Ctsprinterlife: Mammoth cave national park

The cave

Mammoth Cave, located in southwestern Kentucky, was officially designated as a national park in 1941. The park is approximately 53,000 acres (small by national park standards); its main focus is the cave system which lies under the surface.

Mam Cave, as it is called locally, is the longest cave known to exist in the world at just under 400 miles. The 400 miles of cavern are not linear, but exist on six levels which crisscross and extend out in multiple directions, fitting inside a seven square mile area under the park.

We took a ranger led tour during our visit, venturing down 250 feet below the surface and then through a series of rooms as we gradually climbed back towards the surface to exit the mine.

The park offers a wide range of tours differing in time and the level of physical activity required to complete the tour. We took the Domes and Drips Tour where you are brought through some of the largest domes in the cave system and also to a wetter area where stalactites and stalagmites are still forming.

The lower two levels of the cave are underground rivers – with water draining down from the Green River and the numerous sinkholes in and around the park. In the past visitors could tour the lower cavern by boat but the practice was stopped to protect the environment.

Auto tour

Green River Ferry

A brief History of mam cave

As we mentioned above, Mam Cave became a national park in 1941. What we did not realize until we visited the park and spent time touring the scenic backways of the park was how the park came into being.

Road to Good Spring

The caves were originally mined for saltpeter which was used in the making of ammunition.The caves in the area were privately held and operated by the owners as tourist attractions from the early 1800s until the park became a national park.

Good Spring Baptist Church

There were many people in government, science and business who, for various reasons, wanted to see Mam Cave designated as a national park and thus be protected. The federal government would not buy land for the creation of a national park but would accept donated land for that purpose. As a result, a private organization was formed for the purpose of buying the privately owned land and donating the land to the federal government.

Over a period of several years the required amount of land was purchased (in some cases through eminent domain). There was also a land donation of 8,000 acres made by a single family.

The photographs above and below show the only remaining structures from three of the communities (Good Springs, Flint Ridge, Joppa Ridge) that ceased to exist as the residents moved to other towns outside of the park boundary. Some of the families and their descendants lived in theses communities for 200 years before they were displaced.

The park service has preserved these churches and the adjacent graveyards, providing a peak into life in early rural America. All other structures from these communities were razed when the National Park was established.

The families of the descendants are still able to use the churches for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. The cemetaries bear witness to this use as we observed newer monuments in each of the graveyards.

Conclusion

We enjoyed our two days at Mam Cave. The cave tour was well organized and interesting. We would have to say that from a persective of the cave only that Carlsbad (New Mexico) and Wind Cave (South Dakota) are more dramatic from a visual perspective.

Having said that, Mam Cave offers a number of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as a paved bike path. Additionally, the Green River which flows through the park provides the opportunity for kayaking and canoeing.

If you are a national park fan and have not yet visited, we recommend that you include Mam Cave in an upcoming park itinerary.

Be seeing you.

Follow the weather :Durango:chama:taos

Route 90 – Paradox Valley

After a brief but exhilarating visit to Moab (see post Moab = Fun and Adventure) we set out for Durango across Utah 46 which becomes Colorado 90 at the border. Colorado 90 is a gem – a beautiful ride up into the Southern Rocky Mountains within the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The pass at the top of route opens up to the panorama of the Paradox Valley. The majority of this route is very remote and we would not advise traveling this road in winter weather.

Climbing Route 90 Eastbound
Paradox Valley, Colorado
Descending into Paradox Valley

The Paradox Valley is a remote, thinly settled and beautiful place. The valley is approxiamtely 25 miles long running in a north – south direction. The width of the valley is between three and five miles. The paradox that led to the naming of the valley is the unusual east to west flow of the Dolores River which cuts across the valley, as opposed to running the length of the valley.

Paradox Valley from Slip Rock Hill

A Canadian company proposed building a uranium mill in the valley in 2009. Fortunately, the project was abandoned in 2020. As much as we recognize the need for extractive industries it would have been a shame to alter the beauty and character of this place with a uranium mill and everything that comes with the extraction of radioactive materials.

Bedrock Store, Bedrock, Colorado (pop. 56)

We were looking forward to taking a break at the Bedrock Store (serving outlaws since 1881). The Bedrock Store was used in the filming of the movie Thelma & Louise. Unfortunately, the store was not open.

