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Circus Trip 2018: Mammoth Cave NP

Day 30, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

I was excited to visit Mammoth Cave National Park!  I drove down from Louisville for the day and entered the Park on the Flint Ridge Road.  Note: the Park’s website warns visitors to disregard GPS directions, which can take you the wrong way.  My GPS took me this alternate way, but still managed to get me to where I needed to go, with a bonus of seeing a section of the park that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

The drawback was that I either somehow missed the entrance sign or there wasn’t one.  I saw a sign on the main road on the way out, but it wasn’t like the typical National Park entrance sign – it left a lot to be desired.  I guess that’s just a reason to go back!

This was the only sign I found!

The Flint Ridge Road takes you by the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery.  The original church was built in 1827; the current building is from 1927.  It is in rough shape, with a hole in the back door, no electricity or other conveniences, and a very old, rustic outhouse in back.  It was very remote, just a few miles from the main Visitor’s Center for the park. I got out and checked it out; the door to the church is not locked, so anyone can go inside.  It was so eerily quiet there, it made me a little nervous…

I wandered the cemetery and read some of the headstones as well.  Floyd Collins is buried in the cemetery.  He died in 1925 after a rock collapse trapped him in Sand Cave, a newly discovered cave nearby; attempts to rescue him made the national news and kept people waiting for word for over two weeks, but ultimately he had died of starvation by the time rescuers reached him.

Sadly the church was vandalized with orange spray paint in September, about a month after my visit.  The trail to go see the entrance to Sand Cave is here too, but I didn’t take the opportunity to hike it.  I’m kicking myself now!

When I got to the Visitor’s Center, I chose to do the Historic Tour.  It was interesting, and explored the long history of cave use.  Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of explored cave passages.

Native Americans used the cave for thousands of years and then stopped.  In the late 1700s, Americans in the area began to use the cave for saltpeter mining; saltpeter is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  They couldn’t get it anymore from the British due to the Revolutionary War, so local suppliers could make a good profit!

After the war the need for saltpeter dried up so they opened the caves up for commercial tours.  They had used slaves to mine the saltpeter; the slaves learned how to navigate in the caves, which was helpful in their later work as tour guides.  The tour takes you by some of the old saltpeter mining equipment, which was left in the cave after the commercial viability of the venture dried up.

Mammoth Cave was also used for a brief period as a tuberculosis sanitarium – unfortunately it proved ineffective at helping people with tuberculosis.  Total darkness experiments in the cave were also short-lived.

Unfortunately for me, the “Historic” section of the cave isn’t really all that pretty.  This section of the cave has the largest rooms, but there aren’t a lot of beautiful “cave features” that you see in other caves. And you will certainly be disappointed in my photos; it is very dim inside and they don’t let you use flash…  I did enjoy seeing the “graffiti” from the early 1800s; I saw one signature from 1839!

On my next visit I want to do the “Domes and Dripstones Tour”; this tour shows visitors the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a huge dripstone section called Frozen Niagara, named because it looks like Niagara Falls when it is frozen in the winter.  The Extended Historic Tour is also on my list, because you get to see the stone huts that remain from the period when Mammoth Cave was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.  That would be cool!

I really enjoyed my visit, but would also love to do more hiking there.  Temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity the day that I visited so I opted not to hike.  It would be fun to stay and camp there too!  You can also float the river, or kayak there!

I stayed that night at the Glendale Campground in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a convenient jumping off point for my explorations the next day!  This family owned campground was only $20, and my campsite was right near a pond where a Green Heron was fishing!

A Stormy Beach Weekend

I got home this afternoon from a weekend getaway to the Washington Peninsula.  A stormy, windy weekend combined with King Tides made for some incredible beach walks!  It was a much needed respite, and I’m so happy to have good friends!

