The longest known cave in the world is Mammoth Cave, located in south-central Kentucky, just outside of Bowling Green. Now a national park, you may be amazed by more than just its geological wonders. Here are fun facts about Mammoth Cave.
– Mammoth Cave is a UNESCO World Heritage site in part because it “illustrates a number of stages of the Earth’s evolutionary history and contains ongoing geological processes and unique wildlife.” It earned that distinction in 1981.
– Speaking of wildlife, UNESCO says “the flora and fauna of the cave is the richest caverniculous wildlife known, numbering over 130 species, of which 14 species of troglobites and troglophiles are known only to exist here.” Three endangered species live in the cave – Kentucky cave shrimp, Indiana Bat, and Gray bat.
– Native Americans discovered Mammoth Cave around 4,000 years ago and used it for 2,000 years.
– Settlers of European origin found it in the late 1790’s, and tours began in 1816, making it one of the nation’s oldest tourist attractions.
– Mammoth Cave was privately owned for more than century. In 1926, Congress authorized the formation of a national park in the area but Mammoth Cave National Park was not officially established in 1941.
– The Cave Research Foundation has mapped more than 390 miles of Mammoth Cave, but nobody knows exactly how much cave is down there. There are 14 miles of developed cave trails.
– The temperature in the cave typically stays in the 50s, ranging from between 54 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures at the entrances, however, vary a bit more depending on the season.
– Each year, around 650,000 people visit the park and 400,000 of them go on a cave tour.
– The Drapery Room is a part of the cave made up of limestone walls covered in dripstone that looks like swaths of fabric, hence the name.
– Water combined with carbon dioxide from either the air or soil to form carbonic acid in the cave, and that acid dissolved the limestone, forming the cave.
– The roof of the cave is made of shale and sandstone. Unlike limestone, it does not dissolve easily and keeps the cave dry.
– You can see sea fossils of sea creatures in the walls of the cave.
– Stalactites hang down from the ceiling of the cave (you can remember that stalactites hold tight to the ceiling) and often begin as soda straws, which are thing and hollow.
– Cave popcorn is not edible. It forms when splashing water coats the walls with redeposited limestone.
– During the War of 1812, slaves mined Mammoth Cave for saltpetre, the main ingredient in gunpowder.
Here are some tips for visiting:
- The park can get crowded, so book your cave tour in advance here. For an easy tour that works for all ages, do the Frozen Niagara tour. It’s also the shortest. If you have kids who are more agile and adventurous, try the Domes and Dripstones Tour. Really hard core? Then maybe the Violet City Lantern Tour is for you.
- Wear layers! (See above for how cool it can be in the cave, which feels especially chilly in the hot, humid summer months.)
- Should you need a taste treat after a cave tour, check out Spelunkers Mammoth Cave National Park. They serve delicious ice cream locally made at Chaney’s Dairy Barn.
See a video of my visit here:
Source: National Park Service Face Sheet and Junior Ranger booklet, UNESCO website
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