iGen21 February 2017 - Page 14

MAMMOTH EXPLORATIONS

MORGAN J. HALE

The largest known cave system in the world resides in Western Kentucky USA. Mammoth Cave, a US National Park, is a place you should visit because of the outdoor recreation, the caves themselves and the amazing creatures that reside there.

At Mammoth Cave National Park there are a variety of recreational activities most of which you can get maps for at the visitors center. Mammoth Cave is the first national park which has trails made exclusively for mountain biking, It also has a hike/bike path. Mammoth Cave has many many hiking trails with varied terrain. While doing any activity outside you can see many sinkholes and underground rivers that briefly flow to the surface such as the Styx. There are many options for camping like backcountry camping and campgrounds with RV accommodation. As you can see this park is more than just the caves.

Enough about above ground level. Mammoth Cave itself is a really cool place to be, both figuratively and literally because it is always around 52 degrees Fahrenheit. The tunnels of Mammoth Cave twist and weave through each other, which in some places resembles a plate of spaghetti. The 600 miles of Mammoth Cave have many wide cavernous rooms as well as many slim passageways that are hard to slide through. There are three parts of the cave: living, dormant, and dying. The living part of the cave is growing because water drips quickly carving out the cave. In the dormant area it is moistureless. The cave has no way to get water to it. In the dying part water drips slowly creating formations that slowly make the cave grow smaller and smaller. Over millions of years the cave will close up completely. The most common formations in dying parts are stalagmites and stalactites. Some of the less common formations are columns, where a stalagmite and a stalactite meet in the middle; popcorn which are little bumps on the cave floor and walls; soda straws which are thin stalactites; and drapes. Obviously the temperature is not the only thing that’s cool about this cave system.

In addition to the impressive features, intriguing creatures exist. The cave is a unique ecosystem for unique animals. Creatures of the cave don't use their eyes much because a cave is pitch black once away from the entrance. Cave crickets and bats hunt for food outside the cave every night. Once out, they eat their fill. Then, once they are back in the cave they poop out all the unused nutrients. Then the unused nutrients get eaten by bugs, eyeless fish, and all of the other creatures that do not travel outside of the cave. What an amazing ecosystem and diversity of creatures.

The outdoor recreation was extremely enjoyable, but the highlight of my trip was going deep into the earth to see the formations and creatures of the cave. my trip to western KY to see Mammoth Cave was extremely worthwhile.