Apr. 7th, 2013

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This week was spring break, and mr. flea took Friday off and we went down to Mammoth Cave National Park, in KY. It's about a 3 hour drive, via Louisville. Friday we got there at about 2pm (they're on Central time) and set up camp in the very nice park campground. We headed over to the Visitors' Center and luckily got tickets to the self-guided tour of the cave from the Historic entrance right before they stopped selling them at 3pm. There would have been some unhappy kids if we had not gotten into the cave on Friday. The self-guided tour is actually rather dinky, but for the first day it was good enough. mr. flea managed to hit his head on the cave roof. Friday evening we went to a presentation by a ranger in the amphitheater after dinner, and this day's subject was animals in the cave, illustrated by a bunch of really great and often startling photos by the ranger's husband. Some actual animals helpfully showed up, including deer concealing themselves very well in the dusk, and bats flying overhead.

It was our chilliest night ever camping, probably down to about 40, but everyone was plenty warm in the tent. It was getting out of bed that was a little more problematic. But we made it out to the Cedar Sink trailhead at 8:45 for a hike with a ranger billed as Wildflowers and Water. This particular ranger was much more into the latter than the former, and mr. flea talked to him quite about about the hydrology of the region; a large area of farmland outside the park is karstic topography, dimpled like a golf ball, and it all drains into the cave. Apparently the park has had good success working with farmers to reduce water-borne pollutants. There were some wildflowers, but not as many as are usual for the date as we've had a cold spring. We saw some trillums and trout lilies, and the ranger said that in a week the sink area would be in full bloom. The sink itself is huge and an underground river surfaces in it. The kids listened well to the ranger, even Dillo who was quite serious.

We drove out of the park to a little town - really, an intersection - called Pig, KY, where the chocolate pie at the Porky Pig Diner had been recommended. Sadly for the children the pie-maker relied rather heavily on cool whip, which was not to their taste, but mr. flea was perfectly happy. We had a lazy lunch at camp and worked on the Junior Ranger booklets we'd picked up the previous evening, a great program they apparently have at 400 National Parks but don't always advertise well (we heard about it and asked here). Great age-appropriate workbook activities drawing on various displays and presentations. Then, with great excitement, off to the Visitor's Center for a 1:30 New Entrance tour. We went by bus to the New Entrance, with our headlamps at the ready. The first stage is a long descent, mostly very wet, on very narrow metal staircases (good non-slip treads, though) through vertical shafts. Then there's some slow up and downs through horizontal tubes - some eroded directly by past water flow, others with broken edges where the rock was weakened by water and broke off. The last section of this tour includes the Frozen Niagara room, the only area of the cave with stalactites, stalagmites, drapery, and flow rock. As we were about to leave we saw a single tiny bat (brown bat?) hanging near the Frozen Niagara entrance. We also saw cave crickets thoughout.

The kids loved it, and we thought it was pretty good, too. They got their Junior Ranger badges, and we did quesadillas over the fire, and the kids took up whittling in pursuit of the perfect marshmallow stick. Casper proved very good at starting fires both nights - she did Friday's nearly by herself - and Dillo was very eager to help but had a lot of trouble the whole trip with impulse control and listening to safety directions (he ran out into a road with his binoculars once, without even looking, which I'd had said was very unlike him!)

Saturday night was warmer, and Sunday we did the short ranger-led walk on Slavery at Mammoth Cave and then headed home.

Things I'd like to remember for future trips: a hatchet and a whisk broom would be useful; we need to find the sleeping mats and water bottle that are lost in our house somewhere; we should make out a Kaper chart like the Girl Scout do to make the kids help out more with camp chores.

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