Durango

Taste Coffee, Durango, Colorado

We made a brief stop in Durango, CO enroute to New Mexico. Durango is a mountain town which sits just below 8000 feet above sea level and is a base for the alpine ski mountains in the areas. The town sits along the Rio de las Animas Perdidas which provides wonderful scenery for the bike path nestled on the bank of the river.

As you might surmise from the photos we were quite taken with Taste Coffee as well as barista and co-owner Mike Clarke. P.S. There is a narrow gauge railroad that runs from Durango to Silverton – which we did not ride because we left town to avoid a predicted snowstorm – but it looks like a lot of fun.

Aztec

With heavy snow predicted in the Western Rockies we re-routed due south into New Mexico – stopping to visit the puebloan ruins located in the town of Aztec, Colorado.

The Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in the town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins are 900 years old. We utilized the excellent self-guided audio tour to explore the ruins. This is an impressive site with over 400 rooms and an a restored Pueblo Great House. It is well worth the visit if your travels will be taking you to northern New Mexico. ( https://www.nps.gov/azru/index.htm )

CHAMA

Camping on the Rio Chama

Change of plans

Route 17 Colorado

After our overnight in Chama we traveled north and east across Colorado Route 17 to access the Carson National Forest for our planned overland trip from the border to Jemez Springs, NM. When we arrived we found the forest roads still covered in snow with mud underneath. This is a bad recipe for safe travel on narrow mountain roads so we decided to hold off on overlanding (no paved roads) until conditions improved.

Carson National Forest

Taos

We decided to visit Taos while waiting for better conditions on our overland routes. We will report on our stay in Taos in our next post.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Be seeing you.

Terlingua, Texas

During our time at Big Bend NP we used the town of Terlingua (pop. 58) as our home base. Terlingua is only about twelve miles north of the Study Butte (stew-dee) entrance into the park and has a well stocked general store (Cottonwood GS) for provisions and a half dozen restaurants and shops in addition to motel, camping and RV accommodations. Terlingua has two paved roads – FM 170 which runs east to west terminating at Route 118 which runs north to south from Alpine to the park entrance.

Terlingua came into existence around 1900 after the discovery of cinnabar. The commercial value of cinnabar derives from the extraction of quicksilver, aka mercury. Shortly thereafter about a half dozen mining companies staked claims and set up operations. Over time the companies were consolidated as the Chisos Mining Company but still became bankrupt in 1937 due to falling market prices. During WW2 several mines were re-opened as heightened demand caused prices to rise but by 1947 the mines were again closed.

Many of the miners that worked these mines were Mexicans who came north for the work. Many of the descendants of the Mexican miners still live in Terlingua and the surrounding area. We visited the Terlingua cemetery where a number of the miners who died working the mines are buried and which also is the final resting place for many victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. The cemetery is still in use today.

The town itself is pretty ramshackle which frankly is part of the charm. The local residents are very laid back and friendly. The Terlingua Ghost Town is where most of the restaurants and shops are located – scattered amongst the ruins of the mining company buildings and housing. Many of the current businesses occupy the abandoned mining company structures.

We found Terlingua to be an excellent spot for visiting BBNP if you decide to stay outside the park and had a lot of fun after our hikes unwinding and meeting people in the restaurants and bars in the ghost town area.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Terlingua has the most stunning sunrises which you can watch from most anywhere in town as the sun rises over the Chisos Mountains, Class 1 dark skies for awe inspiring star gazing and the loudest packs of coyotes we have ever heard.

Chicken-Fried Antelope and Grilled Quail

Big Bend National Park

Hola!

After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.

Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.

We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).

Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.

Be seeing you!

Video Clip: FM 170

Rio Grande, Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains, Mexico

St Elena Canyon

St Elena Canyon

Side Canyon Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off

Lower Buro Mesa Pour-off

Box Canyon, Lower Burro Mesa

Tuff Canyon

Scrambling in Tuff Canyon

Burro Spring Trail

Chisos Mountains

Early Morning Fog Lifting Off Chisos Mountains

Video: Chisos Basin Road, BBNP

Rio Grande

Boquillos Canyon, Wild Burro

Boquillos Canyon, Rio Grande, Mexico on the Right

Rio Grande, Sierra del Carmen Mountains, Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We spent a day at CCNP exploring the Big Room which is one of the 119 caverns that have been discovered so far. The Big Room is the 5th largest limestone cavern in North America. It is 4000 feet long, 255 feet high and over 600 feet wide! The Big Room presents a fantastical display of columns, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws and popcorn. You can actually see the formations happening as water draining downward leaves deposits of calcium carbonate – quite fascinating to see this happening real time.

