Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Above Ground in Mammoth Cave National Park

Saturday September 21, 2014
Mammoth Cave National Park Campground
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky



First just a note about yesterday.


Smart Ass Charlies star chamber tour (5)

Yesterday’s post was about our Gothic Avenue Tour.   We actually did two tours that day but the post was long enough just talking about the one.  

At 5:00 we took the lantern light Star Chamber Tour.  I was really looking forward to this one and it turned out to be a serious disappointment, not because of the cave but for the first time ever in my life we had a really irritating Ranger Guide.  I know Gaelyn is going to hate to hear this.

At the risk of offending, the only word for him is “smart ass”.   He was rude and snippy throughout.  If this was supposed to be funny or entertaining it sure wasn’t.  His answers to questions were so curt and cutting that people stopped asking which I guess was the point.  He was snapping at anyone who even had a small red light sensor camera such as mine.  That’s how I can take pictures in the cave, my camera has a little red pin dot of a light meter that determines how dark it is.  After he yelled at me once I didn’t take another picture even though I knew that unless he was looking right at me he would never see the tiny red pin light.

Charlie enforcement of the “no flash” rule was not restricted to flash but meant any light at all  no matter how small.  Thus no pictures except this one of his lordship taken before we went in.   I wish we had had time to take this tour with a different guide, the tour itself went through wonderful areas of the cave.  But our days here are numbered and already full of tours.  

I strongly suggest that if you take any tours here that you ask at the counter when you buy or pick up your ticket who is guiding or better yet the names of all the rangers assigned to this tour and think better of any that have Charlie as part of the group.  Swap your tours and times around to avoid him.  You’ll thank me.   I am writing a comment about him and his attitude suggesting that it is long past time for him to retire from this job with the public that he clearly does not like.   If this were the only tour I’d taken, I would have a very negative opinion of the park.


On to today.   Time to take a hike outside this time.

I got up this morning with the sunrise but since the campground is in a nearly totally wooded area, there wasn’t much to see.  David was sleeping in so I got dressed, took some water and headed out to see about the trails in the park.

Everything is wonderfully accessible from the campground so until we have exhausted everything here, there is no need to go further afield.

Today I walked over to the campfire circle and past it on the Whites Cave Trail, colored yellow.




It’s a lovely morning on a lovely trail.  As you would expect on land above a cave, the ground has many rocks beneath the greenery and quite a few to big to be covered up.






There are patches of wildflowers along the trail and short spurs that lead to benches which would be wonderful for just sitting for a while to enjoy the scenery and the silence.






About a mile down the trail I find the Echo River Spring and a spur trail that will take me to the Green River Ferry.  I’m very familiar with the Florida Springs and it is surprising to me to see the same blue water here in a depression off the trail.

Springs are often thought of as the beginnings of rivers but this spring actually marks the end of subterranean streams that have traveled unseen for miles.  Starting with rainfall draining into sinkholes, underground rivers like the Hawkins River, the River Styx and here the Echo River emerge to flow into the Green River. 

These submerged passages at one time lay above the level of the Green River but geological processes have caused the river to cease downcutting for a time and to rise in its bed, burying the cave openings in sediment.  As the waters emerge through the sand and mud, these outlets become known as alluvial springs.  An alluvial spring with no outlet is sometimes known as a “Blue Hole”.




Thus the Echo River runs through the deepest area of the cave and comes out of the ground here to join the Green River. In 1991 we were one of the last groups to be able to take a boat trip on the Echo River to see some of the aquatic animals like the colorless crayfish and the eyeless cave fish who live all their lives in the dark. Also here in the dark is the endangered Kentucky Cave Shrimp found no where else in the world but in Mammoth Cave. Adapted to a world with little food, few predators and no light, these secretive creatures are vulnerable to changes in their habitat, such as any form of pollution or backfloods from the Green River. Shortly after we were there with Carrie and Kate, the river boats were discontinued as too stressful for the habitat.





The trail passes around the spring so that you can see if from both sides.


Further along the trail toward the ferry I come to more information about the spring and  a blue hole, which does not have an outlet.



The path goes only a little further before coming to a parking lot above the Green River Ferry.




I just LOVE that there is a ferry here and not a bridge.  I don’t know how the state or the county afford it since it is free but I’m sure glad they do.  The Green River and Houchens Ferries which cross the Green River are two of the few operating ferries in the country.  There was one at Hatton on the James River just south of Scottsville.  I’m not sure it is still running.  But I hope so.




Before the establishment of Mammoth Cave National Park, about 45% of park lands were cultivated or grazed.  Primitive wagon roads connected farmlands as did a fleet of river ferries.   Buffalo, Dennison, Demunbrun, Sanders, Turnhole, Fishtrap, Mammoth Cave and Houchins ferries provided a way across this major river barrier.  The old ferries were large enough to carry a wagon and team, and often shipped crops and other goods. 



I’m looking down the river and thinking what a great kayaking river it would be when I see the wild turkey on the road side.

He turns and starts out into the road to cross when a car comes up to take the ferry.  He moves back up on the hillside.












