Entries in ‘Travel’ Journal

Mammoth Cave National Park: History, Mystery and Wonder

Wednesday August 27, 2014 at 8:08 AM | 0 Comments

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

When I first headed down the stairs to the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, I was a child fascinated by walking through passages deep underground. On recent visit with my kids and husband, I found my fascination still intact. The world’s longest cave—more than 400 miles discovered so far, is one of the most unusual places I’ve been.

Memories from my first trip blended with this latest experience. Happily, Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park is as wonderfully weird and mysterious as it was years ago. Its weird mysterious is what has attracted people since long before the Civil War.

Today, a tour led by a national park ranger is filled with tales of history, geology, biology and the human experience.

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Our tour, the Historic Tour included: the saltpeter mine used during the War of 1812 when miners’ efforts helped make gun powder; the story of how Floyd Collins, one of Mammoth Cave’s most ambitious explorers was trapped and perished in 1925 when a boulder fell on his ankle; and of Stephen Bishop, a slave and expert guide who was able to purchase his freedom by saving up the tip money from the wealthy people Bishop took into the cave. Bishop would write the name of his clients with smoke from a torch for money.  Evidence of Bishop’s work, and the other guides who worked with him, still remain on Mammoth Cave’s ceiling.

Along with the human history details, our two-hour tour was a moderate work out as we passed through formations that required us to bend over a bit while we walked down stairs sideways and sometimes backwards. Fat Man’s Misery was the most fun. The narrowest part was below hip level, but it involved a series of quick switch backs, a tricky endeavor for those with big feet.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

What wasn’t included from what I remember from the tour that I took as a child were: Lost John, the remains of a Native American trapped years and years ago; the eyeless fish in the river that flows deep in the cave; and the rooms of the former TB hospital.

Lost John used to be behind glass tucked in a recess of the cave’s wall until the mid-70s when the U.S. government decided that displaying human remains is not seemly. The boat trip on the underground river where the eyeless fish are also doesn’t happen anymore for environmental reasons.

The TB hospital, a failed experiment to try to cure tuberculosis by keeping people at a constant temperature in the mid 50s, the year round temperature of a cave, is not part of the Historic Tour. To see the remains of the TB hospital that operated (and failed) in 1841, take the Violet Passage Tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

About tours: I signed up for the Historic Tour the day before we arrived at Mammoth Cave because we weren’t sure which tour would fit our schedule. If you can nail down your vacation plans earlier than we could, that gives you more options. Although there were several times for the Historic Tour left, some other tours were sold out.

Although the Historic Tour is listed as “moderate” in terms of difficulty and effort, if you are in okay shape, you’ll do fine. Even though the tour has Fat Man’s Misery on its menu, people of a larger size should not be dissuaded. You can check with a ranger if you’re not sure.

We paired our tour with an overnight at the Mammoth Cave Hotel across from the Visitors Center near the Historic Entrance. The hotel has three lodging options: Heritage Rooms, connected to the main hotel building, Sunset Terrace, a one story separate building, or historic or Woodland Cottages.

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Our room was in Sunset Terrace, a comfy, clean, two queen bed room that had a 1960s period feel with modern amenities. Our room included a microwave, refrigerator, a clock radio and cable TV. Ironing boards, irons and hair dryers are available. Just ask the staff at the front desk.

Mammoth Cave National Park also has an RV and tent camping campground.

As with any national park, Mammoth Cave has several hiking trails to explore and a variety of activities. In the morning, I walked down the Heritage Trail leading down from the hotel to the Green River where a deer family crossed from one shore to another without giving me a glance.

Mammoth Cave is a visit with bats

Mammoth Cave is a Visit with Bats

In the evening, we went to the campfire talk led by a park ranger. Campfire talks, in my opinion, are a must at any national park visit. This particular talk was about bats. You can’t go to Mammoth Cave without finding out about bats–several kinds of bats.  Bats in this part of Kentucky need the cave for survival. At the talk, we were able to hear them as they flew overhead thanks to the bat listening device the ranger had.

Whether you stay overnight or go as a day guest, eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Order the soup beans with cornbread. This is a southern Kentucky favorite food. The soup beans I had for lunch were delicious.

Friends down by the river

Friends down by the river

Insider Tip: Mammoth Cave National Park is open year round, however, the hotel does not operate in full swing after September 30 and before March 1. Also, cave tours are scaled back.

If you go to this part of Kentucky, about an hour south of Louisville, you can easily pair the trip with a Bardstown visit. Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and the site of one of his boyhood homes is also close by.

If You Go:

Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 42259

phone: 270/758-2180

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association.


