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

Henry David Thoreau

Frozen Niagara

Friday September 19, 2014
Mammoth Cave Campground
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky




As we are getting ready to leave for our cave tour the duckies  see  some early morning visitors in our yard.   They hang around for quite a while.  With 53,000 acres you’d think there would be better grass than here.






We had purchased our tickets all yesterday so we biked over to the Visitor’s Center in time for the 9am Frozen Niagara tour.

You can purchase tickets in advance and I strongly suggest it for week-ends.  Two of the tours we would like to have done were sold out ahead of time for the entire time we will be here.  Unlike Carlsbad this cave has no elevator and no self guided tours at least not in the fall.  I am personally glad for both.  I hate to say I don’t trust people on their own in caves, but I don’t especially after seeing all the writing, some of it recent, that people have done in the cave.   I am very impressed by what care the National Park takes to protect this natural wonder.

Oh and be sure to wear a jacket or sweatshirt, it's 55 degrees for the entire duration of the tours.




We meet our guide Autumn Bennett at a shelter by the Visitor Center.  She is another local person from Cave City.  This time we don’t walk down to the natural entrance we take a bus ride to a man made entrance on other end of the cave from the Natural Entrance. 









This entrance was created in 1924 during private ownership and tours.  The door keeps all light out of the cave to protect it from discoloration.  The interior lights are very dim and turned on as we move along and turned off behind us.  Since it is not a natural entrance, it does not have a bat door like the Historic Entrance did yesterday.

It is very dark inside.  My camera did a great job considering how dark it was but I have had to lighten a few of these pictures.  John and Pam asked yesterday if the cave was alive.  This section certainly is.  It is filled with a fairyland of formations.  Judy will be happy to know that I cannot remember the names of all of them although we did go through areas called Moonlight Dome and Onyx Colonnade before arriving at the Frozen Niagara flowstone.



Since Mammoth Cave was formed thousands of years ago, many types of speleothems, or cave formations, have developed throughout the cave system such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns and helictites.

I always have trouble remembering which are the stalactites and which the stalagmites. Autumn has a great memory tool. Stalactites cling tight to the ceiling. Stalagmites might grow up from the floor to meet them. Problem solved!
In the picture above you can see both Stalactites and stalagmites just off of the walkway with the metal railing. To touch these formations would be to damage them with the oils of our hands and possibly cause them to stop growing.

Stalactites form on ceilings and overhangs over long periods of time as water seeps through limestone leaving thin, hollow calcite soda straws. Continual water over time transforms the straws to thicker formations that resemble icicles. Water drips on the floors of the cave from overhead. The water leaves calcite deposits which build up making a mound. Continued dripping water causes the mound to grow upward, forming stalagmites. When stalactites and stalagmites meet and grow together they form columns. Mammoth has other formations that occur when stalactites blend together to form sheets or drapes.



There are ribbon formations here.


This picture was taken looking up.  My one complaint about the tour was that I couldn’t stop and just gawk at the beauty.  Because of the size of the group we had to keep moving.  I’d like to go back and take this tour again at a less busy time if there is such a thing. 



We have come to the Frozen Niagara Drapery. An optional 49 step staircase takes visitors under the Frozen Niagara formation to the Drapery Room before returning up to the surface. Only one member of our 22 person group did not go down the stairs.   You can see the steps below right beside the drapery.

The pictures just can’t do the drapery justice.  I am too close and then when I am further away the stairs are in the way.  You have to see it for yourself to really know how magnificent it is.  I am so amazed that after nearly 200 years of tours, most of them private, that these formations are mostly still in such pristine condition.




We are walking down the stairs.  You can see the railings where we will come back to in the top section of this picture.





The drapery room is just jaw dropping.  Everywhere you look, detailed and delicate formations.








Returning up the other staircase we can look down upon the Frozen Niagara from a bit of a distance. Do those openings with tiny stalactites look like shark’s mouths to you?  Or is it just me?














The delicate details in the cave are just fascinating.  I am snapping pictures right and left so that I will have time later to go back and look more carefully.







We reach the end of the tour and go back through the turning glass doors and through the steel door closing it behind us to put the cave back into its natural darkness.  What a fabulous look at the beauty beneath this amazing Earth.




The bus drops us off at the one of the hotel entrances.  We again walk through the decontamination area and enter the hotel. 

David wants to see the dining room of course.  In the waiting area between the dining room and the luncheon area there is information on the hotel.  Here comes what I found to be a rather irritating story.



The first hotel was built in 1837.  Log cabins built during the saltpeter mining operations formed the core of the first Mammoth Cave Hotel.  Franklin Gorin weather boarded them and connected them during the two years he owned the park, 1837-39.   That park has gone through many many hands since the mining petered out.  But that’s another story.

John Croghan owned the hotel from 1839-49 and he upgraded it constructing a large two story building that included a first floor dining room and a second floor ballroom. 

At the turn of the century a veranda was added to the front of the hotel with a bandstand to its right.  It was considered one of the finest hotels in Kentucky with 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a year.  Guests came to see the cave, and relax, to talk around the great fireplace and to dance to music with a full orchestra.  In 1908 rates ranged from $2.50 to $3.00 a day including meals.

Sadly in 1916 the original hotel burned to the ground.  The source of the fire was never discovered.  The illustration above was done in 1857.



