Cemetery near the entrance.
Most visitors see the beauty of the caverns on some of the 10 miles of passages available for tours. If you have a half-day visit, you might take the Historic Tour, which combines geology with Mammoth' s rich history. The tour enters through the natural entrance and covers two miles of cave passages, including Fat Man' s Misery, several old mining areas, Mammoth Dome, and a variety of lengthy caverns. There is a fair amount of ducking, twisting, and stair climbing during the two hours it takes. If you plan to stay longer, consider the fairly strenuous four-mile Grand Avenue Tour on which there are three steep hills with each being nearly 90 feet high. The easiest cave tour is only a quarter of a mile and takes 75 minutes; this is the Frozen Niagara Tour. A modified version of the tour has only six steps each way and is designed for visitors who want a short and easy trip. The toughest challenge is the five-mile long belly-crawling Wild Cave Tour which takes around 6 hours; it is available every day in summer but weekends for the rest of the year.
Well if you have reached this section after passing through the other 55 articles then you certainly have the stamina to complete any of the cave tours. So it is at this point that we head off to the airport for our trip Florida where we will finally get a chance to stop moving and have a rest by the pool.
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