Arizona Getaway 2019: Chiracahua National Monument

Day 3, Saturday, March 16, 2019

The last day of our Arizona trip, Mom and I went to Chiracahua National Monument.  It is located in the Chiracahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.  We had been planning to visit the day before, because I really, really wanted to go, but it had been closed due to an unusual cold front and snow the day before.  When I found out it was scheduled to reopen the next day, I made sure we took the opportunity!  I was so excited!  However, when we got there, we learned that although the monument was technically open (The Visitor’s Center at least), the road was closed past the Visitor’s Center; basically, the scenic drive up the mountain.

Chiracahua National Monument

Chiracahua National monument is a rugged section of land, of which approximately 85% is designated as wilderness.  It protects the hoodoos and balancing rocks of a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago, when the Turkey Creek Caldera exploded and spewed white hot ash all over the area.  The ash has, over time, eroded away and created the hoodoos and rock formations that exist there today.  Chiracahua is high-elevation, ranging from 5,124 feet at the entrance station to 7,310 feet at the summit of its tallest mountain.  In addition to the volcanic eruptions, they get the effects of seasons, and a lot of erosion from the winter rain and winds.  The area was designated as a National Monument on April 18, 1924, by President Calvin Coolidge.

Chiracahua is known as the Wonderland of Rocks for its beautiful rock formations.  Apparently though, people in general are less impressed by rocks than I am, as it is one of the lesser visited monuments with annual visitation in 2018 of 60,577.

Faraway Ranch windmill

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, got my passport stamps, and did a bit of shopping.  There was a tour starting at the historic Faraway Ranch, so we headed over there to catch it.  The Faraway Ranch started as a cattle ranch in 1886, owned and operated by Neil and Emma Erickson, Swedish immigrants who met and married in the United States.  They ran the ranch as a cattle ranch from 1886 to 1917, when Neil accepted a job with the new National Park Service and had to relocate.  At that point, his oldest daughter Lillian took over the operation of the ranch and began renting it out to tourists as a guest ranch.

The house at the Faraway Ranch

The guest ranch was quite popular, and many people visited over the years; even though it was remote, you got all your meals provided, a chance to relax, and later on there was even a swimming pool!  After running the ranch for many years, Lillian died in 1977 and the family decided to sell it to the National Park Service to be added to the monument.  It was a fitting end of the ranch of the family who for so long had been a part of protecting and advocating for this beautiful area.

The home is very well preserved to its time as a guest ranch and had many artifacts belonging to the family and stretching back to the late 1880s.  It was fun seeing products and items that were used there over time.  An antique butter churn!  Vintage cleaning products!  One of the lamps in the living room was fascinating, with a beautiful hand painted shade painted by one of the women in the Erickson family.  Lillian went blind as she got older, and although she still managed the ranch with help from her staff, she did need accommodations.  One of the items on display are her Braille playing cards!

A quarter mile away, there is a rustic cabin that once belonged to a neighbor of the Erickson family.  Mom and I walked down there to check it out, despite the cold.  It would have been tough to live in such a remote area during a cold, Arizona winter.  And yes, in case you were wondering, parts of Arizona get very cold.

The cabin at the Faraway Ranch

 

Mom and me, in the cold

Interestingly, it was near here that Park Ranger Paul Fugate disappeared without a trace in 1980, so there’s a cold case for you amateur sleuths to research.  Hopefully one day they find out what happened to him, so his family can have closure.

After we visited the ranch, we ate lunch at a picnic table and got word from a park employee that the road up the mountain had reopened!  We got to drive up and see the beautiful scenery!  Chiracahua is known for its hoodoos, narrow canyons and rock formations.  Unfortunately, there was a thick layer of fog blanketing the higher elevations of the monument.  We drove to the top of the road, but our views were non-existent once we got very high.  We did get to see some gorgeous rock formations at the lower elevations though, which were still above 5,000 feet!

I still enjoyed visiting, but definitely want to return when it is warm enough to do some hiking and see the view.  I bet it is spectacular!

