Even if you can't go into the cave, there are interesting things to see on the surface. There are signs about the various geological features. For instance one of them says:
In the Pennsylvanian Period, 280 million years ago, a layer sand and silt was laid down by an ancient river delta, forming the slanted layer of mixed sandstone and shale visible immediately across the ravine. Beneath this "caprock" lie 6000 feet of layered limestone deposited as an ancient ea bed some 350 million years ago. The miles of cave passageway that make up Mammoth Cave are found within these layers. Sandstone and shale is more resistant to being dissolved by water than is the limestone underneath. The caprock acts like a roof, shedding water to the side of the ridge.
Mammoth Cave National Park is one of two national parks centered around a cave or cavern. The other is Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. There is a large area you can explore other than the cave, too. Several paved, and unpaved, roads cross different parts of the park. I mostly explored the areas along the main roads. Over 365 miles have been surveyed in the cave system with more that has not been explored or is inaccessible. There are a wide variety of different ranger-led cave tours available ranging from short family oriented tours to tours designed for the experienced caver who wants to crawl around and explore. The self-led tour of the cave is much more limited than the opportunities at Carlsbad Caverns. There are also a few historical buildings inside the park which reflect the lives of earlier settlers.
Fondest memory: Touring the Cave
Favorite thing: This is a very cool natural air purification system. Underground it is approximately 54 degree F, the air in the cave is constantly being recirculated by a vaccum like system. The cracks in the cave suck air in from the outside and the warm air from the cave is blown out the enterance/exit of the cave. Once you walk up the the cave, within 20-30' Ft. you can feel a very strong cold draft. The ranger told us from this circulation of the air it is quite pure. He also said that you would think that to hide underground in a cave incase of a nuclear bomb, you would first be safe from the blast but because of the air system it would sweep the radiation into the cave and people hiding would die.
Favorite thing: Stalactites begin forming by water that has minerals in it. There are cracks in the ceilings of caves that allow the water to drip through. With time the water will create a "soda straw", a small & hallow stalactite. Then as the water continues to keeps dripping it builds the cone formation larger and larger. Equally as the drip hits the floor the minerals can deposit and begin building up, a stalagmite. With enough time, these two can eventually grow toward each other and join creating a column. These formations can really create crazy forms. But to give you an idea of how long this process can take, 1 inch is produced every 800 years.
Favorite thing: At the service building, which is next to the visitor center; there is a grocery story, post office, laundry, & showers. This is really important to remember, you can get a shower for $2 for 10 minutes. Of course it isn't the most beautiful area, but really it is helpful since most of the time when you visit the park it is so hot. I am not the best camper, but for those of you that will be camping in the area, remember you can get a good shower with decent water pressure! It goes by tokens, but you can buy those in the Laundry area. The man at the service store told me that if you get too many tokens, that you can take them to the store and they can exchange them for money again.
The low down on the cave life is pretty simple: Bats, crickets, spiders, salamanders, crayfish, etc.
Basically our tour guide told us that during this time, October, the bats are beginning to come into the caves to begin hibernation. She told us that the most common bat is the Eastern Pipistrelle or a bat that looks like a "hairy chicken nugget". They are about the size of your thumb and have the wing span of an unsharpened pencil. On the cave tours the guides are always looking for them to point out, but don't take any flash photography of them, because they don't want to be woken up!
The deal on the crickets! Okay, these things freak me out! They look like they are spiders, they have a very small body and long skinny legs. Their antlers or feelers are extra long and look like an extra pair of legs, looks like 6 legs total. I was told they have these to help them feel around in the dark. They spend most of their lives in the caves, but do venture out to eat.
Salamanders are quite interesting, the one we saw was shy in the light. He was very brightly colored, which surprised me because i thought since he is in the dark most of the time he wouldn't need the color like many other animals in the cave. There really aren't many compared to crickets, but we were lucky to see one out of 3 cave tours.
The crayfish and other water animals, we weren't able to see. They show these animals on the brochure, but there isn't really anyway to see these guys because they are located on the 5 level of the cave system where the river is located and they don't take tours that low. I do believe you may have a chance if you take the "wild cave tour" because that is splunking and you will go deeper than the average tour.
I loved it. Even though the pace was easy, it was still too fast for me. I will just have to go back. The cave is cool and the air fresh. The air in the Cave moves. Out of the Historic Cave entrance in the summer and into the entrance in the winter. If memory serves, the air volume is replaced every three days. You can really feel the air at the entrance. There were some odd smells in places. Reminded me of fresh concrete. Limestone rock. Hmmm. I wonder.
Remember, read and follow label directions. Pay attention to the tour publications and the Rangers. The Rangers want you to have a safe and trouble free visit. And so do I.