Yesterday, we headed up the road to the Mammoth Cave National Park and took our first tour. We opted for the four hour, four mile see as much as you can see option – the Grand Avenue Tour. This cave is a lot different than many of the others we have seen in that it doesn’t have a lot of formations (e.g. stalactites and stalagmites.) They say most of the cave has a sandstone layer near the surface that prevents water infiltration which is what makes the formations.
A little trivia – Mammoth Cave is officially the longest cave in the world at over 300 miles long and they think there are even more areas they haven’t found yet. But, only about 10 miles are lit for tourists. This is a photo of our very cute guide – Katie. She was tougher than she looked. Twice, she had to shush some of the tourists for talking when she was trying to explain something. She did it with a lovely southern drawl, though. The group was pretty large at 60 and I don’t think everyone spoke English – not that that is an excuse for talking when the tour guide is talking!
You used to be able to take a boat ride on one of the rivers that flows at the lower levels of the cave, but they stopped that in the 1990s (for environmental and logistical reasons.) These days, the rules don’t allow you to take anything into the cave – even a backpack or purse. So our packed sandwiches stayed in the car. There is a cafeteria (and three sets of bathrooms) in the cave so we had a box lunch about an hour into our tour.
It was a little odd to be eating soup considering it was more than 90 degrees outside, but the cave stays at a cool 54 degrees all the time!
This is a cave cricket – one of the 140+ creatures that live in the cave. We saw a few hanging on the wall towards the end of our tour. I will wait until after our tour today to post any other photos. I didn’t really get that many great pictures on the first day. The cave is big, but you don’t really get a sense of the size from the pictures. At Carlsbad Caverns, all of the interesting formations were really well lit so you could get some pretty cool pictures. At Mammoth Cave it is all about the size!
Alan thought that I needed to post these pictures even though we look completely dorky! Otherwise, you might not get the complete sense of how wet we actually were after hiking in the pouring rain for an hour.
Here are a couple of photos from our last day in the Great Smoky Mountains. We opted for another hike that was close to our campground. It was eight miles round trip into an old growth forest. It was really beautiful and we only saw a few other hikers on the trail. We enjoyed lunch sitting on a big log at about the half-way point.
The real adventure started on our return trip about 2 miles from the trail head. It began with just a drizzle and turned into an all out downpour. We were absolutely soaked by the time we got back to the car. It was a good thing we had rain gear with us!
The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingman’s Dome. Fortunately, they paved a road to the top and then built and observation tower so you could get a good view. We had cloudy weather, but the views were still magnificent:
The Park maintains an operating farm with authentic 19th century buildings – most of them were moved from other areas. Alan’s favorite was the structure you can see just behind the main house – The Smokehouse!
We are enjoying our stay in Central Tennessee although it has been mighty hot. We did nothing yesterday and we plan to do nothing today. I do have to take a work conference call tomorrow morning, so I guess that means we may technically be doing something.
Our plans are still to stick it out here until Wednesday. Then we are going to turn north towards Mammoth Cave National Park. It is looking like we might get to Michigan before we turn to home.
We will likely have Internet at Cave City in Kentucky and I will get some pictures posted from our last couple of days at the Smoky Mountains.
We made the drive today from the Great Smoky Mountains, past Knoxville, towards Nashville, to the Edgar Evins State Park. They don’t take reservations here and we are only an hour or two outside Nashville so we were a little concerned about getting a spot. I called this morning and they said no problem. They were right – out of 60 sites, less than half are taken.
This is a really interesting campground. All of the sites are built into the side of a hill on concrete pillars with thick wood planking. It is all self registration. You go find your own site and then leave your money in an envelope.
All of the sites that were on the bottom level closest to the Lake were taken. This was kind of surprising because you didn’t have a great view of the Lake and you couldn’t easily walk down to the Lake from your campsite. We almost took a site near the end on that level that had a narrow view. Instead, we opted for the top row where no one was camping. We have five empty sites on either side of us and can’t see anyone below. (It turns out we made an excellent choice – there is now some kind of big party going on near where we were going to camp.)
While we are very happy with our site it turned out to be a real pain to get into. The hookups are on the wrong side and the road was narrow with a big culvert just where Alan wanted to turn. He did a good job getting us in and positioned correctly. Our power cable and water just reach and we still have enough room to open our awning with the picnic table on the side.
We are probably going to stay for the five nights that our tanks will allow (no sewer here.) We just got back from the showers and they were pretty nice. We enjoyed the Smokey Mountains but they were really too crowded for our taste (although our last day of hiking we had the trail practically to ourselves but that might have been the torential downpour – more on this when we have Internet and I can post a few pictures.) We will probably go back again sometime, though. We only explored one part of the Park and there is a lot to see.
We are looking forward to a few quiet days in the woods.
We were recovering a bit from our hike, so we took our second day in the Smoky Mountains to drive around to some of the more popular tourist attractions in the Park. That did mean driving with a lot of other people – this park gets a lot of traffic. We are staying on the North side of the Park about 15 miles from the entrance. We drove all the way back through the Park to the South entrance. We wanted to see one of the two operating grist mills in the Park. This mill had a long flume that collected water for the turbine.
We did buy five pounds of corn meal that is locally stone ground. Alan just recently finished up the corn meal that we bought at the Agrirama in Georgia where they also have an operating grist mill. Alan uses it to make some great grits and one of my favorites – cheesy polenta.
I’ve stolen this title from my friend Lisa who recently had a little wild kingdom adventures (in her garage.) I know she really doesn’t like snakes (for good reason) but I thought this was just too much not to post . . .
First, I would like to know how the snake caught the chipmunk. Second, how long do you think it is going to take the snake to eat his dinner? The snake barely made any progress while we were watching. We spotted this little cruel reality in the Wild Kingdom while walking next to the flume that feeds water to the grist mill in the Smoky Mountains National Park (there are actually two operating grist mills in the Park.) More on the grist mills later . . .
We explored the Park on Tuesday and then spent Wednesday hanging out at our campsite. It turned out to be a good choice – it rained all day. Today (Thursday) we went hiking again – more on that adventure later. I’ve written up several posts from Tuesday and they are scheduled for the next couple of days. We are heading further into Tennessee tomorrow towards one of the State campgrounds. But, we aren’t sure if we will be able to get in since they don’t take reservations. I’ll try and post from my iPhone once we know where we are going to be . . .