Things aren't as sold out as they say they are when you're traveling alone. Riding solo has paid its first appreciable dividend. I arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park sometime around noon. I spent a short time talking with the park ranger at the campground entrance followed by a casual proceeding of my campsite rituals.
By 1:30 I was ready to test my luck at nabbing a spot on one of the many cave tours. A las, they were all sold out. My ballpark estimate for the weekend was to get whatever tour I could get today, then handpick another for Sunday.
So here's where the wildcard came to play. At the front desk I told the woman I was traveling alone, instantly turning my options from 0 to 180. Having my pick of the litter, I chose the 2:30 New Entrance Tour (2 hours) followed by the Star Chamber Tour at 6:30 (2 hours by kerosine lantern).
What a great surprise today turned out to be. The New Entrance Tour brought the group in via a man made entrance. The stainless steel staircase that allowed the group to descend some 200 feet into the cave system was an unsung engineering marvel in itself. This tour was artificially lit but the guide pulled the plug at one point to show us all what true total darkness was. It was just incredible; I couldn't see my hand an inch in front of my face. I was able to snap a few photos to keep some memories of the place, but as you can imagine cave photography isn't as simple as point and shoot.
Before I went on my second tour I was able to grab dinner at the park's restaurant. It was my first plate of spaghetti in a long time. I also rewarded myself with a Blue Moon for crossing the Eastern Time Zone.
Something worth mentioning here was the parks heightened awareness of White Nose Syndrome. A PA announcement would go off at least twice before every tour departed, asking visitors who have been underground within the past 6 years to stop at the front desk. White Nose Syndrome, appeared 6 years ago somewhere in New York and has began spreading throughout the Appalachian Region. It is a fungus that has 95-100% bat mortality rate; it essentially wipes out whatever cave it enters. The park was taking the extreme precautionary measures as an attempt to prevent the cave from being closed by conservationists.
My seconds tour showed the cave in a new light, literally. There were maybe 9 lateens dispersed about the group to simulate the experience of original tour groups and explorers. We entered through what the guide referred to as the original entrance. It was in a completely different portion of the cave which has currently been mapped at over 300 miles. The whole place has a unique history that has evolved alongside our country. From being used to create gunpowder for the War of 1812 (the nitrate from bat poop) to hosting government work programs during the Great Depression, Mammoth Cave has been an integral part of American history.
I really can't speak enough praises about these cave tours. The tour guides were very knowledgable and the pricing was more than fair. The park is a quality park in it's own right. Mammoth Cave National Park is a real national gem east of the Mississippi. It's a must see if you haven't yet. Remember to get reservations though if you plan on going on a weekend.
Because I was able to get my fill of the cave system I will be packing up and moving on tomorrow. It will be just over 30 miles to get back on my route. I'm hoping to find a motel up there because I'm in an awkward camping situation and I am not willing to put in those extra miles just to sleep in a wet tent. Take your best guess at what happens tomorrow because it's as good as mine.