|Kentucky's Mammoth Cave|
by Stormy on July 25, 2007
It's the longest known cave in the world, now spanning 367 miles of Kentucky's Karst. Mammoth Cave is indeed the type of a cave system that legends are written about.
In his book, "The Longest Cave", explorer Roger Brucker talks about the "Everest of Speleology" and about exploring the world's longest known cave. He says that "…the routes in a cave are hidden. A caver may know where he wants to go, but he has no way of knowing beforehand how to get there, or whether it is possible to get there at all. Usually the goal is just the unknown. Cavers explore caves to see where they go…" in a comparison to the conquest of Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain, Brucker writes, "You know when you are on a mountain peak, and you know when you have climbed a mountain. But in a cave, you can never be certain that the cave does not go on. If you conclude your caving career by thoroughly exploring a hard cave, likely as not someone else will come along to discover new passages you missed."
The Everest of Speleology was the monumental connection of the Flint Ridge and Mammoth Ridge caves on September 9, 1972. The cave system, at that time, was 144.4 miles long. Little did those explorers realize back then that there is much more to this amazing cave system. Since those days other major connections have been made, including Joppa Ridge (1979) and Eudora Ridge (2005), pushing the cave to over 367 miles long. Exploration of Mammoth Cave started by Native Americans over 6000 years ago and slowly progressed as new generations of cave explorers pushed further and deeper.
The first serious present day explorer of the cave was Stephen Bishop, a slave who was given the task of guiding cave tours through the cave back in 1838, a job he did exceptionally well until his death in 1857. In his spare time Bishop explored the cave, doubling its known boundaries. The result of his exploration was an accurate map of the known cave that is in print to this very day.
Another famed personality from the area was Floyd Collins, who is often billed as "The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known". In the early 1900s the Collins family owned land near Mammoth Cave and operated Crystal Cave, a small pretty cave that easily outshined Mammoth Cave in beauty, although not in size. The problem was that Crystal Cave was off the beaten path and visitors took advantage of the road going to Mammoth Cave instead. Collins tried to find a cave closer to the tourist traveled roads during the peak of Kentucky's Cave Wars. In 1925 he was trapped by a 26 pound rock in a tight crawl in Sand Cave and in spite of heroic rescue attempts fueled by a carnival-like media frenzy, he had succumbed to the elements before being extracted from the cave.
In the 1950s exploration of Mammoth Cave was pushed further by explorers like Roger Brucker and Richard Watson and ultimately by the Cave Research Foundation, which they had founded. On September 9, 1972 a team consisting of John Wilcox, Patricia Crowther, Richard Zopf, Gary Eller, Stephen Wells and Cleveland Pinnix documented the connection between Mammoth Cave and the Flint Ridge Cave System across Hanson's Lost River.
A movement to create Mammoth Cave National Park started in the 1920s, recognizing the vast potential of the as yet barely explored cave system. Land was acquired by buying out homesteads and farms and by pursuing unwilling owners through eminent domain. On July 1, 1941 Mammoth Cave National Park became a reality.
Today the Mammoth Cave System outshines its closest competition by over 200 miles and exploration here continues as more and more passage is discovered and mapped.