 

Mammoth Cave NP History

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky.  It is named for its huge size; it is the largest cave system known in the world, at over 400 miles of explored passageways.  Cave exploration continues today, and new passages are found and mapped each year, so it really is anyone’s guess who large the cave system really is.  The whole area has many caves, so it is likely that some of these other caves are really just part of this one giant cave system!  The park was created on July 1, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the cave at that point had close to 150 years of exploration and commercial exploitation by then.

Mammoth Cave was first discovered by white settlers in 1797; the owners of the land discovered this and several other caves nearby.  It has been known to Native Americans for thousands of years; they were known to enter the cave to extract the gypsum deposits here.  Native Americans also buried some of their dead in the cave, the cool, dry conditions of certain areas in the cave were perfect for mummification; several Native American mummies were discovered in the cave during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the mummified remains of a man who was crushed by a boulder while mining in the cave.

Mammoth Cave first became a commercial venture during the War of 1812, when British supplies of saltpeter were unavailable; saltpeter is a component in the manufacture of gunpowder – pretty important when we were at war with the British!  Slaves were brought in to mine the saltpeter deposits, but after the war, the demand dried up.  Enterprising owners decided to try their hand at the tourist trade and Mammoth Cave was opened up to tours by the 1830s.  Slaves guided many of the tours, and even after the Civil War, African American guides played an important role in the tourism industry and the exploration of the cave.

In the early 1900s, interest began mounting for the creation of a National Park; however, like many of the parks in the East, the land here was already long settled with thriving communities.  The process of buying these settlers out of their land and seizing other parcels through eminent domain created lots of bitter feelings that lasted years after the park’s creation.  As a result, Mammoth Cave still has the remnants of these communities, including old churches and cemeteries.

The cave system is a limestone cave, with many different features; parts of the cave are very dry – so dry in fact that one of the commercial ventures that was attempted in the 1800s was a tuberculosis sanitarium (it was short lived).  Other sections are wet areas, and the Green River even runs through a portion of the cave.  The cave is home to several species of bats (which are struggling with white nose syndrome, a fungal infection), eyeless fish, and a cave specific species of eyeless shrimp.  I know you are wondering, and no, there have been no woolly mammoths discovered in mammoth cave; it really is named for its giant size.  Caves are so interesting!

Mammoth Cave has several types of tours, from the Historic tour where you can see the original entrance to the cave and see the old evidence of saltpeter mining, to lantern tours and caving tours.  There is also camping and hiking on the surface as well!

Despite its easily accessible location, Mammoth Cave only receives about a half million visitors each year (approximately 533,000 in 2018).  I’m not sure why, but it was busy the day that I was there.  I will tell you about my visit in an upcoming post!

 

Farewell to a Decade!

2019 is almost over, and with it we are leaving behind another decade.  Like every year, it has had its ups and downs, but sadly this year they were overshadowed by losing my Dad.  There were other joys and experiences, but between working through my grief and starting my new job, the happy times were just more subdued this year, and that’s okay.

  1. Dad died suddenly in February.  It has been hard without him; never having had the opportunity to say goodbye or tell him I love him one more time.  He left behind a lot of estate and probate stuff for my mom to work through, which is difficult to face when you are grieving.  All the milestones are new ones in our life without him.
  2. I did a 15K this year in March with my friends.  I didn’t train, as it was less than a month after dad died, but I finished.  My time with my friends is dear to me; they are a lifeline when I need them most. 
  3. Mom and I took a few days away in March and flew down to Tucson.  It was a nice mother-daughter trip, with some laughter, and definitely some tears, with both of us grieving. 
  4. I started a new job in March.  There’s a learning curve, and there was some drama in the beginning (not my drama!), but things there are good; the people are kind and reasonable and I feel valued.
  5. I visited Astoria in May; I met Jeff and the kids there for a Memorial Day long weekend of fun.  It was nice to check the place out and see some familiar places and some new ones.  Making new memories is always good! 
  6. I visited Westport, on the coast of Washington, in June with friends.  I had never been there.  The weather was cool and sort of rainy, which made for less than ideal camping weather, but we had fun checking out the lighthouse, grilling some delicious food, and walking the beach. I added a ton of sand dollars to my collection! 
  7. In July, Jeff and the kids and I took a whirlwind trip down to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. It was so much fun camping and hiking and checking out the waterfalls! Lassen is definitely a place I want to get back to soon.

