Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Flowers Explore - Historic Diamond Caverns in Kentucky - 2021/07/27

Today we've got a special excursion planned. We're in Park City Kentucky, staying at the Diamond Caverns RV park. It's no surprise that while we're here we're going to visit the Historic Diamond Caverns!

"Discovered in 1859, Rediscovered Daily"
Ian read it and wanted to know how it's rediscovered every day. Um, how to explain that it's a metaphor. Anyway, moving on. 

Just up the road a few miles, Mammoth Cave was rediscovered by Europeans in the late 1700s. It was in heavy use during the War of 1812 and the town started to grow. On July 14 1859, on the land of Jessie Coats, a slave, who's name has been lost to history, discovered a hole in the bottom of a pit. He was lowered into the pit by rope. What he saw, lit by candlelight were glittering white calcite formation, but to him, he said they looked like diamonds. Thus, the name of Diamond Caverns was born. 

A very short time after the discovery, a building was erected around the entrance, protecting it from exposure to many of the elements. Ownership of the cave has changed quite a bit, but it has always stayed in private hands. 

Inside the building, there are tributes to many of the other natural cave systems. 

Including Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs Colorado. 

There's even a whole display set up just for Cave of the Winds. Even though it's right next to Colorado Springs, I've never been and the kids haven't been either! We'll have to look into it next time we're in the area.  

There's also some giant rock specimens in the lobby along with a "You break it, you bought it" sign. Let's back up from those just a little bit kids.  

Tours run every 45 minutes or so, no reservations necessary. It's $20 for adults and $10 for kids 4-12 years old. 

Theresa did read ahead of time that coupons are sometimes available in the tourist brochures. There's two such stands for these brochures. The stand in the lobby did not have the brochure with the coupons, but if you look a little harder, next to the restrooms there is a brochure titled "Mammoth Cave Fun" and inside it you'll find a coupon for $1 off each ticket. Not a lot, but $4 is $4. 

Our tickets. There's a few rules that I'm not particularly fond of. Like no video or audio recording. My memory is always a little fuzzier because of it.  

At 1:15pm, after a few announcements over the intercom, our tour group met up with our guide. 

Meet Elizabeth! She'll be our guide for the next hour or so. Our tour has 20 people on it, which I believe is the maximum. 

Right behind the gate, there's a steep staircase leading down down down. 

And I heard "Watch your Head" repeated over and over, but I'm still glad I wore a hat. It protected my noggin from a few bumps and scrapes. There's a few transition places here where it gets low. 

Once inside, the temperature has definitely dropped. I don't know if it hit 58F, but I was in short sleeves and I was fine the whole time.  

It's hard to put the amazing feeling of being down here in words. This is a place that looks other-worldy. 
Maybe other-worldy isn't the right word, but it's a place that's made out of time. 
There's three parts to the story of Diamond Caverns. 

The first is the formation of the limestone rock. Millions of years ago, when all the continents were merged together into the supercontinent of Pangea, this part of Kentucky was south of the equator and under water! The calcium carbonate from coral and shellfish accumulates on the bottom of the ocean when they died and slowly compresses into limestone. There's parts of the cave where you can still see shells in the walls of the cave. 

After the limestone formed, underground streams slowly eroded passageways until large caverns were formed. Scientists say that it takes about 50000 years for water to erode a passageway big enough to crawl through. These giant rooms we're walking through now must have taken millions of years. 

At one point, these caverns were subsequently filled with sediment, which led to these crazy holes in some of these rocks. Ian said they looked like bee holes and wondered how they were made. Elizabeth said that these rocks are Dolomite and that the rainwater, which is slightly acidic since it contains some carbon dioxide, eats these holes into the rock. 

Eventually with a shift in how water was flowing into the cave, the sediment was pushed out again, leaving these giant caverns open again. 

And now we're at the third part of our story, and the reason these caves look so amazing. All the stalactite and stalagmite formations! The water that carves out the caves can also carry minerals, like calcite, in it. When it drips from the ceiling, or falls to the floor, some of this calcite gets left behind, but this is a very slow process. 

How slow? A 9 inch stalagmite from the caves was studied by scientists. The base was dated and compared to the age of the top. There was a 136,000 year difference between the two. They did the math and figured that for a cubic inch of stalagmite to form, it took about 1400 years! Look at some of these crazy formations on the ceiling. 

