Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave.  One of my favorite places.  We came here with our family in 2003 and enjoyed it so much.  I was eager to come back.  We started our day with a big breakfast at the Mammoth Cave hotel.

 After breakfast we headed over to the visitor center to figure out our plan for the day.  We checked out the types of tours that were offered as well as the Ranger programs available.  We chose to take the older kids on one of the longest tours available - a 4.5 hour hike.  Roger, knowing how much I love these caves, graciously allowed me to be the one to accompany them.  (Did I mention how excited I was to do this?!)

We had time before our tour, so we took in a Ranger program.  This one was on how caves are formed.  Each child was given a cube of sugar and some clay.  They were asked to form the clay over the cube and make an entrance.
 They put the clay into water which obviously dissolved the sugar.  This left them with a neatly formed cave.  The ranger talked about how caves are formed by water and the layers of earth that are present for caves to form.
 Soon it was time for our hike.  Daniel originally wanted to go and then changed his mind.  Probably a good decision.  Roger took Daniel and Eliana out for lunch and then they went on a discovery tour.  A non-guided walk around the caves.  Perfect for them!
 We rode a bus several miles to a man-made entrance.  We descended to begin our 4 mile hike.  This was a physically demanding tour with many hills and stairs.  It's called the Grand Avenue tour for any who may be interested in reading more about it.
 I wish that the pictures did justice the the majesty and splendor of this cave.  So amazing to me to be able to go on miles and miles of paths under the ground!  Our tour guide (Kevin) was excellent!!!  Told many interesting and funny stories about the cave and the history surrounding the cave.
 We saw a lot of gypsum encrusted walls at the beginning of the tour.
 Our first stop was in the Snowball Room - for lunch!
Who would have thought you could have a dining room in a cave?!  We had soup and sandwiches and it was quite good.  And fun!  I loved just delighting in the moments of being here.

 Some interesting photos of the cave.  Again, not sure how well the come across, but hopefully you can see some of what captivates my senses while in the cave.
 Sometimes the passages narrowed.
 And the drops were deep.

 My attempt at a group photo of my children in the cave.  We missed the professional who was taking group  photos.  (Didn't want to wait in the line.)  I would have liked one with me in it though.  (Maybe next time.  A girl can hope, right?)
 This is the Frozen Niagara.  We were able to walk down past it and view it from several angles.  Truly huge and beautiful.

 Love seeing the stalactites (from the ceiling) and stalagmites (from the ground) in the cave.

 Saw one tiny little bat as we were leaving the cave.
After 4.5 hours we emerged from the cave.  It was a thrill for all of us.  Time to reconnect with the rest of our family.  I loved the animals we saw here - from deer to bats, from fireflies to interesting caterpillars.  So much of God's creation to enjoy!
 We went to another ranger progam and played "Cavo".  Its a bingo type game with various animals you could find in the caves.

 My two youngest boys worked hard and earned their Junior Ranger badges!  Great job!!!
 After a picnic dinner, some of us decided to go on a hike.  It ended up being the 3 oldest and I.  We wandered down to the historic entrance of the cave.

 Its a huge entrance and you can feel the cool air coming from the cave long before you can see the entrance.
 We were curious and walked into the cave as far as we could.  Amazing how quickly it gets dark!  There was a point at which we could go no further in case you were curious.
 A view with the cave at my back and looking toward the entrance.
I enjoyed seeing these brothers hanging out.  They went off exploring by themselves.  Found "Cave Island" and were disappointed that they could not find a cave on the island.  It did make for an adventure though!
 One of the places that a rives comes out from the caves.  I would love to go on a boat ride in the caves.  Did something like that long ago with my parents when we were in Germany.  It was wonderful.

 Rebecca and I tried a hike back to our room on a different path.  It ended up being much steeper and longer than we anticipated.  It did afford a beautiful view though!

