Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Caves: Mammoth & Onyx

Recently we took a detour on our way home from Tennessee to check out a couple of caves: Mammoth and Onyx. Now my family roots are from Tennessee so I have driven past the exit to these caves 80-100 times over my life and only been to Mammoth Cave twice and never stepped in any of the others. I have longed to go up that tourist trap mountain to Onyx Cave all my life… well we finally stopped.

We had driven half a day in the car, it was 100 degrees, and G had never been in a cave so quick & simple was the way to go this trip. We chose the Mammoth Passage tour. When our tour was called, we met Ranger John who gave us a brief overview of the whole cave system and the rules of the tour. We then walked down the forest path behind the visitor center where the temperature dropped suddenly 50 degrees. Amazing.

As we walked a bit farther we found ourselves at a set of concrete stairs that lead down to the cave entrance. Ranger John discusses how the outside light can only penetrate so far and there is an area in between light and total darkness called twilight. Once inside the opening he turned off all of the lighting so that we could see this transition. It was a bit unsettling.

In the tour we viewed the Salt Petre mine used during the War of 1812.

And learned about the type of lighting used in the mine from reed torches to gas lanterns.

It was quite enjoyable and great introduction to a longer more strenuous tour.

Next we traveled back down the road to Onyx Cave. Don’t let the tourist trappy looks of this place make you skip over it. We really enjoyed. The tour was personal and small. Onyx Cave was discovered in 1971 during construction of a parking lot for Guntown Mountain Amusement Park. While what you can see in Mammoth is dry; Onyx is wet, so there are many formations to be seen. We learned not to touch the wall because the oils from our skin would cause formations to stop growing.





It did actually have some tight spots though but they are short and quick.

Our tour guide, Missy, was knowledge and very personable. Since we were such a small group, two families, she compared what we were seeing with her compared to what was in Mammoth. She shared many personal experiences and stories.

If you have caves in your “backyard” I encourage you to check them out! We cannot wait until our next adventure.

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