Thursday, April 22, 2010

Finding my inner Morlock

Yup, more bridges

I've been working my way across Kentucky and learning that I think caves are pretty neat. Ok, so that stated in Virginia with Natural Cave State Park (not to be confused with Natural Bridge commercial tourist trap of the same state). Simply put, this is probably the second most amazing place I've seen in my time on earth, surpassed by only the Col de Turini in the Maritime Alps of France. To begin, the downstream exit of the cave is situated in the corner of a natural amphitheater about 200 feet in diameter with 400 foot cliff walls. Even beyond this 180 degrees, you are inside a steep and deep ravine, giving a feeling of near total enclosure by the landscape. I tried a panning view to give some sense of it, but really, if you find yourself with a few hundred miles, make the trip.

But wait there's more: before leaving, I headed to the north side on an small trail separated by a road from the more heavily traveled section of the park. Some background: the cave is off limits for safety reasons as the downstream mouth is actively used by a rail line moving coal cars, but guess what, on the upstream side the tracks exit apart from the stream that carved the natural section of the tunnel, so with a little wading, it is possible to enter the cavern itself. Suffice it to say, I'm not one to mind getting a little wet. The pictures are poor to match the lighting, so again, you'll need to take the trip yourself.

From there, I've passed through and hiked Cumberland Gap Historic Park (with thanks due to Ranger Byrnes for helping me out with a place to park/sleep for the night), with its impressive Pinnacle Rocks (possibly the most over-used name for cliff outcroppings), but most amazing to me was the old highway over the gap, which was replaced by a tunnel in 1996. In just fourteen years, likely with some assistance from the park service, there is almost no pavement visible and it gives a unique view of what will happen to out road system when we no longer have the resources to maintain them.

A highway 14 years hence

So now I sit in the hotel lobby of Mammoth Caves National Park making use of their WIFI. The park has been treating me well in my morning here: it is national parks week, so my morning tour of a short section of the 400+ miles of cave (apparently the largest in the world--take that Bin Laden with your runty little Tora Bora) was free, as was my two night permit for the back country campground, which happens to be 0.9 miles from the full service camp. So, I'm off to try a trail recommended by the ranger who spotted my mountain bike in the back of Karlee and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. Shane corrected me; the state park in Virginia is Natural Tunnel, not "cave."