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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Mammoth Cave
by Stephen Uzzle
Physical Geology
Fall 2016

                                                                                 Mammoth Cave National Park 

“Welcome to Mammoth Cave National Park”

            Mammoth Cave National Park, established on July 1, 1941, is one of the world’s greatest national wonders.  Located mostly in the area under Edmonson, Kentucky, the park features 345 miles of surveyed passageways, river systems, and lakes formed by the dissolution of limestone.  The cave remains a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of 87%.  The weather in a cave does change, but not as quickly as on the surface.  At the entrances to the cave, fluctuations in air temperature create wind, causing a wind-chill factor underground.  For the most part, the cave does stay the same temperature all year long.

Mammoth Cave Online

In the 1970s and ‘80s, connections between the Flint Ridge Cave system and the Mammoth Cave system were discovered, bringing the combined length of the two systems to over 405 miles of surveyed limestone caverns. Mammoth Cave was originally mapped by Stephen L. Bishop.  Caves are also known as caverns, which is just a fancier way of saying cave, and a way to charge the viewer more money to enter the cave.

“Mammoth Cave National Park”

            Caves are simply a cavity in the Earth’s surface big enough for a human to fit inside.  There are four requirements that must be met to produce a cave: a relief to provide a slope, limestone that is water soluble, fractures in the limestone for water to run through, and rain to dissolve the limestone.  Caves are formed from a variety of processes such as chemical and mechanical weathering.  Although caves can be formed from any type of rock material, limestone is the most common. Limestone is a soft, water-soluble rock, and, over time, rainfall mixed with carbon dioxide from the air mixes and creates a weak acid that seeps into the rock through joints and fractures, slowly carving out passageways.  Caves can also be formed by the wave action of the ocean beating against a landmass.  The Green River is the main source of water that formed the cave.

There are many different activities to enjoy while exploring Mammoth Cave.  Biking trails are provided for street bikes on a paved path, as well as mountain bike trails through the Kentucky forest.  Off-road trails include the Big Hollow Trail which is 9.1 miles, the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike which is 9 miles, and the Maple Springs Trail which is 1 mile.  Cave tours are offered during specific seasons.  These tours include the Frozen Niagara Tour, the Domes and Dripstones Tour, the Mammoth Cave Accessible Tour, and Ranger Talk. T he Frozen Niagara tour is perfect for small children, elderly adults, and visitors who cannot walk long distances.  Campgrounds are accessible in the park year around.  Boat tours are given on the Green River, which is a great way to explore the cave without using a lot of energy.

“Mammoth Cave National Park”

Wildlife in Mammoth Cave is very diverse.  More than one hundred and thirty species of animals inhabit the cave systems.  The cave is home to twelve species of bats, two of which are endangered species. The cave bats help to serve the local area by acting as bug catchers. The Kentucky brown bat can eat up to six hundred mosquitoes in one hour.  Fish in the river systems of the caves are completely unique.  Several species can only be found in this region of the world including some species that are totally blind. Other animals that call the cave home include shrimp, fifty different species of mussels, and local mammals that use the cave as shelter during the winter months.

The cave also has lots of different types of rock formations.  During the cave formation process, limestone is dissolved in the water which hollows out the rock creating the cave.  The dissolved calcium from the limestone must go somewhere; this is how dripstone is formed.  When water evaporates, the calcium is deposited in the form of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and cave onyx.  Stalactites form when water drips from the ceiling of the cave and calcium is deposited, creating a hanging formation from the ceiling that looks like an icicle.  Stalagmites are formed the same way except they grow from the floor up, resulting in a rounded shape. When both the stalactites and the stalagmites grow together they form a column that is like an hour glass shape.  Cave bacon is also formed from limestone deposits or calcium carbonate. Instead of dripping on to the ground, water flows down the sides of the walls of the cave and resulting in thin layers of striped calcite resembling bacon in appearance.  Cave bacon is sometimes referred to as “waterfall wall” because it resembles a frozen water fall.  Cave Drapery is another form of cave bacon that is so large it looks like curtains hanging on the wall.  Helicities are simply cave onyx that forms crystals on its surface from depositing gypsum.

“Stone Curtains Onyx Cave”

The first people to discover Mammoth Cave were the Paleo-Indians.  During the late Archaic-period (3000-1000 B.C.), numbers of Indians began to grow in the region.  During this time the natives began to make pottery, cultivate gardens, and grow domesticated plants.  It was in this same time-period that the natives began to explore Mammoth Cave and other caves found in the region.  Natives began collecting minerals such as selenite, mirabilite, epsomite, and gypsum. The reasons why ancient peoples would collect such specimens is up for debate, but they were probably used in ceremonies and for medicinal purposes, and could be traded to other tribes for food and other goods.  Mummified remains of Paleo-Indians have been found inside the cave along with tools such as spearheads.



Works Cited

"Cave." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University, and Paul Lagasse, Columbia University Press, 2016. Credo Reference, Accessed 09 Nov 2016.

"Mammoth Cave National Park." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University, and Paul Lagasse, Columbia University Press, 2016. Credo Reference, Accessed 09 Nov 2016.

"Mammoth Cave National Park." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 09 Nov 2016.

“Mammoth Cave National Park.” Wikipedia, 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Mammoth Cave Online. Diamond Caverns, LLC, 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

National Park Service. “Archeology at Mammoth Cave.” U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

“Stone Curtains Onyx Cave.”, July 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

“Welcome to Mammoth Cave National Park.”, 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.