    Lassen Volcanic National Park

  8. I didn’t do much hiking this summer because I was experiencing a lot of pain in my belly, but I did go on a couple of hikes.  My hike to Watson Lakes with Lelani was so much fun!
  9. Jeff and I met near Salem, Oregon on Labor Day weekend for a few days.  We checked out the Oregon State Hospital Museum, the Salem Farmer’s Market, and enjoyed our time together.  We also took a day to hike Silver Falls State Park, and saw all the beautiful waterfalls!  What an amazing experience! 
  10. In October, my girlfriends and I did a 10K in town.  It was fun to support a great charity and get some exercise as well!
  11. On December 23, I had a total abdominal hysterectomy.  I have been having pain and other troublesome symptoms for years, so it was time, but it was still scary to be wheeled into the operating room that morning!  My surgeon and nursing team were awesome and everything went smoothly.  My family came to the rescue, setting me up at home and taking care of me for the first several days.  My uterus and its benign fibroid tumors weighed over 5 pounds (a healthy uterus should weigh about 2-4 ounces) – 5 pounds of extra stuff in my belly causing havoc!  I am still healing, and moving pretty slow right now, but am already feeling relief from my symptoms and can tell I will be feeling better in no time! 

2020 is a whole new decade, and one that should have some new beginnings for me.  I’ll be able to spend more time with Jeff and the kids, and once I recover from my surgery, I’ll be able to get back to my active life!  Here’s to a lot of good things coming soon!

May the New Year bring you all peace and joy.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Cataract Falls State Park

Day 24, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Cataract, Indiana

Who knew that the Midwest has such small waterfalls?  I guess it makes sense, being that the Midwest is so very much flatter than the foothills and mountains that stretch out less than an hour from my sea-level home.  I left Marilyn’s house about noon, and made my way towards Indianapolis.  Cataract Falls was along the way!

Cataract Falls State Park contains the largest waterfall by volume in Indiana, a two fall combo that separately measure at 18 and 20 feet, and combine to create an impressive 38 foot cascade!  It is considered to be a little taller than that, because there are a series of smaller cascades over the course of the half-mile of Cataract Falls.  Alright, maybe impressive is a bit of an overstatement, especially for those of us who have seen waterfalls over 600 feet tall at home.  However, if 38 feet is what Indiana has to offer, I’ll go see it.  I wandered around and relaxed a little bit, but it was too hot to hike that day.

The park also has a covered bridge, which largely looks like the covered bridges near Dana, Indiana, except that it a solid red with no white accents.  The Cataract Falls covered bridge was finished in 1876, and is the only remaining covered bridge in Owens County.  It is unusual because of its construction with a Smith Truss design, rather than the more common Burr Arch Truss that is found on most Indiana covered bridges.  It was pretty, but given my experience from the day before, I waited until another man walked inside before I did.  I will probably always do this with covered bridges now.

I also stopped at the tiny community of Cataract just outside of the state park.  They have a historic general store, originally built in 1860, filled with various antiques and snack items.  I didn’t find any antiques I had to have but did purchase a few of their unique soda options – I bought two to try.  That’s one of the nice things about traveling – you get out of your comfort zone and try foods and drinks that you might not otherwise pick at home!

That evening I headed to my friend Will’s house, outside of Indianapolis.  That evening we had turkey tacos for dinner, the first time in almost a month that I actually made a home cooked meal, in a home, with more than a couple ingredients.  It was soooo delicious!

The Last 90 Days

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that it is the last quarter of the decade… The last 90 days as she put it.  Well, technically since October and December both have 31 days, it’s 92, but we won’t quibble (I can’t help it, I’m a Virgo).

It got me thinking, what am I going to do with the last 90 days of this decade?  What are you going to do?  Sadly, for me, it won’t be a trip around the world, but let’s make it count!