|Mammoth Cave's Historic Tour|
by Stormy on July 25, 2007
History always starts at "the beginning" and with Mammoth Cave that spot is at the historic entrance, along the old Houchins Narrows, where Stephen Bishop first started to map the cave 170 years ago.
The second tour of the day was the old Historic tour that went in by way of Broadway and returned on the Audubon. The round trip is two miles long and about two hours. I was pleased and surprised to see Ranger John and Ranger London lead this trip. Ranger John was the speaker for this tour and once again there were 120 tourists participating. Ranger John went through the very same warning that Ranger London gave us on the New Entrance tour and we were off!
We entered the cave through the historic entrance and followed the giant borehole that seemed to never end. To start with, the size of the passage alone is larger than most cave rooms I am familiar with in Colorado. The smaller entry passage is some eight feet high and fifteen to twenty wide. Then came the Rotunda, the first big room. Here it would be no challenge to build a block of suburbia, houses, trees, a playground and all.
We followed the super large Broadway passage, making a stop at the Methodist Church and the Giant's Coffin and then proceeded down to the third level of the cave where we walked across the tops of Sidesaddle Pit and the Bottomless Pit. Metal grates made up the walkways across the pits and it was possible to look straight down. When some people figured out that they were standing on a see-through surface, they would scream and scamper across to the other side.
Next was a section called Fat Man's Misery/Tall Man's Agony. The reason for these names is that the passage starts out as a very narrow meander and progresses to a narrow meander that requires stooping. I can see this being scary to someone who isn't a caver, but to a caver this segment of passage is business as usual and was in fact kind of fun. Waiting for 120 people to complete it, though, was a chore. People who have never done this before can sure be slow!
The exit from the strenuous segment of the tour is referred to as the Great Relief Hall. The reason, they say, is that here everyone can stand upright and breath a sigh of relief. I think it's called that because they have one of the few in-cave bathrooms in this very room!
The tour group then assembled in the River Hall. This room is 310 feet below the surface and on the fourth level of the cave. The next level down is the river level. Here everyone got a chance to sit down and Ranger John told us about the River Styx and Echo River, still carving out Mammoth Cave down below us. River Hall is still prone to flooding. Every decade or so a big flood backs the water in the rivers up all the way to River Hall and has been known to submerge the chamber on several occasions.
This marked the return point of the tour and we headed down Sparks Avenue to Mammoth Dome, the largest vertical shaft in the entire cave. The dome is ascended by the Fireman's Tower, a tall scaffolding-like structure that reaches to the top of the dome. This is another area where people with a fear of heights may be heard crying. Ascending the Fireman's Tower gives those brave enough to look down over the side a great view of the bottom of the pit and of the Ruins of Karnak.
The exit from Mammoth Dome connects to Audubon Avenue by which you return to the Rotunda and then back out of the cave.
All in all, this was a fantastic trip through some amazingly large boreholes. The history and geology of the cave were an added bonus to the tour and I would happily recommend anyone to spend their time and money taking this trip. It was fantastic!