It was the day to drive to Mammoth Caves. A glorious day. I had been keen to go to Mammoth Caves for several years. We had done a road trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. We opted to go to the lesser known Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, which was super cool. But Mammoth was the big time. So when my husband originally suggested this trip to Southern Illinois, I was excited about the prospect of visiting Mammoth Cave as a side trip.
It was about a three hour drive, mostly through Kentucky since we were staying about thirty miles from the border. On the way, we were astonished to see the seeming lack of billboards all over Kentucky. There must be a law. Or maybe they just don’t put up many billboards in the part of the state we were in. We had lunch at a Sonic on the way. I had never been to one, only knowing about it from the strange commercials back when I lived in Madison, WI. (There were no Sonics in Wisconsin at the time). It was a little unusual for us; we didn’t realize you needed to stay in the car. The cheeseburger I ordered was okay (I prefer Culver’s better). But the milkshake of Oreo Cheesecake was awesome. And so emblematic of our country’s problem with food. Mmm.
After a few hours, we got to Cave City. We had about an hour before our ticketed tour (I highly recommend getting tickets ahead of time). My coworker had mentioned a most magical place near the Caves: Dinosaur World. So that was our first stop. It is the best tourist trap ever. You pay about $16 and then hang out with these supposedly lifesize dinosaurs. It was so fun to wander a forest with dinosaurs all over (and giant spiders). There’s even a Mammoth grove. On the way, you see this giant T-Rex advertising for it. In the park, you can walk out to it and take photos. It has to be 3-4 floors up. There’s a little museum with a mix of artifacts and plaster casts of artifacts. Nothing like the Field or anything but neat. It was totally worth a side trip.
We then hopped in the car to get to Mammoth Caves in time for our tour. On the way, we were impressed with the amazing amount of tourist traps: Old West Towns, ziplining, horseback riding. This was tourist trap central. We got to Mammoth Cave, picked up our tickets, and made it to our tour just in time. (Seriously don’t be late). I had opted for the “Domes and Dripstones” tour. We boarded buses to get driven to the “New” entrance in the forest. We entered through a door into the dark. Once inside the cave, the temperature dropped to about 50 or so degrees, a relief from the 90 plus outside. It was impressive. We had to travel down about 100 stairs to a giant room.
Our the tour, we learned about George Morrison who concluded that there must have been other entrances to Mammoth Cave. He bought land and used explosives to expand some sinkholes. His team quickly discovered a giant cavern and then a section of the cave that was dubbed “Frozen Niagara.” He started leading tours down there, trying to take business away from the old Mammoth Cave entrance. He apparently hired people to dress up like troopers and create roadblocks to encourage folks to go his entrance over the other one. They would claim that the old entrance was closed because of cave-ins and other awful things. Apparently, there were the Kentucky Cave Wars where competing caves would sabotage each other (even destroying one another’s caves). There were allegedly some altercations. Eventually, people banded together to end the madness and bought the lands to consolidate it all, the root of the caves becoming a National Park. Pretty sweet. I look forward to reading more about the Cave Wars.
It was an impressive cavern. It was all smoothed naturally; there had been a river flowing through. With the exception of the lights and the benches and the ground, they hadn’t done much to the area. Along the way we saw gigantic boulders that just laid on the floor or at the bottom of chasms, clearly they had fallen from above. Crazy times. The guides turned off the lights at one point so we could experience pure darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. They tried to get us to not make any noise too but that failed for the most part. They said you could hear your heartbeating. Freaky!
We wandered through the cave to Frozen Niagara. It was an area with many stalagmites and stalactites with some columns. It looked a bit out of a horror film. The stalactites had this weird webbing look to them, made it look organic. Very cool and creepy. The guides told us that part of the reason that Mammoth Cave could be so large was that it was dry. Caves with stalagmites and stalactites eventually will collapse from the weight on the ceiling.
Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Caves
After Mammoth Cave, we decided to spend a bit more time in Cave City. We had a lot of tourist traps to choose from. We decided to check out Kentucky Down Under, which advertised petting a kangaroo. We got there around 4:50 and were told that they had sold their last ticket at 4pm. They closed at 6. Boo urns.
Instead, we ended up in a magical amusement park. We took a turn in Go-Karts, which was not my speed. Then we signed up for an hour horseback riding. I’ve been horseback riding twice before; the last time was a ten minute ride two years ago in Argentina. My horseriding skills are basically non-existent. But it’s fun and worth trying again.
So I’m terrible at leading horses around. My horse was tired and really didn’t want to take the longer path around. (It was the last ride of the day) Despite my best attempts, the horse ended up getting turned around. It was awkward. After some frustrating yet funny shenanigans with the horses in, we eventually got them on the right path. And then we galloped. It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have much of a seat so I bobbed up and down, terrified that I would fly off the horse. It was only for a short time but it was amazing. After about thirty seconds, we went back to walking and I got to appreciate the scenery. Kentucky is gorgeous.
After the horseback riding, we decided to fit in some fun on a chair lift and Alpine Sled. There’s something about trips to Kentucky and chairlifts. When we went to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there was a chair lift you could take to get to the top of the park. It’s a great way to relax, check out the sites, and feel the wind in your hair. The Alpine slide was fun but somehow my sled started to lose speed. For once, I wasn’t touching the brake much. Eek!
What a day in Cave City!
THe ride home turned out to be much more of an adventure than either of us wanted to be. We missed our exit to the next major highway so we let Google recalculate. Well, Google really decided to change the setting to adventure for us. We ended up on seventy-five miles of backroads before we got back to a major highway. At one point, we were on this little road between farms and houses when we saw debris on th way. We avoided hitting it with the tires but it got caught underneath the car. We ended up having to pull over where it was safe. It was stuck. It was a cardboard box with a plastic diesel tank. Thankfully, some nice local folks pulled over and helped us getting it out. After they left, we realized there was a little trail of liquid coming from the car. We had no idea what it was. It didn’t smell like fuel. Since it was a Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend in rural Kentucky, our only real option was to get to the major highway and find a gas station where we could find a mechanic. So we had this sixty mile ride of dread. The car seemed fine. Nothing indicated loss of fuel. But there is nothing like the fear of being broken down in a cell-phone dead zone in rural Kentucky at 9pm at night. Any time the car made any noises (ie. the radio) or we smelled anything funny, we both got very anxious. We did see some Amish buggys at one point with battery powered caution signs on the back of their buggys.
Eventually, we got to the highway and found a gas station. I asked if there was a mechanic available in the area. The people said that they could call one in for sixty bucks. They asked what the problem was, so we explained what happened. They offered to look at the car. So the gas station attendant and his friend checked the car, even tasted the liquid (still dripping, ever dripping). He was about 90% sure it was just air conditioning condensation. He said it could be antifreeze so he said get a gallon of water just in case it was. It was a relief.
We ended up at a Huddle Grill, a seeming knock off of Waffle House. It was strange. There was someone occasionally shrieking behind us. The waffle I ordered was okay. Alas.
We drove the additional 100 miles home and were fine. We were really happy to make it back to our B&B that night!
That’s all for now!