There wasn’t much information on the second Mammoth Cave Hotel other than this picture.  It was built in 1925 and RAZED in 1979. 

I couldn’t believe it.  They tore this hotel down and wait until you see what they built in its place.  This hotel too was recognized as one of Kentucky’s best.  Visitors and local residents enjoyed its dining room, accommodations and amenities like shuffleboard and tennis courts.   I spoke with a couple of employees and a ranger who said that the razing was done very stealthily.  The local people were given no warning and were quite up in arms when they found out.  The superintendent who ordered it was replaced shortly thereafter.   What a shame.   National Park lodges are treasures valued in every park I’ve ever been in.  This second one is not as  interesting as the original, at least from this angle but I wish I could see the rooms inside.  It does appear to have had the original windows replaced which is a shame.  But I know that were it still here, it could be restored and I am very sorry that it isn’t and can’t.


Here is the current hotel.  It’s a nondescript flat low utilitarian looking building containing mostly the gift shops and restaurant with adjacent motel type rooms.  A real let down for me.






As I said, the bus dropped us off at the hotel so you have to walk through it to get to the Visitor Center.  Seems a bit preplanned so that we will go through the two gift shops or stop in the restaurants.  We did neither.  Well we took a look at both but spent no money in either.

The hotel is then connected to the visitor center by a walkway from which you can see its one redeeming feature, the solar panels.  We cross the walkway and spend some time in the VC exhibits which are, as usual very informative.  

On our way out we chat for a while with two guys at the bicycle rack who are biking across the country from Oregon to Virginia Beach.  Wow, what a trip.



We’ll be back this afternoon to take the Great Onyx Lantern Tour.  Can’t wait to see the cave by the kind of light that illuminated it for guests for over 100 years.  That’s for the next post.


  1. awww. . .that's the one we did. . .that portion where you need to bend over, and squeeze through. . .yeah. . .that was the part that convinced me I would not be going in any more caverns.

    You guys are skinny. . .it probably did not feel as tight to you. . .LOL!

    It's beautiful though, isn't it?

  2. That is definitely a shame about the razing of the 1925 hotel. The new one doesn't look at all interesting. We really enjoy visiting park lodges/hotels -- we recently had drinks and appetizers at Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic NP (built in 1916) and it was like stepping back in time. (Thanks for the tip about stalagmites/stalactites -- maybe now I'll remember….)

  3. Sorry I'm just catching up on your blogs :-( Been a bit busy, lol. Cave tours are so cool. I remember stalactites the same way... very nice pictures in such low light!

  4. Too bad they razed the 1925 hotel, we enjoy going into the NP lodges when ever we can. Love cave tours of any kind, so many wonders to see in them.

  5. A shame about the razing of that hotel... a lot of character in the old place.

    The cave is magnificence personified. Beautiful shots!

  6. You were too kind describing the current motel. It is just plain UGLY! ;c)

  7. Thanks, Sherry, for letting me know about the cave. This tour is my idea of seeing a cave. There were some amazing unique features I've never seen before. Thanks for including so many photos. I really enjoyed seeing this section of the cave.

  8. The cave formations are marvelous and looks like not much damage done to them over the many years. A shame about the historic hotel. The new one is butt ugly. Caving by lantern light is an interesting way to see, but very dimly. Don't suspect you got many photos on that tour but you sure did great on this one. Caves are difficult to photograph.

  9. We loved Mammoth Caves National Park. We have don two of there tours, the one we liked best was the Wild Cave Tour. You get to see parts of the cave that most visitors never see. We did lots of crawling, climbing, squeezing though very tight spots and rolling. We had a blast!

    So glad that you have been enjoying your time there.


  10. WOW...another great tour!! I appreciate the hint to remember the difference between Stalactites and Stalagmites, However, I will never remember which is spelled with a "c" and which one is spelled with a "g"!! :o))

  11. Beautiful cave and wonderful that they are taking such care of it! Wonder why in the world that hotel was razed?? For a boring looking apartment complex....very unfortunate. Someone would have stood to profit no doubt. And yes I'm sure they want everyone to see the gift shops ;) The cave tour sounds like the highlight ... of course!

  12. Great pics of an incredible place. I'm hoping to enjoy the tours through these bigger spaces as the tight ones don't like me. Thanks to you and Autumn for the "ites" tip - I'll finally remember the difference! Yes on the sharks :-) Although the new hotel is indeed hideous, at least it has a rather fun and scandalous story to help it out - why would they raze the old one in the middle of the night? Covering up a crime? Ghosts? Renovation gone bad?

  13. I have a lot of catching up to do. Sandie and Jim's visit made me realize I miss the blogs. They were here, lifted me out of my funk, but now I have a LOT of reading to do. Kentucky is a beautiful state.

  14. ohhhh baruther, Sherry… very pretty pictures but not my thang … I’d be like Pooh bear and get stuck! well? hey ho! Don’t feed the Carolyn … diet… hmm

  15. A shame they razed that hotel ... the one they built in its place reminds me of one of the lodge on Skyline Drive.

  16. Bummer about the hotel. One of my favorite things about many of the national parks is the wonderful old lodges.

  17. Gift shops--you wonder why people waste their money on things when you have such great memories of a place.

  18. Beautiful photographs of the caverns.

  19. The Frozen Niagara cave had probably the best variety of formations at Mammoth. Spectacular!


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