Week 13: Road Trip! We Made it to Mammoth Cave (Part 2) [Score +7]
[New here? Welcome! Catching up? You can read Part 1 of my Mammoth Cave road trip story before you start here. Or, live dangerously and dive right into Part 2.]
My weekend road trip with my friend, Gina, got off to a bumpy start (boo to car trouble!), but the travel day ended with us reaching our destination, in a reliable vehicle, after spotting a full-arc rainbow as sunset approached. I chose to see that as a good omen for the rest of our trip.
Gina’s a serious hiker—she has some Fourteeners under her belt—and I’ve done my fair share of hiking in the mountains of Colorado, as well. After a day in the car, both of us were itching to have an active day exploring the wooded trails of the above-ground portion of Mammoth Cave National Park. But the weather forecast for Sunday was very iffy, with varying predictions of thunderstorms hour by hour throughout the day.
Each of our respective smartphone weather apps predicted the greatest chance for rain on Sunday morning. What does a tourist in Bowling Green, KY do with time to kill indoors? Visit the National Corvette Museum!
I enjoy a nice car and can appreciate a beautiful vintage automobile, but I’ll freely admit that the primary reason we chose to go to this museum was to see their sinkhole exhibit. What I knew of it just sounded wacky enough that we had to see it firsthand.
The gist: In the early-morning hours one day in February 2014, a sinkhole opened up under one of the primary exhibit halls at the museum and swallowed eight classic Corvettes. A few have been or are being restored, but the others were beyond repair. All were nevertheless recovered from the hole and are back on display.
My limited Googling before the trip had led me to believe that the museum hadn’t repaired the room after the cave-in but had instead integrated the new, gaping hole in the floor into the museum. The idea that a classic-car museum would have a “come see our sinkhole!” exhibit was too good to resist.
Gina and I were both a little bummed to discover that the floor had, indeed, been repaired, but the museum does have a thorough exhibit detailing the science of sinkholes, the minute details of the cars affected and where they landed, and the full events of that day and the recovery. It’s a bit of an odd experience, suddenly walking into an earth-science exhibit in the middle of a car museum, but it’s a well-produced showcase. When you enter the showroom itself, lines on the floor mark where the edges of the sinkhole and the larger surrounding cave are beneath your feet, and a manhole with a glass window on top allows visitors to peer down to the floor of the cave.
If you’re a car buff or know one, I do recommend this museum if you’re in the Bowling Green area. Its collection of Corvettes is impressive, and the overall quality of the museum is better than I had anticipated.
Also, if you’re feeling lucky, the museum raffles off about 37 new Corvettes every year. Tickets for four different raffles were available when I was there, but I didn’t feel like even the $10 ticket at the lowest end (not to mention the $1,000 ticket on the upper end) was worth it for me that day. Odds were quite good, though! My dad was appalled that I hadn’t bought a ticket. (Sorry, Dad.)
By lunch time, the overcast skies had cleared, and it looked like our outdoor plans were going to happen. We were both excited to stop and get the obligatory photo by the sign at the park entrance, and we made our way to the visitor’s center straightaway to get a map and trail recommendations from a park ranger.
After a stop at the gift shop, we donned our backpacks, grabbed full water bottles, made one final check of the radar (clear!) and set out.
We took the Ranger’s recommendation and started with a three-mile trail that started and returned to the Visitor Center area. I’m especially glad we did, because one of the first stops we came to was the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave.
You can’t enter the cave without a paid ticket for a guided tour, but we were able to take a few steps down to peer into the mouth of the cave and feel the anticipation ratchet up a few notches for our own scheduled tour the following morning.
This entrance is unmistakable and unmissable as you’re walking by. Not only is it a monstrous, gaping hole in the earth with steps leading down into it, but you can physically feel its proximity. Standing on the surface, the chilled air from the cave—consistently between 54 and 58 degrees—pools around your feet and ankles.
Take a step down and the line of demarcation rises to your knees. Take another step and it’s up to your hips.
On an 80-degree spring day, the sensation was akin to stepping into a cool pool for the first time. We were still standing in the warm sunshine, dressed for the heat, but instantly chilled by Mother Nature’s air conditioner. I couldn’t help but gasp and grin when the cave air hit me unexpectedly, and I immediately wanted to step deeper.
The remainder of our hike took us through the lush green woods of the park, by several springs, smaller caves and sinkholes, and even by a small, seemingly vintage ferry that shuttles one vehicle at a time across the Green River. Neither Gina nor I had seen such a small ferry in operation (why not just build a bridge?), but a couple of retired locals we happened upon shared that the river regularly reaches extremely high flood levels, so a small bridge would frequently be impassable. The ferry, while simple, ensures that the river can be crossed except in the most extreme conditions.
Just as we were finishing the last half mile of our trail loop, we started hearing thunder. Our pace quickened a bit, and we finished the hike without getting wet. We got back to our truck just moments before the ominous dark skies opened up and let forth a drenching downpour.
We had hoped to do one or two more short hikes that afternoon, but that thunderstorm stalled right over the Park and prevented us from leaving the vehicle again.
Both of us fell into bed happy with our day and excited for our cave tour the next day: the focus and grand finale of our road trip adventure! Stay tuned...
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Activity benefits my health/wellbeing: +1
- Burned real calories (so I got some exercise): +1
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2