While that car is going across another lucky car on the opposite side comes down and doesn’t have to wait but just drives on board after car A disembarks.   The turkey moves out into the road.  I’m thinking he’s going to get caught in the middle of the road when the dark car comes up the this side.





He hears the car and goes back again to the side he was on.  But once that car leaves he makes a more hurried move to the opposite side and after he has made it safely I go back down the trail toward Echo River spring.





I pass the spring again and return to the main trail turning left onto the Echo River Spring Trail colored purple on the map.





My peripheral vision catches something and I stop to see.  Can you make it out in that circle of black?  Really well hidden in all the understory.  As we stare at each other, I zoom in for a picture.





I come to a choice.  It doesn’t look like this on the map but the left hand fork is the Echo River spring Trail.  I’m not sure what the right one is.  Looks like a short cut up to the Dome Sink Trail.




I had intended to go up and see the River Styx Spring but it is now about 8:45. I spent quite a bit of time there at the ferry so I decide to leave the upper section of the map for another day. I turn right.



Not very far up the trail I see this building off to my left.  An information board tells me this is the CCC Chlorination House. 

This is a recurring story in state and federal parks throughout the country.  We owe much of their beginnings to the Civilian Conservation Corps.  I’ve waxed philosophic on this FDR idea which I think bears repeating so I would go through it again.

Between 1933 and 1944 thousands of young men were encamped at the newly authorized Mammoth Cave National park in four CCC camps.  They built roads, trails, controlled erosion, installed telephone and water lines AND installed the first formal system for treating waste water.



This small building known as the chlorinating house was part of what was then a state-of-the-art sewage treatment facility. The facility’s small size and location within the Green River 100 Year Flood Plain left it obsolete and abandoned by 1995. This means it might have been being used when we were here in 1991. Today all waste water is pumped out of the park through a region sewer system.




At the intersection of whatever trail I am now on and the Dome Sink Trail, I find that I am right at the spur off to the Mammoth Dome Sink.  Well all righty, I have time to go there and take a look.




It’s a sinkhole all right and not a very big one.  But the information board tells me that sinkholes are found by the TENS of THOUSANDS in south central Kentucky.  Wow!  Sounds like Florida.  But here they are each performing the same task, funneling water from the surface to the underground.

This sinkhole along the side of the sandstone-capped ridges of Mammoth Cave acts like a natural downspout.  Water runs off the ridge tops until captured by the sink.  Often these sinks allow water a direct vertical path to the easily dissolvable limestone below.  As more water continues to drain, it creates more open vertical shafts within the cave system.  Mammoth Dome Sink’s natural funnel has created one of the cave’s most Mammoth shafts.  Mammoth Dome drops 192 feet from top to bottom.

It sure doesn’t look that spectacular up here.  I’ve seen much bigger sink holes but I’d sure like to see that 192 foot shaft below ground.  And I think I’m going to get to do just that on our last cave tour here.  Very cool!



It’s a climb straight up on the Dome Sink Trail to the Heritage Trail at the top on the level with the Visitor Center.  It’s in blue on the map.  The main reason I’m interested in it is to visit the Old Guide’s Cemetery.




I come up these stairs on the top and take the circular trail all the way around before going down the center path.  The trail has a nice westward view for sunset, several benches are placed around it as well as informational panels about the history of the park.





I take the spur down the middle and see the grave of Stephen Bishop in the back on the right by the brick whatever it is.  I’ve come to pay my respects to a man I’ve heard about on every tour that goes in through the Historic Entrance.  But for those who don’t know, there are several information stands along the edge of the cemetery. Along with information on the generations of African Americans who worked as guides here.




In 1838, African Slaves Stephen Bishop, Matt Bransford and Nicholas Brandford came to Mammoth Cave to work as cave guides.  Dr. John Croghan purchased the Mammoth Cave Estate and the guides including Bishop in 1839. 

Stephen Bishop was undoubtedly one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known. He was in his late teens when he was brought to Mammoth Cave in 1838.  He ventured beyond the toured areas and in his spare time discovered many miles of the Mammoth Cave no one had ever seen. The gateway for modern exploration of the cave is attributed to Stephen's crossing of a deep vertical shaft known as the Bottomless Pit. The areas he discovered beyond the Bottomless Pit can still be viewed by visitors today, places such as Fat Man's Misery, Cleveland Avenue and Mammoth Dome.
Stephen was described as a showman and visitors wrote of his speech and singing voice. 

In 1842 he was asked to draw a map of the cave system from memory which he did in great detail.  Amazingly Bishop was given credit for the map when it was published in 1844.  The map showed 10 miles of passages and was in use for 40 years.

Stephen Bishop died in June of 1859, 3 years after being granted his freedom in Dr. Croghan’s will.  His grave stone, donated by a cave visitor 20 years after his death, was originally created for a Union Soldier whose family did not come to claim it.  So the name was removed and Bishop’s put on there.  Thus the design which has nothing to do with him.

The inscription reads First Guide & Explorer of the Mammoth Cave  Died June 15, 1859  in his 37, year.



After visiting the grave, I walk back to Winnona and pass what I am sure is one of the cottages that my family rented in the 1950’s when I first visited here.  They are sitting in a circle facing the woods and are in the process of being newly painted.   I would for sure have rented one just to see what they are like now if we didn’t have Winnona.