You can reach the Big Room by elevator or hike in via the natural entrance to the cavern. We hiked down the series of switchbacks which eventually take you down 800 feet to the cavern floor. We thought the most breathtaking views we experienced were on the hike down – so we were glad we hiked down. We did however opt to take the elevator back up to the surface.

While this national park is largely about the massive cavern system below the surface there are a number of good hikes in the canyons within the park and a terrific 9.5 mile loop drive (unpaved) through Walnut Canyon.

We recommend a visit to this park in conjunction with other attractions in the area but not as a single destination. Carlsbad is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and can easily be combined into a single destination trip.

One thing to remember is there is no lodging or camping within CCNP. It really is a day use facility. We camped on public lands in the Chihuahuan Desert about five miles south of the park – primitive camping.

Be seeing you!

P.S. If you travel from the north avoid Texas Route 652 if at all possible. Route 652 begins at the New Mexico – Texas border and connects to Route 285. Route 652 runs right through the heart of the Mid-Continent Oil Field which is in the middle of a major boom. The roads are a mess and the two lane road is congested with heavy trucks driven by crazed people!

Video Clip – Camp Site Chihuahuan Desert, Mile Marker 10

ABQ – White Sands – Lincoln National Forest

After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.

From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.

After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.

We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.

Video Clip

Video Clip

After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.

Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.

Be seeing you!

Bandelier National Monument

As we mentioned in closing our last post we were planning on traveling south to spend two days exploring and camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Chaco Canyon was occupied as early as 900 B.C. and as an archaeological site is on par with the fantastic Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the storm that passed through northern New Mexico rendered the 25 mile dirt road into the park impassable.

Not to worry! Northern New Mexico is rich with significant archaelogical sites. In fact, there are 19 ancestral locations which can be accessed in the Four Corners Region. So after a brief stopover in the badlands surrounding Angel Peak we set our sights on Bandelier National Monument.

The Angel Peak Recreation Area is managed by the BLM. It is a beautiful area of desolate badlands, occasionally marred by oil or fracking sites scattered through out the 10,000 acres. Angel Peak is still worth a visit.

We joined Route 96 to make the drive to Bandelier NP. Route 96 runs north then east skirting the northern boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest and parallels the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. This area is sparsely settled with only five settlements along the 60 miles -between Cuba and Abiquiu. The total population of all of the settlements is apx. 500 people.

Abiquiu is where artist Georgia O’Keefe did much of her painting while in New Mexico. We plan on visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum when we visit Santa Fe.

Badlands in Angel Peak Recreation Area

Angel Peak (elev. 6988 feet) Background Upper Left Frame

Sangre de Christo Mountains

Rio Chama from White Rock

Bandelier National Monument is a relatively small (33,000 acres) monument but protects an area of mesas and canyons where humans lived as long as 11,000 years ago. This area features both cliff dwellings and multi-room dwellings on the canyon floor. Much of the material here is tuff (compacted volcanic ash) which allowed the Puebloans to carve into the cliffs.

There are a number of dwellings where you can climb up into cliff dwellings using ladders modeled after the ladders the Puebloans used. The Alcove House pictured below provides the opportunity to climb up a series of ladders and provide the view of the canyon that the Ancesteral Puebloans had so long ago. Additionally, there are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls.

Alcove House

Maria Climbing One of the Four Ladders required to Reach Alcove House

View from Alcove House – 140 Feet Above Canyon Floor

Large Kiva on Frijoles Canyon Floor

BNP was closed to the public during World War 2 as the buildings and lodging were appropriated for the Manhattan Project which was based in nearby Los Alamos. The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos depicts the history of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in an attempt to hasten the end of the war with Japan. Replicas of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” atomic bombs pictured below.

Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos

BNP is within easy driving distance of Santa Fe. The park offers primitive camping and there are hotels in nearby White Rock. We would recommend visiting in the off season as parking is limited and the crowds make for lines if you want to climb up into the dwellings (according to the park rangers). We recommend one to two days here in order to hike the Frey Trail, visit the Long House, the Alcove House and the Falls Trail.

