When I was leaving the park I decided to take Flint Ridge Road instead of the main road leading to the cave. I did this because I wanted to see more of the park and to see the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church. The Mammoth Cave Baptist Church was established in 1827 and served the people who settled along Flint Ridge. Like its sister church along Joppa Ridge the church was frequently the center of community activities. It is also one of the few buildings remaining from the pre-park days.
Near the entrance to Mammoth Cave is a trail that leads past Dixon Cave to the picnic area and back to the visitors center. The trail is short but unpaved with uncertain footing in places. There are also some steps along the trail.
One of the more interesting displays I saw in the cave was a variety of items found inside the cave from the period Native Americans occupied the cave. There is a nice display of these items toward the end of the portion of the cave you can access without a ranger.
Mammoth Cave has been used for some unusual activities through the years. In 1842 Dr. John Croghan used Mammoth Cave as one of the first hospitals devoted entirely to the treatment of Tuberculosis. He believed the constant temperature and humidity in the cave would be useful in treating the disease and built a few stone and wooden huts here. Unfortunately, the environment did not have the desired results. In 1881 a mushroom farm opened here but the venture failed by 1886 due to bad management. A Christmas celebration was held here in 1883 and a variety of musicians have come here throughout the years to test he acoustical qualities of the cave.
The limestone that forms the cave is porous so water easily seeps through it. Sometimes this water carries heavier minerals like the metals you see in the reddish layer here. This layer is caused by the heavier more dense rock that is located under the limestone forming the floor of the cave.
This area is called the "Twilight Zone". It is the part of the cave where there is barely enough natural light to see by and the first part of the cave where it gets too dark to see without artificial light. Few plants can live in this zone. Some animals come here to seek shelter and to escape predators.
Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave in the world. There are ranger-led tours through some of the cave. Only a very small portion of the cave (much less than at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico) is open for self-led exploration.
There are eight species of bats living in Mammoth Cave and nearby Dixon Cave. Two of these, the Indiana Bat and the Gray Bat are on the Endangered Species List. There are other types of animals that have adapted to the dark environment of Mammoth Cave like the Northern Cave Fish, Southern Cave Fish and other species of colorless, eyeless crayfish and shrimp. Mammoth Cave is the only place where both Northern Cave Fish and Southern Cave Fish coexist. Interpretive signs will acquaint you with these animals.
This is the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave. Part of what drew ancient peoples in the area to discover the entrance was chilly air emanating through the hole. During the summer warmer air enters the cave through upper entrances or holes and creates a partial vacuum inside the cave. Colder air is then forced out of the lower historical entrance. This process is reversed in the winter.
The trail leading from the visitors Center to the cave is relatively short and paved. If I remember correctly it is wheelchair accessible. There are some informative signs about the geology of the area and the formation of the cave along the trail. As you walk to the cave you will see the sandstone and shale "caprock" that covers the limestone that forms the cave. This caprock was deposited here some 280 million years ago by an ancient river and covered the limestone formed some 350 million years ago by an inland sea. Mammoth Cave was formed by the erosion of this 600 foot expanse of limestone.
The Mammoth Cave Railroad was a spur line that hauled freight and passengers from Glasgow Junction to the Mammoth Cave area. The railroad used steam engines that burned fuel, to heat water, to produce steam. This steam was then pressurized through a valve into a piston that drove the wheels of the train. These small engines were deceptively strong. The strongest engine was called "Hercules" and was capable of hauling massive loads up the Kentucky hills. Occasionally local boys would soap the tracks as a joke causing the engines to lose traction.
After driving along the southern part of the park, I headed toward the main part of the park and the cave. Along the way I stopped to see the Mammoth Cave Hotel. There have been three hotels on this spot. The first was built in 1811 as small quarters to house slaves that were mining saltpeter from the caves to make gunpowder for the War of 1812. This hotel stood for more than a century and was one of the finest hotels in the state of Kentucky. The current building is the third one to occupy this spot and is reported to be a fine hotel.
The Joppa Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1862. The settlers along the Joppa Ridge had a very strong sense of community and the church was often the heart of the community. Many of the stories told about life in the past along Joppa Ridge concern weddings, births, church socials and other activities in the church. The church is located on the Brownsville Road which runs along the southern boundary of the park.
Years ago this area was dotted with the farms of homesteaders hoping to make a living growing crops in these fertile river valleys. These homes, fences and other indications of the homesteads were torn down in 1941 when the park was established. Look at the area today and most of the evidence of this past has been eliminated as the forest reclaims the land.
There were several helpful rangers working at the park and as usual I enjoyed talking to them. Mammoth Cave National Park offers a number of ranger led activities. Make sure you check out the Junior Ranger activities for kids.