Mammoth Caves–One of my favorite places

By John Clise

  First, let’s get to the basics of one of my favorite places–Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
    According to the National Park Service, Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave, with more than 400 miles of interconnected passages—so long that if the second and third longest caves in the world were joined together, Mammoth Cave would still be the planet’s longest cave and have more than 100 miles left over.
    I went to Mammoth Cave as a kid and remember how big it seemed. Everything seemed to echo. It was like a giant tunnel into the earth…as it is…but that was my 10 year-old mind thinking it out.
   I always wondered what it would be like to just wander from one end to the other. I figured someone had before. I wondered who it might have been and how they may have fed themselves and such things.
   The park was established as a national park on July 1, 1941. It became a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981, and an international Biosphere Reserve on September 26, 1990.
   Mammoth Cave developed in thick Mississippian-aged limestone strata capped by a layer of sandstone, making the system remarkably stable.
   It’s  been a while since I’ve been there so maybe I should back and see how it seems now. Things chane over the years. Of course that may be from childhood to adulthood. Sometimes I think it would be nice to hang onto some of that childhood wonder as we grow up.
   It seems like it would make things easier if we could remain somewhat in wonder at things as we get older. Could be that being a little less serious, while still being repsonsible, could let some of that childhood wonder back into our hearts and minds. I’m not sure who couldn’t use some of that lind of ease.
   In the Wikipedia description of Mammoth Cave, the upper sandstone member is known as the Big Clifty Sandstone: thin, sparse layers of limestone interspersed within the sandstones give rise to an epikarstic zone, in which tiny conduits (cave passages too small to enter) are dissolved by the natural acidity of groundwater. The epikarstic zone concentrates local flows of runoff into high-elevation springs which emerge at the edges of ridges. The resurgent water from these springs typically flows briefly on the surface before sinking underground again at elevation of the contact between the sandstone caprock and the underlying massive limestones. It is in these underlying massive limestone layers that the human-explorable caves of the region have naturally developed.
   If you have a chance you should definitely visit Mammoth cave and see what it’s all about. Enjoy some childhood wonder for yourself.


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