Be seeing you!

P.S. The Revolt Coffee truck is parked on Route 4 in White Rock so you can grab a great coffee to go on your way into or out of the monument.

Mesa Verde National Park

This trip will take us through New Mexico and deep into (the heart of) Texas before turning east along the Gulf Coast and eventually driving back to Connecticut. As usual we began our trip in Salt Lake City where we have been storing the Beast between trips.

After a day of travel to SLC and a day of preparing the Beast for this journey we departed for Moab, UT. We spent an overnight in Moab, UT (Moab Coffee Roasters) before traveling to southwestern Colorado to view some of the finest examples of Peubloan cliff and mesa communities in existence today.

Mesa Verde National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for the explicit purpose of preserving the remarkable Ancesteral Peublo architecture. Mesa Verde was occupied by the Pueblo people for about 750 years beginning in 550 A.D.

MVNP is definitely a bit off the beaten path but we think more than worth the drive. The park is laid out with a loop drive that allows you to see many of the cliff villages from excellent view points. There are a number of kivas that have been excavated which are easily accessible by foot.

In the summer months you can also tour several of the cliff dwellings on ranger guided tours. The Far View Lodge offers acommodations with outstanding views of the mesa and canyons below. There is also a small musueum located in the park about twenty miles from the entrance.

There are a number of indigenous sites in the Four Corners area which could easily be combined with a visit to MVNP for an extended tour; Canyons of the Ancients and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are two major sites.

A definite recommend on our part.

Be seeing you!

Yosemite National Park

With repairs to the Beast completed we set out to Yosemite National Park for our first ever visit. We had perfect weather during our three day visit to the park. We did have to contend with smoke from the Briceburg Fire settling in the Yosemite Valley on our first day.

Yosemite is located in the Western Sierra Nevada and features a number of dramatic, well known granite formations. Many of these formations are in Yosemite Valley and should be seen or experienced in some fashion – hiking, climbing or driving. We particularly enjoyed the hikes accessed from Glacier Point Road which provide many spectacular views.

We also recommend visiting other areas of the park outside of the valley. The park is almost 1200 square miles in size – there are many opportunites to see and experience the park outside of Yosemite Valley, without the traffic and crowds.

Yosemite NP is a must see if you are a national park fan. We camped outside the park in the Stanislaus NF. If you want to to stay in one of the park campgrounds or lodges you will need to reserve many months in advance. Regardless of where you stay, driving will be required to access the various areas of the park. Also, go early as trailhead parking is very limited.

Working our way through northern Nevada to get to the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon.

Be seeing you!

Half Dome

 

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley

 

Three Brothers

 

Merced River, Yosemite Valley from Roosevelt Point

Smoke from Briceburg Fire Drifting Through the Valley

 

Tenaya Lake and Polly Dome, Yosemite High Country

 

East View from Sentinel Dome, 8130 Elevation

 

Cathedral Spires

 

Camping Stanislaus NF, Merced River, Highway 41

 

Redwood National and State Parks

‘Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow’ …or we departed Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the Northern California coast and the majesty of the Redwood forests in Redwood National and State Parks.

The Southern Oregon and Northern California coast is home to the vast majority of coastal Redwood trees in existence today. These trees are as tall as 360 feet, with a trunk diameter of 30 feet and may live up to 2000 years.

Just a fraction of the old growth Redwoods remain standing today as logging of these magnificent trees continued as late as the 1960s. Today the majority of Coastal Redwoods reside within state and federal lands and are protected by law. Additionally, state and federal agencies are working to ensure the survival of new growth Redwoods through careful management of the environment surrounding the current generation of trees.

Hiking and camping within a Redwood forest was an experience that reminded us of how small we are as human beings and how temporary our stay here is in regard to the natural order of all things. These silent giants dwarf everything around them and demand reverence and silence as you walk among them – we cannot articulate why – they just do.

There are many camping opportunities within the forest and along the coast from which to visit and enjoy the Redwoods, so come and enjoy the beauty.

We will spend a few more days on the coast before moving inland to go to Fresno for repairs to the Beast. After that, weather permitting we will visit Yosemite National Park.

Be seeing you!

Cal-Barrow Road, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

 

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

 

Cal-Barrow Road, Redwoods N+SP

 

Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

 

Rhododendron Trail, Redwood NP

 

Perfect Setting for Yoga!