March 2005: Mammoth Cave National Park


Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Not named for extinct wooly elephants but rather the length of its passageways, Mammoth Cave is by far the longest known cave system in the world. There may be no traces of mammoths in the vast underground world but archeologicalists
have unearthed evidence of human occupation in Mammoth Cave from as far back as 4,000 years ago. In the early days of the country, Mammoth Cave was used commercially to produce saltpeter needed to manufacture gunpowder and in 1941 the cave was protected as a national park. In 1981, Mammoth Cave was named a World Heritage Site.

Your dog won't be able to sniff around the 336 miles of underground passages in Mammoth Cave but there are more than 70 miles of trails above ground to explore in the park. A variety of leg-stretching hikes less than two miles are available around the Visitor Center, including the Green River Bluffs Trail that snakes through thick woods to a promontory above the Green River. For prolonged canine hiking head for the North Side Trails. A half-dozen mid-length day hikes launch into the dark hollows and hardwood forests from the Maple Spring Trailhead (North Entrance Road). This labyrinth of trails cuts through rugged terrain that has been left in its natural state. In the Big Woods (Little Jordan Road), you can hike the White Oak Trail through one of the last remaining old growth forests in Kentucky.

Along Highway 255 (the East Entrance road) is a small parking lot for a short trail to Sand Cave. For several weeks in the 1930s, this remote section of woods was the most famous spot in America. A local cave explorer named Floyd Collins became trapped in the cave and the nation became fixated on the rescue efforts that were meticulously detailed in newspapers and radio reports. Rescuers were ultimately unsuccessful in freeing Collins from a leg-pinning rock. The incident spawned books and a movie starring Kirk Douglas, Ace In The Hole. The small entrance of Sand Cave is wired off today and there is little to remind visitors of the drama that once gripped America here.

From I-65, take Highway 31 West, and Highway 31 East from the north.