The mammoth cave is a place of beauty, mysteries and paradoxes. It is a real kingdom of underground lakes and canyons, waterfalls and streams, narrow passages and large halls covered with dome. Located 80 km from the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky, the cave contains one of the world’s largest underground passage systems, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mysterious sinkholes, underground waterfalls and cave formations in gypsum karst attract numerous visitors. Nobody knows the true size of the Mammoth Cave yet. New caves and passages are constantly opening, underground borders of this spectacular labyrinth are expanding deeper and deeper in the depths of the underground world. Mammoth Cave – the world’s longest underground maze system, if the second and third longest caves in the world were combined, it would still be the longest in the world with a reserve of 160 km!
History of the National Park Mammoth Cave
People entered the Mammoth Cave and lived here since historical times. Anthropologists believe that Native Americans first discovered the cave about 4000 years ago. Torches made of reed bundles were used for lighting, which still grow nearby. The burned remains of these ancient torches were found for many kilometers inside the cave. Almost 5 kilometers from the entrance was found mummified body of a gypsum miner who died about 2000 years ago. He was crushed to death by a huge 5-ton boulder. The human body and clothes are well preserved.
When the first Europeans appeared in the Green River Valley in the early 1790s, Kentucky was still part of Virginia. Legend has it that the first European to discover the Mammoth Cave was either John Hauchain or his brother Francis Hauchain. In 1797, while hunting, Hauchain chased a wounded bear and discovered the entrance to the cave near the Green River.
During the War of 1812, the cave served as an important source of saltpeter, for the extraction of which was used labor, mainly black people in America. Nitrate mining was of great importance at that time, as it served as a key component for making gunpowder. During the 1812 war between the United States and Great Britain, a significant portion of the nitrate needed for military operations was extracted from the Mammoth Cave. Its owners relied on the labour of 70 African slaves to extract this precious mineral.
At the end of the war in 1815, the price of nitrate dropped dramatically and its mining became unprofitable. However, people who found out about the cave began to visit it to see with their own eyes the huge size of this underground miracle. In subsequent decades, the cave became a popular tourist attraction.
In 1839, the Mammoth Cave was purchased by Dr. John Krogan. Krogan purchased and cleaned the adjacent hotel to receive tourists. In the former owner of the cave, Franklin Gorina, he bought three young slaves – Stephen Bishop, the brothers Matt and Nick Bransfordiv to work as tourist guides.
Stephen Bishop proved to be a talented researcher and guide. He made many discoveries that increased the popularity of the cave over the next decade. Stephen was the first person to cross the “Bottomless Pit” – a large hole more than 30 meters deep. Stephen Bishop became one of the most famous guides in the history of Mammoth Cave, and his advice was needed by almost everyone who visited the cave. Many of his discoveries are described in the guide Walking in the Mammoth Cave (Rambles in the Mammoth Cave).
Doctor Krogan was interested in the possible healing properties of the cave. He believed that a constant cave temperature and humidity can be beneficial for people with TB. In the spring of 1842, he accommodated TB patients in wooden and stone houses built in the center of the cave. Visitors of that period told about the constant cough they heard from patients living in these houses. In 1843, the experiment ended in complete failure. Several patients died, and the condition of others worsened. Obviously, high humidity inside the cave and low temperature only caused harm, not helped the sick people. In Mammoth Cave, two stone houses are still preserved as a memory of this experiment. Ironically, doctor Krogan himself died of this serious illness in 1849.
Kentucky cave wars
Difficulties in farming on low fertile, poor soils was the reason for the desire of owners of small caves located near Mammoth, to switch from farming to other businesses. Thanks to the development of transport in the first quarter of the 20th century – rail and road – the number of visitors to the cave increased significantly. In the mid-1920s, the area around Mammoth cave became the center of what historians called the “Cave Wars of Kentucky” – a period of fierce competition between the owners of local caves to get money from tourism.
The widely used practice of deception to lure tourists to other small caves was used. Along the roads leading to the Mammoth Cave, fake road signs were installed, which misled tourists and led them to other caves. The owners of these small caves made the visitors think that they had visited Mammoth Cave, although in reality it was a completely different cave. A typical strategy at the initial stage of the origin of automobile travel was that the Cupper (a person luring goosebumps), jumping on the foot of a passing tourist car, convinced passengers that Mammoth cave was closed, quarantined, collapsed, in a word, inaccessible to visit and invited them to visit another cave.
Creation of Mammoth cave national park
After Dr. Krogan’s death, his nieces and nieces owned the cave as trusted persons until the last of his heirs died in 1926. According to his will, after the death of the last heir to Mammoth, the cave is to be sold at an open auction. With the death of the last heir, Dr. Krogan, among the wealthy residents of Kentucky spread the movement for the creation of a national park in the cave. Citizens of the state formed a public organization Association Mammoth Cave National Park. They believed that the only way to ensure its protection for future generations was to create a national park.
