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The Discovery Tour
Wandering around in the big tunnel

Descending the stairs, towards the natural entrance. People have been coming down this way, since before the Civil War.

A look up, towards the outside. We are about to enter a cave system that is hundreds of miles long.

This door, and barricade, were built for the protection of the cave. Visitors are allowed in, only when accompanied by ranger guides. The large bars, permit the flow of air, and the entrance of the small animals and insects, which live in this cave.

We enter the cave, which starts out as a fairly narrow tunnel; but soon expands. The is a classic river carved cave, which essentially makes it an underground river canyon.

We are in The Rotunda, of Mammoth Cave. The park Christmas tree lights up the entire interior.

A look at at The Rotunda ceiling. It is pretty plain how the chamber got it's name.

Our ranger guide gives a brief explanation about the chamber, and on how the cave was formed, and why is is so long.

A scattered jumble of rocks are the result of intermittent scaling off of the rocks above. When asked how often these rocks fall, our ranger replied "Only once."

Visitors gather before the Christmas tree. My vista was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so the holiday spirit was in full force.

A look off to the side, gives an incomplete indication of just how large this chamber is. It's like standing in the main room of Grand Central Station.

A look off in the other direction, shows another tunnel leading off . There are at least three tunnel, which intersect here.

We head off, down our own tunnel, towards the saltpeter mines, the TB clinic, and the Star Chamber. The "ghosts" visible towards the left of the photo, are my fellow visitors, in this rather long time exposure.

A look back, towards The Rotunda, show the scaled ceiling, and the boardwalk along which we all just came.

A look down the tunnel, give no indication of it's great size, or great length. Once past The Rotunda, the tunnels grow to massive proportions.

A section of the pipelines of the old saltpeter mines. a slurry of saltpeter, and other minerals was sent up to the top for processing.

A look at the large tunnels which lead off from the mining chamber.

All of the lights are turned off, and all personal light sources have been put away. Our ranger guide, lights a single lantern, to give us an idea of how the caves were originally worked, and explored.

We proceed up the tunnel. The incredibly flat ceilings in most of the cave are a result of a rock shield, overhanging much of the system. This shield is composed of rocks that are not easily eroded, and are essentially waterproof. This is the reason that, with the exception of certain portions of the cave which are not under the shield (such as the Frozen Niagara), there are no stalactites, or other traditional cave structures. This shield is also the reason for the extensive length of the cave system.

The group proceeds through one of the huge tunnels in the system.
Generally, a system this long, and active, will be collapsed by erosion. This has been prevented by the rock shield, which is the reason this system was able to grow to such a length.

These stone structures are all that remains of a failed medical experiment. For a time, it was thought that these caverns might have had a beneficial effect on TB patients.

A look at the closely fitted stonework, on one of the cabins. Note the way that the wall was painstakingly matched up to the side of the cave.

There are several cabins down here. Dr. John Croghan was one of the owners of the cave, and in 1842, established the TB clinic. He may have had the best of intentions; but the enterprise was a failure. Within 9 months, all 16 of the patients were dead. Interestingly, they were taken back up to the surface, so that they might be buried. The doctor himself, eventually succumbed to the disease.

Temperatures always hover around 54, down in the caves. The old clinic is at a level of the cave system which is approximately 160 feet below the surface.

This particular cabin is collapsing, though the others seem to be holding up pretty well.

The back wall of this particular cabin could use some repair; but these historical structures will remain untouched. It is not very likely that the clinic will be re established, at any rate.

Passing the TB clinic, we head down, towards the Star Chamber, and even larger portions of the cave.

The black sooty looking appearance of the upper portions of the cave wall are indeed due to soot. For centuries, these caverns were lit by torches. Than natural white rock of the ceiling is stained black in certain areas. This thin coating of soot is broken in many spots, to create the "stars" of the Star Chamber.

Back near the entrance. Note how much smaller the cave is here. As the cave gets nearer to the surface, the rock shield above does not permit the cutting of extensive chambers.