“Please take a seat,” the Park Ranger requested, motioning to some primitive looking wooden benches in the dimly lit cavern. “I am going to show you all something remarkable, something very few people get to experience.” I acquiesced and took a seat, my two year old squirming in my arms. I lamented again silently that no backpack child carriers are allowed into Mammoth Caves. It had been a challenging 300 foot (91m) descent with unsure footing and hidden, slippery rocks.
The 30 or so others in our tour group took their seats and were intently listening to the history of how the caves were formed and just how remarkable this feat of nature was. I caught every other word, focused on my three older children who had thoroughly enjoyed exploring the winding pathways through the caverns, but were losing interest in the technical side of things. “Most of you have never experienced profound silence,” the Ranger continued. “No sound enters this section of the caves. I am about to turn off the lights and you are going to be amazed. Please refrain from making any sound.” There was a click of the light switch, followed by darkness. As if on cue, my two year started screaming “no, no, no!” and kicking his feet. I tried to hush him but he was committed. He flailed his arms and let out a series of wails that echoed through the cavern- it had some amazing acoustics. “Isn’t this incredible?” the Park Ranger asked the group, speaking loudly to be heard over my son, “there is not a sound.” I laughed to myself, assuming the irony would not be lost on the others on the tour. When the lights came back on, I realized the group found nothing funny about my son’s outburst. In fact, it was clear by the angry stares that we had ruined that moment for them. Feeling guilty, I apologized to several people nearby, and we continued the tour without incident. This was a stark reminder that travel with children has its ups and downs. I do my best to be mindful of others in my wanderlust, but sometimes things just don’t work out as I planned. So, if anyone reading this was on that tour, I truly am sorry!
Mammoth Caves are hauntingly beautiful. Underground rivers and waterfalls carved out dramatic limestone rock formations over millions of years. Stalagmites reach for the stalactites hanging overhead. The power of nature is so evident here, it is humbling.
With over 400 miles of explored caves, there is much to see. We opted to go on the moderately difficult, two hour/500 stair, Dome and Dripstones Tour. The kids loved ducking and weaving through the pathways, only to arrive at the next, even more breathtaking, cavern. Each had its own identity: some were dormant (dry), some were growing (erosion) and some were disappearing (stalactites/stalagmites). The Park Ranger led this tour with such zeal, it was clear he was passionate about the Caves. It was infectious. My kids were excited to show me quirky rock shapes they came across and to marvel at the crystal clear waters of the underground lake. Not only did they enjoy themselves, but they learned a little something about geology in the process.
If it’s not already, put a visit to Mammoth Caves National Park on your bucket list. I’m sure your children will love it as much as mine did.