We ended the evening with another ranger program - this one on bats.  The next day started in a similar fashion - except that we packed up before going out to breakfast.  Some of us walked on the paths and others rode over (so the van could be moved closer to the Visitor Center).
 Today we did the Historic Tour.  All of us but Christopher went on the tour.  This is the Historic Entrance during the day.
 A small waterfall dripping down into the entrance.
 Honestly, they did have a fun time even if they didn't appear to in the photo.
 Some of the early visitors to the caves signed their names.  Interesting to see the signature preserved in the rock.
 Some tight places.
 This tour was a 2 mile, 2 hour tour.  An easy comfortable walk for most of the tour.
 Fat Man's Misery - the entrance.
 Can you see that it is narrow and windy?  And a little further in the ceiling gets really low and that is when it is challenging!

 Can you see the drop and the stairs we had just climbed?

When we finished this tour, it was time to head out.  We had a long drive ahead of us.  Our next stop is St. Louis.  More tomorrow on our next stop in the journey.


Meeting Friends

I wish I had taken more pictures about how we organized our trip.  I thought of it, but still didn't do it.  I can share some verbally though in case it helps anyone planning a trip like this.

One of the things I did was to pack bags for each stop.  We were going to be sleeping in 7 different locations over the span of 2 weeks.  We were taking a lot of clothes in order not to have to do a lot of laundry while travelling.  In order not to have to take in many bags at each stop, I packed this way.

*An overnight bag - this contained pajamas and toiletries.
*A trip bag.  For example, we had one large duffel bag for Mammoth Caves.  This included jeans & sweatshirts for inside the caves.  Also 2 changes of clothes (including socks and underwear) since we would be there 2 days.

I made tags with our destination in large print, laminated it and tied it to each bag.  I like this method of travelling as it requires carrying in fewer things and we just have what we need for that stop.  I also made a "dirty" tag to attach to the bag that held dirty clothes.  We did do laundry at Roger's sister's house in the middle of the trip too.

I also made a folder with cards for the kids.  This idea could use some tweaking.  Parts of it worked well.  I'll share those.  I had a "meal choice" and several "movie choice" cards for each child.  We typically ate one meal out while travelling and the other was a picnic.  To help stave off arguments, each child had a turn to choose a restaurant.  This worked really well and let to no arguing.  The one time we struggled was when there was not a child picking and people all wanted a different stop.  Lesson learned.  Same scenario with the movies.  It was great practice at taking turns and nobody minded as they knew they would have a turn coming  soon.

We left Blowing Rock on the morning on July 4th heading to Mammoth Caves.  Unfortunately, we wandered around the mountains for at least an hour and a half before heading in the right direction.  *sigh*  It definitely made for a long day.

We were able to make last minute plans to meet up with a friend for lunch.  Our plans were not set in stone which made meeting people on the trip a challenge.  This was the one opportunity we had and it was a sweet one.  I've known Melissa on-line for about 4 years now.  We've corresponded about various things and it was so much fun to actually meet her and her kids in person!

You can see our large white van in the background.  Can't see how it is packed to the gills with so many things.  LOL  I should have taken a picture inside too.  I rode in the back row most of the trip.  It was a good place to be able to talk with the kids and play games and read aloud books.  It was a fun spot.  :-)

All in all, this was a wonderful trip.  One I'd recommend and one I hope we'll be able to do again one day.  Many sweet memories.

We continued our drive and gained an hour too.  We arrived at Mammoth Caves and found our room.  It was set apart from the main hotel.  Rows of rooms.  There was a table and chairs and an open area beside our room.  It was perfect for our picnic supper.

We had a visitor at our dinner too.

We arrived in time to attend one of the evening ranger programs.  The program was on bees.  I've been to many bee programs over the years and this one was excellent.  Great use of visuals and lots of humor too.  A fun ending to our day.  More tomorrow on the caves!  Did I mention that I LOVE caves?!!!  This place is one of my all-time favorite places.  Really excited to have this on our trip.