The Historic and Beautiful Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park, is located in central Kentucky,
between the Barren and Green Rivers, and Beaver Creek.

Mammoth Cave has the world's largest network of natural caves
and underground passageways, 300 miles of passages that are known and more that have not been explored.

Mammoth Cave National Park boasts of over 52,000 acres of scenic beauty and rugged forest, perfect for hiking, horseback riding, camping, boating, mountain biking and fishing. 



Mammoth Cave is home to many rare and unusual animals, such as blind fish and colorless spiders, demonstrate adaptation to the
absolute blackness and isolation. There are over 50 species of
cave creatures currently known.


Human use of the cave spans 5,200 years, beginning when Native
Americans mined gypsum and used it for shelter. It was explored
by Kentucky pioneers in 1799. During the War of 1812, saltpeter
was mined in the cave for gunpowder. It has been used as a
tuberculosis hospital, a mushroom farm, a wedding chapel, and,
starting in the mid-1800s, a tourist attraction.


Mammoth Cave is only one of many large caves in Kentucky.
Kentucky is  home to 2 of the 10 longest caves in
the world. Prior to 1983, it was 3, but the 50 mile long
Roppel Cave System was connected to Mammoth Cave and removed from the list.

The Fisher Ridge cave system currently ranks sixth on the world
list, with a total length of 85 miles. Twelve other Kentucky
caves are on the World's list of longest caves. A cave must
have a minimum distance of 15 km to be included on this list


The second longest cave in the world, Optimisticeskay Cave, in
the  Ukrainskaya region of the C.I.S. (former Soviet Union), is only 119  miles long. Mammoth Cave is three times longer than it.


Underlying the entire area is a 330 foot (100 meter) thick
formation of limestone and dolostone. Dolomite is very similar to
limestone, except that it is rich in magnesium. Most of the caves
in the world are formed in limestone. This is not surprising as
limestone is fairly abundant at the surface of the earth. No
other type of rock occurring so often at the surface dissolves so
readily as limestone. The best recipe for caves is a mixture of
limestone and water. 

In this part of central Kentucky it rains about 48 inches a year.
The runoff from this large amount of water should be about 20
inches per year. This is not an abnormal amount of water for most
areas; but since there are almost no streams in the area, the
water, which usually runs off into creeks and small streams must
go somewhere, runs into large sinkholes. Some of these sinkholes
are larger than a tractor, or as large as a house, sometimes even
larger. 

The water in these sinkholes then flows into the thick layer of
limestone and dolostone. It then begins to move through the
system of conduits (somewhat like pipes), larger channels and the
caves themselves. As it moves this water, which contains carbonic
acid, eats away part of the calcite in the limestone and
dolostone. This calcite then mixes with the carbonic acid to form
a solution of calcium bicarbonate (which we know better as baking
soda). When this calcium bicarbonate loses carbon dioxide it can
then, under proper conditions, create stalactites and stalagmites.

These rock formations can be formed with many
other materials included, such as gypsum, iron pyrites,
limonite, and so forth. It is this variety of materials
that accounts for the variegated colors found in these rock
formations. The most common material is calcium carbonate.
After the water that started on the surface as rain, moves
through the cave system, it is discharged from springs into
the Green River.

The Green River has played an important part in the development
of Mammoth Cave, because underground water must actively
circulate for solution and cave-forming processes to take place.
Unless there is an outlet for this water at the surface there can
be no underground movement of water. The constant movement of
water in the area means that the Mammoth Cave system is
constantly growing. Most of the water from the cave area is
eventually carried away by the Green River. 


Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park was authorized as a
national park in 1926 and was fully established in 1941. In 1981
it was named a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990. 


=======================================

An Account of a Trip through Mammoth Cave
by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Some years ago, in company with an agreeable party, I spent a
long summer day in exploring the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We
traversed, through spacious galleries affording a solid masonry
foundation for the town and country overhead, the six or eight
black miles from the mouth of the cavern to the innermost recess
which tourists visit, -- a niche or grotto made of one seemless
stalactite, and called, I believe, Serena's Bower. I lost the
light of one day. I saw high domes, and bottomless pits; heard
the voice of unseen waterfalls; paddled three quarters of a mile
in the deep Echo River, whose waters are peopled with the blind
fish; crossed the streams "Lethe" and "Styx"; plied with music
and guns the echoes in these alarming galleries; saw every form
of stalagmite and stalactite in the sculptured and fretted
chambers, -- icicle, orange-flower, acanthus, grapes, and
snowball. We shot Bengal lights into the vaults and groins of the
sparry cathedrals, and examined all the masterpieces which the
four combined engineers, water, limestone, gravitation, and time,
could make in the dark. 


The mysteries and scenery of the cave had the same dignity that
belongs to all natural objects, and which shames the fine things
to which we foppishly compare them. I remarked, especially, the
mimetic habit, with which Nature, on new instruments, hums her
old tunes, making night to mimic day, and chemistry to ape
vegetation. But I then took notice, and still chiefly remember,
that the best thing which the cave had to offer was an illusion.
On arriving at what is called the "Star-Chamber," our lamps were
taken from us by the guide, and extinguished or put aside, and,
on looking upwards, I saw or seemed to see the night heaven thick
with stars glimmering more or less brightly over our heads, and
even what seemed a comet flaming among them. All the party were
touched with astonishmen and pleasure. Our musical friends sung
with much feeling a pretty song, "The stars are in the quiet
sky," &c., and I sat down on the rocky floor to enjoy the serene
picture. Some crystal specks in the black ceiling high overhead,
reflecting the light of a half-hid lamp, yielded this
magnificient effect. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from the essay "Illusions" in Conduct of
Life






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