Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mammoth Cave

I consider myself to be a moderately spontaneous person. Perhaps one or two steps from the middle on the spontaneity scale, toward completely spontaneous. This roadtrip to me, was all about  being spontaneous. Before leaving my mom tried to ask me how long I planned to stay in each of my destinations and I was pleased and excited to say that I really didn't know!

When a person of my  spontaneity level meets someone tipping the scale on the high end, I take on their personality right away. On my journey though Lexington, this person was my old ballet friend Lyndsey. 

I began wanting to visit Mammoth Cave when I chose to write about it for a freelance travel piece I assigned. During my stint as a travel writer I wrote about places I had been and also places I hadn't been, knowing what to write based only on research. Obviously it was much easier writing about places I'd been, but writing about placed I haven't only awakened the travel bug within me more. Mammoth Cave was a topic that particularly peaked my interest. Knowing that Mammoth Cave was close to where Lyndsey lives, months ago I had asked her if she would be interested in traveling there. I planned on making a vacation out of it this coming summer. 

When I arrive at her place on New Years Eve we began discussing what we might do over our next couple days together. I mentioned Mammoth Cave again to her and she quickly said "maybe we can go tomorrow." My spontaneity gene perked up and I said "REALLY!?"

So that's what we did. We were nervous that they might be closed on New Years Day but once they were open we called to confirm. Once we knew they were open we were on our way, on the two hour drive to Cave City, Kentucky. 

We chose to take the History Tour which cost us a mere $12 for a two hour-two mile walk deep into the cave. Lots of standard information can be found about Mammoth Cave here. But I didn't take the tour for nothing, here's a bit of fun info that we learned from our tour guide. 

Enslaved African Americans were forced to spend all hours of the day in the cave mining saltpeter that was an ingredient in gunpowder. Many times they would be there during all daylight hours and when they surfaced it was dark, leading them to never see the light of day.  Saltpeter was heavily used in the war of 1812 and Mammoth Cave was the 3rd largest source of it. It can be argued that Mammoth Cave helped the young United States win yet another war against Great Britain. 

We also learned of a progressive doctor who bought the cave in the middle 1800s. Hethought the cool dry air could be a cure for tuberculous. A series of buildings were built as well as huts for the patients to "take the air" in hopes to cure their condition. Tours of the cave remained present during that time and healthy cave visitors would be met with haunting echos of coughing and images of ghastly patients dressed in hospital gowns who could be seen moving between huts when visitors came by. 

The experiment proved to be a failure and the cool dry air didn't help the patients but rather harmed them more. Five patients would succumb to their illness in Mammoth Cave and the hopeful doctor himself, John Crogham, would fall victim to the illness which killed him in 1849.

We learned that at times humans were in the cave with only the light power of one candle. We had this illustrated to us by witnessing all the lights turned off and seeing a lantern lit with only one candle. The result was hard to photograph, but it's difficult to believe people explored this cave under those conditions. 

Mammoth Cave turned out to be a great spontaneous addition to my already spontaneous trip! No flash photography was allowed in the cave but I tried to get a few good images with the limited lighting.