Mammoth cave was
The Mammoth cave was considered to be an obvious candidate for the park status and support from the state authorities. In fact, the national park project proved to be a difficult task because, unlike the territories of parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, the area around Mammoth Cave was occupied by farmers and local entrepreneurs, many of whom were unwilling to leave their lands and opposed the creation of the national park.
On May 25, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a law creating the Mammoth Cave National Park. The law linked the creation of the park depending on land donations to the federal government.
Donations from wealthy citizens were used to purchase the land of some farms, while other plots of land were acquired under the state’s legal right to dispose of private property. Unlike other national parks in the United States, thousands of people were forced to move to other places of residence in sparsely populated areas of the country. Like the American Indians who originally inhabited these lands, descendants of European settlers who arrived in the Green River valley in the 1790s were also forced to leave this area.
The Mammoth Cave National Park was officially opened on July 1, 1941 to “protect the unique underground labyrinth, hilly terrain above and the Green River valley.
Mammoth Cave: interesting facts
How was the cave formed?
The ancient sea covered the central part of the modern United States 325 million years ago, depositing more than 180 meters of soluble limestone, later covered with a layer of sandstone and clay shale, deposited by the ancient river. The upper layer covered the lower one like an umbrella. The sea and the river have disappeared, and erosion forces flooded this upper layer about 10 million years ago, when cracks and holes opened the limestone to the outside. Geologists believe that the old part of Mammoth Cave started to form about 10 million years ago. Rainwater oxidized by carbon dioxide in the soil leaked through the cracks and began to dissolve the limestone, creating a maze of passages, amphitheaters, rooms and voids that we know as the Mammoth Cave.
Many internal features such as stalagmites, stalactites and columns were formed at the rate of one cubic inch for each 100 to 200 years.
Why is it called “Mammoth Cave”?
The name Mammoth was first used to describe the cave in the early 1800s. The name was used because of the huge size of maze systems and passageways, and has nothing to do with mammoth. Any information about the discovery of mammoth remains here is not true.
Length of the mammoth cave?
To date, researchers have mapped 584 km of passageways, which made Mammoth cave the longest cave system in the world. Researchers are still opening new passages, and as they often say, “the end of the edge is not visible. Professional speleologists continue to study the cave system, making new maps and opening new passageways, many of which are difficult to access corridors.
Once the Mammoth Cave had a population of 9-12 million bats in its historical section alone. Although bats continue to live in the cave, today their number does not exceed several thousand. Now environmentalists are working on a program to restore the population of bats.
Tourism and sightseeings of Mammoth Cave
The U.S. National Park Service offers visitors several cave tours. The tours last from one to six hours. Two tours are conducted using only paraffin lamps, and are a popular alternative to electricity-lit tours. Several “wild” tours deviate from the well-developed parts of the cave and lead to the dusty tunnels.
Park tours are distinguished by the quality of educational programs. Information for tourists depends on the chosen tour, so taking several tours, tourists will learn about different aspects of the cave formation and its history.
Find out More about Tourism
Six-hour tour is the most popular among tourists. Groups pass through Cleveland – the avenue, which is a long hall of cylindrical shape, carved by underground waters. Its walls shine with white gypsum, crystallized under a layer of limestone. Then the route goes through the Snowball Dining Room, where you can stop and have a snack. After that, the tour goes through Boon Avenue – a deep gorge, whose width is so narrow that you can easily both hands touch the opposite walls of the passage. The tour ends at Frozen Niagara. Water saturated with minerals, leaking through the rock, gradually formed Frozen Niagara, a characteristic feature of which is the presence of stalactites, stalagmites, images of stone waves on the walls, imitating the fall of water.
One part of the Mammoth Cave is called the Methodist Church, which is believed to have held religious rites in the early 1800s. Visitors to this part of the cave are given the opportunity to experience what was felt by the first tourists. The guide turns off the light and lights the torches, and visitors can see with their own eyes how the cave looked before the electric light was installed here.
Booth’s amphitheater is another famous place in Mammoth Cave; it was visited by actor Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln’s killer John Wilkes Booth. It is said that Edwin Booth read Hamlet’s monologue “To be or not to be” in this place.
Next to it is a deep hole in the ground, known as the Bottomless Pit. It was named by the first guides of the cave, unable to see its bottom through the weak light of oil lamps. The depth of the Bottomless Pit is 32 meters.
Entrance Door to the Cave
Entrance to the Mammoth Cave. One of the most famous and most photographed objects in the park. Especially good when you look out from the middle of the cave.
The most famous and once popular Eco River tour, during which tourists had the opportunity to go by boat on an underground river, was canceled in the early 1990s for environmental reasons. In addition, the maintenance of cave passages for the public to see, periodically flooded, was incredibly expensive. During the season, tourists are offered a tour of the cave, which allows to see the underground river.
Visitors of the national park rarely see more than 20 km of passages available for excursions. If you have free time, you can explore the cave yourself. In addition, you can hike or ride horses on more than 112 km 2 territory located on the surface of the park, fishing and rowing on the Green River.
The peak of the tourist season in the park is in summer, when on average from 5000 to 7000 visitors per day visit the park. About 500,000 tourists visit the cave every year.