Friday, September 13, 2013

Cave City, KY 8/30/13- 9/13/13

This is a return trip or us to Cave City, KY and in that we were off to see perhaps the considered less 'famous sights/tours'.  But at Mammoth Caves National Park, our experience is that nothing there can really be deemed less impressive.

Mammoth Cave National Park is rich in history.  For beginners, at over 400 miles of discovered and mapped caves, it is recognized as the longest cave system in the world.  And the mapped passageways continue to grow as more areas are mapped each year.

We began this tour of this National Park, this trip, by taking the Slavery at Mammoth Cave, above ground, tour led by the National Park's Ranger.  We learned how slaves were originally used to mine Salt Peter (potassium Nitrate, used in the manufacturing of gun powder) out of the caves.  When this mining became less profitable the slaves were used to do tours of the caves.  While it was by no means unusual that slaves worked as cooks and maids, we found it unusual to see them hired as tour guides, responsible for the well being of whites in such a dangerous environment.

The most famous of these slave guides (who was only 1/2 black, but still a slave) was Steven Bishop.  Bishop is lauded not only for touring thousands of visitors through the caves but also for the many accurate detailed mappings that he produced.  We visited his grave site, although, his gravestone is inaccurately noted as to the year of his death.

We did one cave tour while here (having already done the Grand Avenue tour...highly recommended).  We did the Grand Onyx tour this trip.  We felt fortunate to be able to do this tour.  This tour is only offered 2 months out of the year and limited to 30 people/once per day.  No flash photography or tripods are allowed (sorry for the poor picture quality) and it is visited only via lantern light (one lantern per every 10 people or so).  The history of this cave is so interesting.  This short synopsis only slightly touches upon that.

The Great Onyx cave was opened to the public in 1916 as a direct competitor to Mammoth Caves. A Cave war (not of weapons but of economics) had begun by 1920 in KY with the combatants being the Mammoth Cave Estate and anyone else that owned a cave in the area.  The wars were fierce.  Signs were stolen, ticket offices were burned and a tactic was employed were cars were stopped by 'capper's' (those looking like law enforcement) that told visitors that Mammoth Caves was closed for some bogus reason, and directed them to a competing cave. The situation was really bad until 1941 when most of the Mammoth Caves was purchased by the National Parks for pennies on the dollar from local farmers.  The Grand Onyx cave, however, was so successful financially that the National Parks could not afford the Commendation hearing valuation of the property.   The Great Onyx cave remained a privately held island within the National Park boarders until 1961 when it was finally purchased by the National Parks system.  This cave was also part of some interesting property right laws regarding going under a neighbor's property.  For further information see the attached short article.

While in Cave City, besides the National Park, Teri did her first round of golf and a second round as well.  While the weather was unseasonably hot during our stay, we still had an enjoyable time.

Slave Steven Bishop Gravesite
Touring 2 miles of The Great Onyx Cave
by Lantern Light was a new experience
The Grand Onyx Cave
 A good portion of the walls were covered
in Gypsum that glimmered in our lantern light.
More Gypsum
Grand Onyx Cave Formations


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