Mammoth Cave Adventure!

What a fun weekend! I love camping.

We got to the park and set up camp with no troubles and saw our first batch of wildlife right off. There were some deer nosing around the trail, and a pileated woodpecker having a fit up in a tree. Pileated woodpeckers are huuuuuuuuuuuuuge. We actually have one of those that used to live in the woods right behind my house. He still comes around now and again, and occasionally pecks on the house to make us think someone is spraying machine gun bullets into our walls.

We also saw a yellow jacket nest in the ground right next to our campsite. It was strange because there were always one or two horseflies milling about near the nest, and occasionally one would wander too close and get its ass handed to him by one of the wasps. I don’t know what the deal was with those horseflies, but I wasn’t about to waltz up and get a closer look at the yellow jacket nest either.

My new tent is quite nice, and for some reason I am very good at sleeping in tents. Sleeping on the floor hurts my chest very badly nowadays, so I was a little worried, but sleeping on the ground was very pleasant and I got a good night’s sleep.

It rained a bit early in the morning, and thundered some. It was nice, though, because the thunder rolled on and on all across the park and the rain pattering on my tent was very lulling. I watched through the mesh of my tent as the daddy-long-legs scurried underneath my rain slick to keep dry. It was a very lazy morning, disrupted only by some turkey vultures screeching and calling on the road near our campsite.

When it stopped raining we got up and prepared a fire for breakfast. I think I need to learn more about different types of fires. The only fire I can build (and I can build it well), is the massive heat-generating “keep this drafty house built in the 1700s warm on the coldest of Connecticut winter nights” fire that I refined while staying with Carleton’s family awhile back. I’d built said fire the night before, and it was a bit much for a summer night. I think it would have been too hot for cooking, so I tried another fire design that apparently wasn’t very good, because we had a tricky time getting it started. If anyone has tips for building a cooking fire, I am listening!

Anyway, once we got the fire going, I made a delicious breakfast on my cast iron skillet. Nothing fancy, just bacon, eggs, and pancakes (the trick to amazing pancakes, I found, is to cook them in bacon grease, but isn’t that the trick to amazing anything?) My brother and sister-in-law were very appreciative, as they’d never had a hot breakfast on a camping trip before, usually resorting to powdered donuts in a box. After the delicious meal, we promptly returned to our tents for a nap.

The cave tour was also awesome. It was hot and muggy out, so the 54 degree cave was a blissful relief (until we exited the cave at the end, at which time the muggy atmosphere was amplified by comparison and it felt like we were walking out into a rainforest). I’m really glad we did the lantern tour, because exploring caves by lantern-light is quite different than a walk-through tour with electric lighting, or scrambly spelunking with a flashlight helmet, which are the two types of caving I am used to. We had a main ranger giving the tour and another ranger following up the group, and occasionally slipping ahead and hiding off the trail, so that when you walked by and held your lantern out to see some area the main guide had just finished telling some spooky story about, he’d be standing there staring at you. GAAAAAH!

Mammoth Cave tours focus a lot on human history, which I am only so-so interested in. I’m much more of a formation/geology person when it comes to caves. Not to say the human history of Mammoth Cave is dull by any means, for example, I had no idea there was a TB hospital inside the cave in the mid-1800s. KIND OF CREEPY A LITTLE. Regardless, Mammoth Cave is GIGANTIC, clearly, with huuuuuuuuuuuge rooms that are quite impressive. However, it is somewhat of an ugly cave, both from the damages of its historical use and from the fact that it has a very strong roof, with a layer of sandstone overtop, so you don’t get many stalactites and stalagmites until you get closer to the surface. As I said, I’m a formation girl, and I think in the end I prefer the smaller yet prettier Marengo caves than the gigantor Mammoth. (My next camping trip is planned already!)

I shouldn’t sound overly picky, though, as I had a great time on the trip and am really glad I went! Plus, there were tiny bats at the end of the cave tour that were so adorable it was worth the 3 mile underground hike. The Tuesday night ballers should really go caving more often.