Last week, I worked in Glasgow, Kentucky, which certainly isnít the most exciting place Iíve visited.† Glasgow is in a dry county, which of course means there are no restaurants there.† Actually thatís not quite true.† There are two restaurants in town where you donít order by number.† One was lousy, and the other closes at 8pm.† Guess what time I got there?
The most intriguing dining option is the Churchís Fried Chicken / White Castle, which share the same building.† Iíve seen some unusual combinations of fast food restaurants, but that is certainly the most bizarre.†
I finished my job on Thursday afternoon, and I was ready to get out of town.† Mammoth Cave National Park is only 20 miles from Glasgow, and it wouldíve been a crime not to visit. †I made reservations for the Star Chamber tour, which begins at 6pm daily.†
I arrived a couple of hours early and stopped at the visitorís center.† What should I do for 2 hours?† The ranger I spoke with suggested touring a section of the park that few visitors see - the part that is above ground.
Mammoth Cave National Park protects 53,000 acres of rolling, forested hills.† Itís exactly the sort of landscape that never wouldíve qualified for national park status if it hadnít been hiding the worldís longest cave.† I suppose thereís a lot to be said for that.
I embarked on a short hike, heading down a gravel road past the historic cave entrance.† That is the way weíd be going in later.† Beyond the mouth of the cave, I headed through a deep green forest towards the river.† I reached the muddy banks of the Green River, which twists through a narrow gorge of heavily forested walls.† From the river, I took a short side trip to a spring where the River Styx emerges from the cave.† At the spring, a deep blue pool is tucked up underneath a rock bluff decorated with ferns.† I must give some credit to the folks that named this river.† What better name can there be for an underground stream?
From there, I hiked the Green River Bluffs Trail downstream.† The trail gradually climbs away from the river, to traverse the cliffs on the side of the gorge.† Despite the trailís location, the heavy foliage limited views to one overlook, which gave me a nice look at the river and gorge.
I took one short side trip to the mouth of Dixon Cave.† Dixon is now fenced off, to protect an endangered species of bat.† From there, I followed the trail around to the picnic area.† This part of the hike surprised me, by providing a parade of wildlife.† First I spotted a deer, followed by a pair of small frogs, and a wild turkey.† Finally I came across a turtle crossing the trail.† At first he hid in his shell, but after a couple of minutes he poked his head out to see if I was still there.† I was ready with my camera, and got some good close-up shots of him.
I returned to the visitorís center, where I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt for the tour of the cave.† I joined 2 rangers and 39 new friends, for a 2 Ĺ tour to the Star Chamber.† I had picked Star Chamber largely because it is the only tour offered in the evening.† However, it was appealing for another reason.† During the tour, the electric lights would be turned off.† Our only light would be provided by lanterns that some of the visitors would carry.
We reached the historic entrance, where we left the miserable heat of southern Kentucky behind.† Heading down the steps into the entrance felt like walking into a freezer.† The sensation was better than any air conditioner.
The tour was interesting, and was highlighted by the ranger, who turned out to be quite an accomplished storyteller.† Highlights included the Rotunda, where remains of a 19th century Saltpeter Mining Operation can be seen.† Beyond, we reached ďthe churchĒ, where services were actually held many years ago.† In the church, an unusual rock formation looks like the face of a person.† Some say it is the face of Jesus.† Iíll admit it was a little spooky, but I am surprised that the Park Service hasnít dug it up and sold it on Ebay.
Our tour took one side trip, into the Gothic passage.† Gothic is interesting, in that it features several columns and stalactites.† The most interesting of these is the wedding altar, which has been the site of several such ceremonies over the years.† Unfortunately, Gothic is also the site of considerable 19th century vandalism.† Countless visitors signed their names on the walls and ceiling.† Some would describe those markings as historic, but at what point does vandalism become history?
The tour ended at the Star Chamber.† Star Chamber is named for the crystals on the ceiling, which look like the night sky when viewed from below.† It was a nice ending to a fun tour that was well worth $11 and 2 Ĺ hours of time.† If you visit the park, Iíd recommend the Star Chamber tour, or perhaps one of the other tours done by lantern light.† Going in with lanterns seems more natural.† After all, it is a cave, and itís supposed to be dark!† The next time I visit, I hope to have time for the Wild Cave Tour.† The Wild Cave Tour is real caving, as it leaves the civilized sidewalks behind for parts of the cave that other visitors donít get to see.†††
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