Mammoth Cave National Park

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Mammoth Cave National Park is a U.S. National Park in south-central Kentucky, encompassing portions of Mammoth Cave, the most-extensive cave system known in the world. The official name of the system is the Mammoth Cave System, though it could be argued that the cave could be called the Flint-Mammoth-Toohey-Eudora-Joppa-Jim Lee Ridge Cave System—to account for the ridges under which the cave has formed. The park was established as a national park on July 1, 1941. It became a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981, and an international Biosphere Reserve on September 26, 1990.

The park's 52,830 acres (214 km²) is located in Edmonson County, Kentucky, with small areas extending eastward into Hart County and Barren County. It is centered around the Green River, with a tributary, the Nolin River, feeding into the Green just inside the park. The Green River is dammed near the western boundary of the park, so that the river only flows freely for a small section in the eastern part of the park.

Almost two million people visit the park every year.


A labyrinth in limestone

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Stalagmite formations inside Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave is developed in thick Mississippian-aged limestone strata capped by a layer of sandstone, making the system remarkably stable. The cave currently comprises over 360 miles (579 kilometers) of passageway, with new discoveries and connections adding several miles (kilometers) per year to this figure.

The sandstone prevents water infiltrating the caves from above, thereby preventing the formation of stalactites and stalagmites. However, the sandstone capping layer has been dissolved and eroded at many locations within the park, such as the Frozen Niagara room. At one valley-bottom in the southern region of the park, a massive sinkhole has developed—Cedar Sink. Cedar Sink features a small river entering one side and disappearing back underground at the other side.

Mammoth Cave is home to the endangered Kentucky cave shrimp, a sightless albino shrimp.

Visiting the Cave

The National Park Service offers several cave tours to visitors. Many of the most-famous features of the cave, such as Grand Avenue, Frozen Niagara, and Fat Man's Misery, can be seen on lighted tours ranging from one to six hours in length. Two tours, lit only by visitor-carried paraffin lamps, are popular alternatives to the electric-lit routes. Several "wild" tours venture away from the developed parts of the cave into muddy crawls and dusty tunnels.

The Echo River Tour, one of the cave's most famous attractions, used to take visitors on a boat ride along an underground river. The tour was discontinued for logistic and environmental reasons in the early 1990s [1] (

Interested members of the public can join an sponsored field survey of the history of Mammoth Cave [2] ( However, due to Mammoth Cave park regulations, participation on this project is restricted to US citizens only.

History of the cave

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Map of Mammoth Cave from 1842, penned by Stephen Bishop: unusually for a slave, he was given complete credit.

Legend has it that Mammoth Cave was discovered in the 1790s by John Houchin. While hunting, Houchin pursued a wounded bear to the cave's large entrance opening near the Green River.

The cave was a source for saltpeter production for the manufacture of gunpowder, especially in the War of 1812. By the time of the War of 1812, the cave was owned by Franklin Gorin, and the cave was being mined for calcium nitrate (refined from bat guano and converted into saltpeter, an ingredient of gunpowder). A half-interest in the cave changed hands for ten thousand dollars (a huge sum at the time). After the war when prices fell, the workings were abandoned and it became a minor tourist attraction centering on a Native American mummy discovered nearby.

Stephen Bishop, an African-American slave and a guide to the cave during the 1840s and 1850s, was one of the first persons to make extensive maps of the cave, and named many of the cave's features.

Stephen Bishop was introduced to Mammoth Cave in 1838 by his owner, Franklin Gorin, who purchased the cave from the previous owners in the spring of 1838. Gorin wrote, after Bishop's death: "I placed a guide in the cave --- the celebrated and great Stephen, and he aided in making the discoveries. He was the first person who ever crossed the Bottomless Pit, and he, myself and another person whose name I have forgotten were the only persons ever at the bottom of Gorin's Dome to my knowledge.

"After Stephen crossed the Bottomless Pit, we discovered all that part of the cave now known beyond that point. Previous to those discoveries, all interest centered in what is known as the "Old Cave" . . . but now many of the points are but little known, although as Stephen was wont to say, they were 'grand, gloomy and peculiar.'

In 1839, Dr. John Croghan of Louisville bought the Mammoth Cave Estate, including Bishop and its other slaves from their previous owner, Franklin Gorin. Croghan briefly ran an ill-fated tuberculosis hospital in the cave, the vapors of which he believed would cure his patients. A widespread epidemic of the period, tuberculosis would ultimately claim the lives of both Bishop and Croghan.

Native American remains were indeed recovered from Mammoth Cave, or other nearby caves in the region, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, by 1813 on the early side (the "Short Cave Mummy.") Most mummies found present examples of intentional burial, with ample evidence of pre-Columbian funerary practice. An exception to purposeful burial was discovered when in 1935 (not 1835) the remains of an accidentally deceased adult male were discovered by Grover Campbell and Lyman Cutliff under a huge boulder. The boulder had shifted and settled onto the victim, a pre-Columbian miner, who had disturbed the rubble supporting it. The remains of the ancient victim were named "Lost John" and exhibited to the public into the 1970s, when they were interred in a secret location in Mammoth Cave for reasons of preservation as well as emerging political sensitivies with respect to the public display of Native American remains.

In the early 20th century, Floyd Collins spent ten years exploring the Flint Ridge Cave System before dying at Sand Cave, Kentucky, in 1925. While exploring Sand Cave, he dislodged a rock onto his leg while in a tight crawlway and was unable to free himself (Brucker, R.W. and Murray, R.K . 1983).

In 1972 a Cave Research Foundation mapping team led by Dr. John P. Wilcox, Patricia Crowther, Richard B. Zopf, Dr. P. Gary Eller, Stephen G. Wells, and Cleveland F. Pinnix (a National Park Service Ranger) managed to find a low, wet passage which linked two of the area's long cave systems—Flint Ridge Cave to Mammoth Cave. This connection made the cave the world's longest.

On a prior trip deep in the Flint Ridge Cave System, Patricia Crowther—with her slight frame of 115 pounds—crawled through a narrow canyon to find the name "Pete H" inscribed on the wall with an arrow pointing in the direction of Mammoth Cave. The name is believed to have been carved by Pete Hanson, who was active in exploring the cave in the 1930s. Hanson was killed in World War II. Following the passage led the team to Cascade Hall in Mammoth Cave.

Other notes

  • Two other massive cave systems lie short distances from Mammoth Cave: the Fisher Ridge Cave System and the Martin Ridge Cave System. The Fisher Ridge Cave System was discovered in January 1981 by a group of Michigan cavers [[3] (]. So far, the cave has been mapped to 107 miles / 172 kilometers (Gulden, B. 2005). In 1996, Martin Ridge Cave was discovered by John Alan Glennon and Jonathan David Jasper. Connections discovered by Glennon and Jasper to nearby Whigpistle and Jackpot Caves resulted in the 32 mile / 51 kilometer-long Martin Ridge Cave System [[4] (].


  • Brucker, R.W. and Murray, R.K. (1983) Trapped: The Story of Floyd Collins. University of Kentucky Press.
  • Gulden, B. (2005) NSS Geo2 USA Longest Caves. National Speleological Society.[5] (

See also

External links

Template:National parks of the United Statesde:Mammoth-Cave-Nationalpark


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