Early on in the cave's history, one of the owners was curious what was inside these stalagmites. He cut it at the base and discovered it was solid the entire way through. Our tickets say that we're not allowed to touch anything, but this is one of the few exceptions. This stone has been treated and polished so it will not grow any more. 

And these caves do indeed still grow. We were told a few times that this cave system is very much alive and still adding to its already impressive formations. It's so slowly that none of us will be around to witness the differences, but that's no reason to ruin it for future generations. 
We noticed as well that this cave is very wet. There's moisture that has formed along the pathways, handrails, the walls are dripping, and there's even pools of water in places!

When I look at this, I'm very much reminded of the cavern sections of Big Thunder Mountain. With the wet pools of water, stalactites, and stalagmites. There's no bats here in these caves though. We were told that it's too wet in here for them. They don't like all the moisture.  

Here's a formation known as Cave Bacon because of its shape and coloring. 

Hanging Paradise where lots of different stalactites have formed. 

Another cut stalagmite, but this one has an interesting pattern inside. I think this was called the tree trunk or something similar. We can see how the stalagmite grew, almost like a tree trunk, adding layer after layer, until it got to the size it is now. 

Eventually stalactites might connect with stalagmites and form a column. Maybe if we come back in a few thousand years these two will have connected. 

Back in the early 1900s, there were quite a few similar cave tours in the area. That led to a lot more competition to try to get tourists to visit your cave versus the caves of your competitors. This period of time was known as the Cave Wars and during that time, workers from one cave might come to another and destroy the formations, in order to make their cave look better by comparison. It's a shame that these formations that took hundreds of thousands of years to form were destroyed so wantonly. 
It is now a federal crime to damage or destroy a cave. 

So this cave itself was discovered on July 14, 1859. Barely 1 month later, the first visitors arrived for a tour. It was a Bridal Party, and wedding were a regular occurrence here until the 1900s when wedding parties just got too large for the narrow passages of the caves. 

Our next section of the cave took us Down the Rabbit Hole, according to Elizabeth. It's a little more narrow and a little lower for me to duck under. Ian was wondering if it was really from a rabbit. 

These cave formations are wild. Like slowly melting rock. 

Through the rocks, there's a tiny opening along with a light on the other side. Alli wanted to know if we were going through there. We are not. Elizabeth said that it's a place only a few professionals have explored. It's very narrow and slow going taking hours, but eventually it leads to an underground river. 

Stalactites or Stalagmites? These three similar formations look like ice cream cones, jellyfish, or some alien creature. 

A short time later we came to this staircase, known as the Staircase to Nowhere. This is the end of this major cave system. Just beyond the stairway is a wall. At one point, of the owners had planned on drilling a hole to connect it to the surface, but that was abandoned. So at this point, there's only one way in and one way out of this cave. We've climbed 350 steps downward and now it's time to reverse that and climb our way back out.  

Back at the staircase up to the entrance, it's been nearly an hour since we started. This has been an amazing experience. I loved coming to visit the Diamond Caverns. 

Imagine all those years ago in 1859, when that first person was lowered through a hole, yes, that hole right there in the ceiling, into the glittering diamond-like caverns below. 
Elizabeth offered stickers to any of the kids on the tour as well as any adults who wanted one. Of course I got one too. The stickers were of rocks and showed why type of rock it was. 

I asked the kids to write down their thoughts from visiting the Diamond Caverns. 
Alli - We wact and wact. We saw a thing that looks like bacin. We cood tuth sumt. (We could touch some)
Ian - I liked diamond caverns. I got a little scared at fist. My favorite part was getting a sticker. The slag tites and slag mites where cool. 

1 comment:

  1. Really amazing to see those caverns and the stalactites and stalagmites...eerie looking formations at times, too. Yes, Alli, a lot of walking but you did it:-); and Ian, I can see why the caves looked scary at first (dim and damp with strange-looking formations surrounding you!) Those "bee holes" (dolomite + rainwater) were very unusual, too. So sad to hear about the Cave Wars in the early 1900's...envy and greed often leads to bad decisions/behavior! That was quite a cavern tour...glad the entire family was able to experience it in person! EOM

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