Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 11

by Bingle on Aug.23, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Day 11 of the trip we got up really early as we had quite a bit of driving to do as we would be heading first to Mammoth Cave for a 4.5 hour tour through the cave only offered once a day (which meant we had to be on time) and then to the suburbs of Saint Louis to visit Belinda and Mike.

The girls slept for a good part of the drive to Mammoth Cave. We happened to be driving over a pass in the mountains right near dawn and it was a very pretty view. At times we were above the low hanging fog down in the valleys and at other times deep within the fog. There was one particular place we wished we had stopped at for some pictures or video, but by the time we realized that would have been the best place to do so we were many miles past.

The other “eventful” part of the drive to Mammoth occurred when the four lane highway we were traveling straight west at the time suddenly ended. We cruised through a traffic light at speed, saw a sign that said “pavement ends 1000 feet” and promptly dropped several inches off the end of the nicely paved highway onto an older road. We were pretty confused as we could see the remains of the former highway straight ahead of us beyond a low fence. We stopped for directions and found out that our maps and KareKare were both out of date and didn’t show that the road had been rerouted a few years earlier. We were soon back on our way and arrived with plenty of time before our tour was to depart.

I’d been to Mammoth Cave with Dad when I was little and had memories of a long walk through the enormous (they called it “Mammoth” for a good reason!) cave. Karen and the girls and I had stopped at the cave on the way back to Florida during one of our drives up north when the girls were little but had only taken a brief “intro” tour. Today was to be different – 4 miles!

After gathering at the visitors’ center, we were taken by bus to one of the many entrances to the cave and began our journey. We saw a few bats at the entrance, but didn’t really see any more “wildlife” inside the cave until one of the several stops we made where one of our guides showed us a huge cave cricket that he’d plucked from the wall as we walked past. When he placed it back on the wall we spotted another one on the wall just a few feet away from where he had just placed the other. Now that we knew what to look for we spotted several more during the rest of our tour.

I had remembered eating in the “Snowball Cafeteria” during my visit to the cave when I was little and was looking forward to sharing it with the girls. While the snowball shaped formations on the ceiling were like I remembered, somehow this chamber (which serves as a rest stop along the tour) was much smaller than I remembered. As we had eaten shortly before the tour, we didn’t have anything there but did take plenty of pictures.

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The hike through the cave was definitely tiring. Lots of elevation changes, some sloped and some stairs (some of which were very steep). A couple of the passages (usually on the stairs) were either very narrow or had some pretty low overhangs, so you definitely had to exercise plenty of caution.

A couple of the special tours offered at Mammoth Cave are the lantern tours. Well, as it turned out there was a lengthy section of the Grand Avenue section that was having some issue with the lights and our group of about 75 people were therefore “forced” (for no additional charge!) to use 10 or so lanterns to light our way for over a mile of the tour. I acted quickly and grabbed one of the lanterns for us. It was pretty neat (and surprisingly bright) to tour the cave that way!

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The tour ends with “Frozen Niagara” which is a section of the cave filled with beautiful flow stone, stalagmites (growing up from the floor), stalactites (growing down from the ceiling), and columns.

Upon exiting the cave we took the buses back to the visitors’ center where we walked over some bio-security mats that are designed to help slow the spread of White-Nose Syndrome which is a fungal disease affecting bats, and then took a short walk (about a quarter mile each way) to see the “Historic Entrance” which is where we had visited when the kids were little.

The rest of the day was devoted to the same thing that had consumed the start of our day – driving. We made it to Belinda and Mike’s (really nice!) house around 9:00 p.m. and had a nice visit before heading to bed.

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