bats at Mammoth Cave

Domes and Dripstones

Domes and Dripstones

I am imagining the images of eight Corvettes being swallowed unceremoniously into a sinkhole less than 30 miles from where we are steadily descending step by step into a sinkhole. We gradually made our way down some 280 steps into the limestone cave and under a roof of sandstone and shale. The Domes and Dripstones tour begins.

Fortunately, we found this particular sinkhole with the assistance of a park ranger after meeting at the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center and being shuttled on a ten-minute bus ride. From the stairs, hand rails and lights, it is apparent we are not the first to explore this cave.

Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave National Park is located in Kentucky, just of I-65 at Cave City.

Mammoth Cave National Park

As the longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park presents a unique opportunity to explore the world some 250 feet below the grass and trees. The Domes and Dripstones tour is less than one mile of the four hundred interconnected miles of the cave.

Domes and Dripstones
A handrail along the stairs protects against the 150 foot drop to the bottom of Mammoth Cave on the Domes and Dripstones Tour.
As we explore space, build and international space station and even successfully land robotic spacecraft on Mars, it was surprising to learn that in addition to the more than one hundred miles of cave routes that have been discovered in recent years, geologists predict there are likely an additional 500 miles of undiscovered passageways.

Dubbed the Domes and Dripstones tour, as Mammoth Cave National Park is known for the rather large, or shall I say mammoth, caverns that – domes. And although the formations hanging from the ceiling and rising from the floor are rare at Mammoth Cave, there are places where sufficient water seeps through and leaves mineral deposits forming stalactites and stalagmites – dripstones.

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There are few places that can claim total darkness, even remote areas far from city lights are impacted by the moon and stars. Deep below the surface of the earth surrounded by rock, all the lights that highlighted formations and marked the trail, were shut off. On the Domes and Dripstones tour, we stood in total darkness, not even able to see your own hand inches from your eyes. There is no letting your eyes adjust, as there is simply zero light to adjust to.

Mammoth Cave
A Halloween horror photo with the dripstones 250 feet below the surface in Mammoth Cave transforming into a myriad of goblins.

Another interesting phenomenon was experiencing nearly total silence. It was deafening, to strain to hear anything, and nothing registers with your brain. The experience certainly made me more aware of my senses, and even appreciate the lights and sounds all around.

To prevent the possible spread of the fungus, we all walk through mats covered in a liquid biocleaning solution to remove spores and dirt after exiting the Cave. Shoe soles are targeted, as they are typically not tossed into the laundry, while clothes are usually washed several times before people make it to another cave tour.

Domes and Dripstones
Huge pieces of limestone fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago as the water found different routes and eventually dried up.
On our tour were people from Denmark, Australia, Germany, and several American states. As a reminder of just how small the world is, people have unknowingly transferred a fungus to other caves around the country and world. This fungus causes white-nose syndrome and is negatively impacting the bat populations globally.
Domes and Dripstones
The Domes and Dripstones tour at Mammoth Cave is just over two hours and less than one mile in length with lots of stairs.

Mammoth Cave Visitor Center
The Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center is the central hub for obtaining tour tickets, park information, perusing the gift shop, watching the educational videos and strolling through the informational displays.
And we step from the green bus, through the biocleaning mats and we are herded right into the lodge, restaurant, and gift shop screaming commercialism and just like that the Domes and Dripstones tour has ended and we are back in reality.

There are 53,000 acres of Mammoth Cave National Park – all above the ground and awaiting exploration. Stay tuned for more adventures!

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