Further along on the walk back to the campground I pass the large Amphitheater used during the summer.  To my right, after crossing the bridge, I see the smaller campfire circle used in the spring and fall.   I passed it at the beginning of my walk early this morning.   I’ve done about 5 miles in 3 hours which is a pretty quick pace for me.







It was great to see what is above ground in this 53,000 acre park.  We have another Cave Tour scheduled for this afternoon unless we find that Charlie is the guide.  If we do, I will ask for a refund.


  1. Totally sucks to get a 'bad' Ranger and you should write a comment because it will be seen by his superiors. Gives us all a bad reputation.
    The ecosystem above the cave looks lush and dense due to all that water. And it looks like you had the trails to yourself.
    37 seems so young for poor Stephen.

  2. We've been to Mammoth Cave but didn't stay in the park and just took a tour. Looks like we missed an awful lot!

  3. Sorry to heat that guide ruined your tour. It should have been a great one. Good for you to report him, he needs to move on and be replaced by someone that enjoys the job and the visitors.

  4. Yep, it is time for Charlie to retire or find another line of work that doesn't involve dealing with the public. We have only ever found one state park ranger who was very rude. The rest of the rangers have added so much to our experience at State and National Parks!!! What a lovely park above ground as well:o))

  5. Well, I tried to comment earlier and thought I'd look at the pictures again and give it another go...I hope you let the Park people know regarding Charlie like we did for that wonderful guide at the Native American Museum. Wonder how long he has been doing the tours? Definitely sounds like it's time for him to go! Great above ground options in the park from sinkholes to graves to pretty trails to wild turkey!! :) Great start to the day!

  6. Oh Dear, I didn't mean to make Charlie the focus of this post. He's so much less deserving than Stephen Bishop.

  7. Time for Charlie to retire, we took the Green River Ferry last spring when the river was much higher. Looks like we've missed a lot of Mammoth by not staying on site.

  8. Not only the caves, but rivers too - how amazing it is that all "that" is happening underground! Seeing that blue water in the middle of the Kentucky forest looks very out of place. Love all the information on the natural springs and their funny looking inhabitants. I can see you waiting to be sure mr turkey made a safe crossing - it seems like he is familiar with the sounds of vehicles and navigates them pretty well - still, I'd want to know he made it across one more time :-) I find it fitting that Stephen's tombstone would bear the symbol of a war fought in part to bring freedom to his people, especially since his final resting place is where he made such an impact on the future of the caves.

  9. Jodee you are so right and I wish I'd thought to say that about his tombstone from a Union Soldier. Next time I want to kayak that river. Thanks so much for noticing all the details that made my morning so terrific.

  10. I'd like to go back and take some more tours. There is so much there to see and enjoy. I also picked up a book there about a fellow who was an early explorer and ended up being buried alive (name escapes me now). Beautiful area.

  11. Beautiful terrain. The ampitheatre reminds me of one in a provincial park here.

    I would send this post to the park; your complaints about Charlie sound valid to me, and if you're feeling this way, no doubt there are many others. The man's a hindrance to the park.

  12. What great information about Stephen Bishop. He sounds like an amazing man for his time. Glad you were able to do some nice hiking and see the ferry. There are a lot of things named 'Green River' here in Campbellsville. I must now find it!

  13. We had a tour guide like this once and it certainly ruined the entire experience. I think it was the only time we actually went and filed a complaint. Yes, I agree, it is time for him to move on!! Thank goodness your other tours were wonderful:)

    Looks like you had a great time out there exploring. So much to learn! I love that blue spring!

  14. I recall our visits to Mammoth Cave years ago, usually in April. We did the cave tours but now I see what we missed in the surrounding area, although I would have been difficult to see much with four small children.

  15. That young man, Bishop, deserves a lot of credit. I would have been so much fun to explore a new cave with him.

  16. What a lovely way to cross that small river.

  17. I think I enjoyed this day with you more than the underground tours, but that's just because I'd rather be hiking above ground in the fresh air and sunshine than below in the dark. :-) My favorite kind of campground is where we have hiking right out our front door. Beautiful trails, and I really liked the historical info -- Stephen Bishop must have been a wonderful tour guide! So great that he was honored for his work in the cave.

  18. I think the focus on the 'dour ranger' is an 'above the fold' syndrome --- bad always gets more attention than the good ... after all, isn't that how all the media outlets make money.

  19. Thank you for such a wonderful tour reportage of Mammoth Cave and the area around it. Great pictures along with the text. Makes me want to go exploring again. Murray Whitehill

  20. Wow, great picture of that deer! You have a good idea to have seen it in the first place. By the time I see something and get excited and aim the camera--it's gone. That's not to say the other pictures aren't just as good. Glad you're still enjoying yourselves.

  21. Thanks for the tour , who needs a ranger when I've got you? 😊

  22. My guess is Charlie is sick of doing tours and was asked to fill in for someone so he ticks off the tourists to reinforce his distain for guiding tours so they will think twice before they ask him again, Just a guess ...

    Agree that Bishop was the more interesting character here.


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