Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, USA

See below for 63 photos from a road trip my parents took me on from Atlanta to Nashville to Mammoth Cave (in Kentucky).

Interstate highways. Cars that drive on the right. A splendiferous multitude of vanity license plates (including one that said “DAAYUM”). Trucks with big cabs. Exits that list all the fast food chains on blue signs. Twisty roads through mountains. And trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Beautiful day.
Traffic on the other side.
Familiar bridge.
Glittery fireworks sign! Fireworks are not available to the public in Georgia, but they are in Tennessee, so… the inevitable result is that there are some big fireworks stores right on the border.
Another familiar fireworks ad.
“I see skies of blue, clouds of white…”
Windswept clouds.
“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…”
Those oversized tires are wider than the truck’s tires tires are high! Just imagine how big the vehicle they’re for must be…
Don’t look now, but I think we’ve been followed.
Skyline of Nashville, Tennessee. Note the characteristic Bell South (AT&T) “Batman” building. At 33 stories, it’s the highest building in the state (according to Wikipedia).
The iconic pecan waffle of Waffle House arrived last, so you can’t see the whole meal. Nevertheless, it was extremely satisfying.
I miss these. There are so many in Atlanta, people joke that all verbal directions to places in the city include some reference to a street called “Peachtree” and instructions to “turn right at the Waffle House”.
Why are barns red? Cheap paint, something something, lime, something something, iron oxide…
A pickup truck on the road in Mammoth Cave National Park. Speed limit sign says 50. Miles per hour, that is.
Road curving through the trees, which have started to change color for autumn.
Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center, like it says on the sign there.
Thanks to, we can see how big Mammoth Cave National Park is compared to the country of Singapore. (My wonky rectangle represents the same land area in both maps.)
Those yellow lines are cave passages. “The passageways of Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest known cave system, cover hundreds of miles. They don’t stretch in one straight line, but intersect and run above and below each other like a big but shallow platter of spaghetti.”
A map showing which tunnels they made a model of.
The model they made (using fancy 3D imaging technology).
A map showing ancient continents, with a contemporary state map of the US drawn on top of it. When I was a kid, I used to go into my grandparents’ backyard and dig for crinoid stems (fossils of underwater plants that looked like stacks of coins). They told me the hill behind the house (and practically all the rest of Tennessee) used to be the floor of the ocean, which I believed but found hard to imagine.
Another one for my “manhole covers of the world” collection.
Converted schoolbus. Exactly like the one I rode in high school.
That bus took us to the start of a tour called “Frozen Niagara”. This part of Mammoth Cave, unlike most parts, has what we think of as typical drippy cave formations.
Cave formations are like clouds in that people imagine them to be all sorts of things (not just waterfalls and ice).
Right, so, actually it’s hard to take photos in caves—photography is the art of capturing light—and most of them turn out badly.
In this photo, it looks like if you go down those steps, you’re walking into the bloody jaws of some kind of horrible whale monster or something.
Toothy stalactites.
In these straw-like stalactites, water drips through the hollow center of the formation.
There’s a pool of water way down there.
Okay, now we’re in the stomach, surrounded by mucous membranes, being digested.
Or, less disgustingly, maybe you can picture that as a wedding cake. Maybe.
This was a short, easy tour. The path was smooth and had handrails. The tour had no really tight spots, and not many steps.
Limestone. Old, old limestone.
The guide told us not to touch the formations, because that discolors the rocks and interferes with the formation of the… formations. There was some damage, but not much, considering how few physical barriers there were.
Soft-serve icecream, anyone?
On the wall of the visitor center, an extremely bored emergency-lighting frog waits resignedly for a suitable emergency.
Woods outside the historic Mammoth Cave entrance. As you go down the hill, the closer you get to the cave entrance, the colder the air gets. It’s as if someone is air-conditioning this hollow in the woods, but it’s actually just the air from the cave seeping out.
This is the historic natural entrance. Signs at the visitor center museum explained how Mammoth Cave is geologically unique: a sandstone cap largely protected the limestone caves beneath from being eroded from the land surface.
Water drips over the edge.
I’m glad there’s a smooth path. Wouldn’t have wanted to climb over all that.
Notice the absence of drippy formations? Yeah, I didn’t take a lot of pictures of this cave, because there wasn’t good light and because, honestly, it’s not that picturesque.
Plato… something something… allegory… something something… shadows… something something… truth…
Next time someone tells you all caves are claustrophobic, tell them there are some you could drive a bus through. On a related note, some of the tours are wheelchair accessible.
I think this is the room that’s called The Rotunda.
The light at the end of the passage.
*blink blink*
It’s mediocre selfie time! This is me and Mom in front of the cave entrance. But since you can’t really SEE the cave entrance, we could be anywhere.
Here’s me and Dad and Mom in front of the cave entrance—or wherever you’d like to imagine we are instead.
Here you can kinda see the steps to the cave, but on the other hand, I get mediocre selfie bonus points for blurry focus.
Conclusion: Taking a selfie with only one person in it is easier.
Back to the parking lot.
We ate dinner in a place called Montana Grille. It’s a giant log cabin the likes of which does not exist—could not exist—in Singapore.
We went to Flea Land because we wanted to look at the antiques. Turns out only the leftmost prong of that forky shape in the picture has antiques in it; the rest is like a shopping mall… only not. We really got an eyeful of local culture. Since Bowling Green, Kentucky has population 65,000 and Atlanta has population 472,000, I really felt like a town mouse in the country. (Those numbers don’t really even capture the difference: the Atlanta metro area has population 5,710,000 whereas the ENTIRE state of Kentucky only has population 4,437,000.)
This pointy steeple is so pointy that if I didn’t know better, I might think that the congregation of this church in Nashville, Tennessee was waiting for the second coming of Jesus so that he could pilot their rocketship to heaven.
Rock City and Ruby Falls are two tourist attractions in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The relentless advertisements along Highway 85 are familiar, but billboards that say “” lack a certain nostalgic charm. Formerly, advertisements were painted on the sides of old barns that faced the road, but over time many of those old barns have fallen down.
Every time I see haystacks (hay rolls?) I think of this weird fact: rotting hay gives off so much heat that it can spontaneously combust.
Before we returned all the way home, we went in another antique mall. Did not expect to see a taxidermy bison. (It was even more surprising than the Halloween mummy that started making electronic wailing noises when I walked past.)
Too good an opportunity to pass up. I mean, how often can you get this close to a bison?!