Inspirational Travel Blogs

Tuesday August 12, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 2 Comments

blogger awardWith travel blogs multiplying as fast as rabbits, it is an honor to have my writing recognized as inspirational and receive a blog award from my travel blogging peers. Laura and Cipri from Travelocafe have inspired me to travel to unique destinations and their photography makes me feel like I am on the travel road with them. Thank you for the vote of confidence Laura and Cipri. Now it is my turn to nominate fellow bloggers who offer unique, inspirational travel content. What a trip!

Versatile blogger award guidelines

Thank the blogger who selected you for the award & link back to their blog
Select 15 bloggers and nominate them for the Versatile Blogger Award
Share 7 unique things about yourself

"Alaska" sunrise

Inspiration found in travel

7 unique things about travel blogger Nancy D. Brown

1. I specialize in luxury and equine travel
2. I met my husband and travel buddy in college. Prior to meeting him, I had traveled to Wengen, Switzerland and vowed to return to this romantic spot with my future husband – whomever that might be. We celebrated our first year wedding anniversary in Switzerland – one of my favorite travel destinations.
3. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism after a high school internship at the Contra Costa Times newspaper.
4. I prefer luxury travel and five star resorts. My husband prefers camping and sleeping under the stars.
5. I had to take a typing test to be admitted to the University of Oregon Journalism School.
6. I am a wife, mother, sister, active adventure loving baby boomer with a hip replacement.
7. I inhaled frequently…

Inspirational travel blogs

Hole in the Donut
My Itchy Travel Feet
Camels & Chocolate
Hecktic Travels
The Vacation Gals
Heather on her travels
Traveling with Sweeney
Around the World L
Wanderlust and Lipstick
The Planet D
Uncornered Market
Ordinary Traveler

What travel blogs inspire you?

Akta Lakota Museum: An American Treasure in South Dakota

Wednesday July 16, 2014 at 12:12 PM | 0 Comments

Lakota Sioux history and culture in artifacts and signage

Each year, my family heads to Montana from Ohio. On these treks across vast expanses of the United States, we pick at least one new place to visit. This year we headed into Chamberlain, South Dakota since the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center caught my eye.

Situated on the bank of the Missouri River on the grounds of the St. Joseph School, the Akta Lakota Museum offers an expansive, detailed look at the Northern Plains Indians with the main focus on Lakota Sioux history and culture. The museum was a thumbs up and well worth the brief detour (about 15 minutes) off I-90.

The artifacts and signage of the museum’s exhibits parcel out details about Lakota beliefs and traditions, as well as, the devastation that was caused by the westward expansion of European-Americans into Native American territory. The tales told are uplifting and heartbreaking, particularly as depicted by the quotes of notable chiefs like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse whose words express both their strength and their pain.

The history and the importance of the horse are a feature.

The history and the importance of the horse are a feature.

While Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the west is worth admiration, the Akta Lakota Museum does point out that their arrival in South Dakota had dire consequences later. Diseases like small pox and the almost extinction of the buffalo are part of the story of this time in American history.

Still, the over-arching message is that the Lakota Sioux culture continues to thrive as an important part of U.S. heritage and has something to teach everyone. Honoring elders and the earth, and the connection between humans and the natural world are prominent beliefs that are part of the lessons taught throughout. Spend time at the interactive display that shows which animals represent certain personality traits and you might find out the animal that most represents you.

An interactive display about the buffalo

An interactive display about the buffalo

Another interactive display features Lakota Sioux children. Child rearing practices and the differences between how girls and boys were raised in the traditional way are included. Visitors can play games common to boys and girls at each section. Other exhibits are about specific cultural traditions like the use of tobacco and pipes in ceremonies and the sacredness of the buffalo, particularly as connected to the uses of the various parts of this majestic animal. The intricacies of the bead work incorporated into clothing and footwear are also prominent features in several displays.

Videos scattered throughout give detailed explanations as well. Along with the displays about the Lakota past are ones about the present. Current Sioux artists’ work are also on display.

The Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing

The Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing

Another part of the museum covers the past and present of the St. Joseph’s Indian School. Started as a boarding school to educate Lakota Sioux children, the school is still operating and unlike the boarding schools of the past, strives to help Native American children connect to their traditional culture and heritage. Don’t miss the Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing. Located outside the building with the Missouri River as a backdrop, the garden was created as a place of healing. A quote on the wall alludes to the pain caused by early education practices when Native American children were taken from their families in order to be assimilated into European-American ways.

As a person who loves a terrific gift shop, the one at the Akta Lakota Museum is perfect. Items range from sage to dream catchers to gorgeous jewelry and handmade Lakota star quilts. There’s something in every price range. The Collector’s Gallery features local artists’ sculptures and paintings that are for sale.

Intricate Native American bead work

If You Go:
Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center
1301 N Main St, Chamberlain, South Dakota 57325
(800) 798-3452

Post and photographs courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association