Day 21 (third zero day), at Mammoth Cave National Park: A totally tubular tour. Because the National Park Service does not mess around. - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

May 13, 2022

Day 21 (third zero day), at Mammoth Cave National Park: A totally tubular tour. Because the National Park Service does not mess around.

I snap a selfie near the start of the four-hour "Grand Avenue" tour of Mammoth Cave. I'm wearing a hoodie and a small backpack. Behind me, in a dark but wide space with lights illuminating the walls on each side, other participants in the tour stand and walk through the tunnel. The room has an elliptical shape, with an almost flat roof and floor and heavily curved sides.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Day 21 stats

Start (and end): Mammoth Cave National Park

The Daily Progress: 0

Ice cream flavors: N/A

Lodging expenses: $25 for campsite

Food expenses: ~$26 for lunch and dinner

Miscellaneous expenses: $13.50 for shower, postcards, stamps, plus $35 for cave tour

Day 21 highlights

Today was all about the four-hour tour of the Mammoth Cave system. As the title of this entry suggests, it was totally tubular, dudes!

I appreciated that the tour showed us three very different flavors of cave. First, there were the big, open, tubular tunnels. I enjoyed imagining ancient underground rivers following through and widening these tunnels. They were wider than anything I'd seen underground (though I've seen only a few caves). 

The tour group shuffles through the elliptical (aka "tubular") tunnel, which is occasionally accentuated with sharp, rocky ripples.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The second phase of the tour brought us through much narrower but taller passages that felt a lot like slot canyons like those in Utah and Arizona. 

In this very dark image, two tour participants step forward through the tunnel in a round, tight space illuminated by a reddish light surrounded by darkness except for a sliver of red light above them, which accentuates the narrow gap between the two sides of the cave here.
Heart 2 Comment 0

Finally, we finished with the Frozen Niagara area, with lots of stalactites and stalagmites.

At Frozen Niagara, a tour participant in front of my walks down the stairs deeper into the cave. Along the walls are formations that look to me like giant mushroom tops, or maybe jellyfish heads, with long stringy tentacles hanging down. To the left is a white formation that truly looks to me like a waterfall over a dome-shaped rock.
Heart 1 Comment 0

We also saw some "cave crickets," but I was actually hoping to see more critters because eyeless fish and colorless crawdads were featured in the park brochure and I don't know why I thought we'd get to see them but I did. Oh well. If anyone reading this ever goes, doing expect to see wildlife. Go for the rock formations. Stay for the … rock formations. 

Also, the National Park Service does not mess around. From the moment you reach Park Service land, if I'd missed the signs, I would still be able to tell just from the quality of the pavement of the road leading into the park. Seriously. It was that smooth. When you enter the cave, you see all the guardrails and the steps and everything. I was at first surprised by the amount of infrastructure and then reminded myself: The National Park Service does not mess around.

And at the start of the tour today, there were multiple warnings that this was not just a casual stroll — this was a four-hour hike through, and up and down, the caves. As the park ranger said, "We do more walking than talking on this tour, people." Okay, I added the "people," but the rest of that sentence is a verbatim quote. And we were warned that if anyone needs medical attention, I could take hours to get them out of the cave.

As is typical of me, I thought to myself, "Yeah, but this couldn't possibly compare to biking 50 miles while hauling 50 pounds of gear."

Well, it turns out, it sure could compare! My legs might be ready to bike, but they haven't walked this much in weeks! Also it's four hours long, and you're not allowed to eat! And we all know how frequently I am accustomed to eating. (And ultimately, I walked away wishing I were better prepared for the no-eating rule because I found myself struggling to appreciate the last hour and a half of the tour. Lesson learned, I guess.) Of course, I respected the rule because I assumed it's to protect the underground ecosystem. But, it became very hard to take the no-eating rule seriously (although of course I still did) when you learn that they built an underground cafeteria inside the cave and the reason it's not operating recently is not that they came to realize their hypocrisy — it's that the elevator that services the cafeteria stopped working. But the point is, they built a cafeteria inside the cave! 

That's right, say it with me, friends: The National Park Service does not mess around.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 4
Comment on this entry Comment 0