The national park is located in the karst area of the Green River in Kentucky. With a length of over 550 km, it is the longest cave system on earth, created millions of years ago by penetrating water. Today stalactites and stalagmites form grandiose sculptures and underground lakes form an overwhelming natural spectacle. The caves are home to numerous animals such as bats and unusual arachnids. A varied flora also thrives in the karst area.
Mammoth Cave National Park: Facts
|Official title:||Mammoth Cave National Park|
|Natural monument||since 1941 national park with an area of 211.91 km², core zone of 209.17 km²; Heights from 180 to 231 m; average rainfall of 1118 mm; Cave system with passages of more than 550 km, huge chambers and vertical shafts with stalagmites and stalactites as well as “plaster flowers” and “plaster needles”, over 1000 prehistoric and historical sites within the park; guided tours since 1916|
|country||United States, Kentucky, Barren, Edmonson, and Hart Counties|
|location||Mammoth Cave Plateau on the Green River, south of Louisville, north of Glasgow and northeast of Bowling Green|
|meaning||internationally significant karst formation and longest cave system in the world|
|Flora and fauna||Flora with 84 tree species, 28 shrub and climbing plants, 29 fern species, 209 flowering plants such as the cardinal lobelia and blue cardinal lobelia, the Campanula americana belonging to the bellflowers and the Asclepia syriaca belonging to the silk plants, 27 types of mushrooms and 7 types of moss; Big Woods as one of the oldest forests in eastern North America with white oak, chestnut oak, dye areas as well as birch, maple, poplar, pencil cedar and hickory species such as mock nut; Over 200 animal species only found in the cave system, 42 of which are exclusively adapted to life in the dark; 41 mammals, including 12 bat species such as Myotis sodalis and M. grisescens, which belong to the genus mouse-eared bats, 203 bird species such as the American gray heron, turkey vulture, rock dove, barred owl and cat thrush,|
Fairytale world underground
“Pillars of Hercules”, “Temple of King Solomon”, “Frozen Niagara Falls”, “Bridal Altar” and “Crystal Lake” are resonant names that visitors encounter when visiting the huge, deep underground Mammoth Cave. Behind the natural cave entrance, well-constructed stairs lead into a cool fairy-tale kingdom of rare splendor, which actually arouses associations everywhere. Countless stalactites hang from the ceilings like stone icicles. Here and there there are sculptures made of limestone deposits that began to grow long before America was discovered by Columbus. The cave walls glisten in the dim lighting, so that one believes they are tapestries interwoven with gold thread. The interior of the underworld, bathed in black, seems an uncanny nothingness.
Researchers began to measure the underground labyrinth as early as the 19th century. They discovered corridors and halls with a length of hundreds of kilometers. This underground expansion makes the Mammoth Caves the largest known cave system in the world. The origins of the mysterious underground kingdom go back 280 million years. At that time, a shallow sea covered this part of the North American continent. After it disappeared, layers of sediment consisting of mud, shellfish and sand remained, which over long periods of time hardened into limestone. Precipitation enriched with weak carbonic acid began to penetrate this stone and slowly dissolve it, whereby larger and larger subterranean washings developed over time. In the night-black halls and corridors, stalactites and stalagmites began to grow, simultaneously due to steadily falling drops of calcareous water. Over the millennia, the caves have been transformed into grandiose decorated palaces.
Whoever enters the Mammoth Cave seems to enter a world without living beings. But appearance is deceptive. Biologists have discovered dozens of different animals in this underworld. These were not just the skeletons and carcasses of raccoons and frogs that had accidentally fallen into the depths of the cave and perished there, but also beetles, spiders and salamanders that have adapted in a special way to life in the dark. On the floor of the cave, two rivers, the River Styx and the Echo River, carry their water through the cave system and provide a habitat for blind, pigmentless fish and shellfish.
Scientific studies have shown that the subterranean world does not change as quickly as the one on the earth’s surface, but that environmental factors such as air pressure, air and water temperature determine the rhythm of life in the cave and the “weather” there. Temperature differences between inside and outside can cause winds due to the so-called “chimney effect” and lead to “cave rain” due to the change in the dew point. The outside world also determines life in the cave because animal and plant food reach the dark depths in different ways, including twelve species of bats that leave the cave at regular intervals to look for food.
Not only rare and strange animals left their traces in the mammoth caves in bygone times, but also humans. The first prehistoric nomads ventured into the natural cave entrance four millennia ago. Later Indians used torches to search for plaster of paris and crystals. At the beginning of the 19th century, saltpeter was mined for the production of powder, before the “tourist career” of Mammoth Cave began. A black slave named Stephen Bishop was one of the first to undertake daring solo tours in the largely unknown cave world before he took the first curious visitors on his adventurous excursions to a natural wonder that today is certainly one of the most fascinating in the state of Kentucky.