Glasgow, KY: 300 Feet Deep

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Flag of United States  , Kentucky
Friday, October 7, 2011

In the middle of the night, under the light of the waxing moon, I brought the 2004 Honda Accord to a complete stop at a rest area just east of Lexington, Kentucky. It was 4:48 am; I had been driving close to 8 hours for 511 miles.  259 miles to go before reaching one of our destinations: Mammoth Cave National Park.  Having driven cross-country from coast to coast for 19 times, I felt the itch to once again leave the concrete jungle of Philadelphia to go see America.  Earlier in August, I drove from Missouri to California...adding this portion to that, I guess I could claim this as my 20th cross-country drive, albeit geographically skewed.

My friends, Thinh and Watky, took turn driving as Tai and I quickly dozed in the back seats - coming in and out of a deep sleep as the rolling blue-grass hills of Kentucky passed by.  I remember thinking that Kentuckians sure like to put up fences.  They fenced off property lines with white picket fences; they even fenced in 3 trees within the property line.  We drove pass what appeared to be a short, but wide castle along I-64W.  I must have been dreaming when I saw that, but it was real enough.  I nodded back to sleep.  I didn't see our approach to the ancient plateau in the residential area, but when I finally woke we entered the park.  The entry reminded me a lot like the drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.

At 392 miles in cavernous length, this is perhaps the world's largest known cave.  I imagined its Rotunda could house the fattest dragon, plus a hundred elephants.  We each paid $12 for a ranger-led tour through the Historic Entrance.  Standing at its opening, I could feel the cold, odorless wind rushing out of the deep cave to cool the surrounding area - giving it a natural air conditioning feel.  The ranger would take us 300 vertical feet into the Earth to explore this wonder that had attracted people for over 40,000 years. 

Along the way on this 2-mile tour, we learned that in the 1800s the slaves who were systematically unappreciated on the surface for their forced services and contributions to nation building were truly seen as kings of their subterranean territory; curious rich landowners and their families placed their lives in the hands of these brave tour guides with only a whale-oil lantern.  In areas where the cave opened up, they would perform to music in the hope of getting tips from the visitors.  One slave named, Stephen Bishop, had been exploring the cave since age 17.  He made significant contribution to science and the development of the cave system with his discoveries of an underground river that empties into the Green River, where eyeless fish inhabit the dark stream.  He also discovered Mammoth Dome, Bottomless Pit, and Snowball Room.  Freed in 1856, Bishop never left the area.  He passed away a year later in this beloved Kentucky home.

We walked onward into the cold cave, descending some 300 vertical feet into the Earth.  It got colder with every quarter mile of walking, but the air remained fresh and odorless.  At one junction, the ranger asked everyone to turn off all light emitting devices as she flipped the light switch to the off position.  Needless to say, this cave became the DARKEST place I had been in.  There was absolutely no light. I'm certain that my pupil dilated to its maximum opening desperately searching unsuccessfully for a single photon to pass by.  She then lighted an oil lantern that emitted yellow light.  As she raised it in front of her, the characters of the cave revealed themselves.  They were alive!  With every movement of the lantern, the shadows on the wall and on the high ceiling changed to various shapes of eeriness.  For one brief moment, it felt as if we had been transported back to the late 1830s when Stephen Bishop guided his tour group into this magnificent cave.

When we resurfaced, the need to find food pre-occupied our minds.  Despite this, we took a mile walk to the bank of the Green River, the lowest point in the park.   Overcame by hunger, we took a lunch-detour to Nashville.  With the assistance of Yelp, Watky found perhaps the best sandwich restaurant in a trendy district of Nashville; my order of smoke salmon at The Silly Goose was the most delicious ever.  Perhaps this seemingly bias review was influenced by hunger.  I would definitely go back for another bite!  On our way out, I met a photographer/film maker, Emily Railsback.  She was taping a movie flyer of "Lilja 4-Ever" onto the restaurant window to raise awareness about human trafficking.  We chat briefly before parting ways.  Our next stop for this part of the journey was Memphis, TN and its many barbecue restaurants along and around Beale Street.  Have a safe travel everyone!

On the road to Memphis, TN October, 2011


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