Mammoth and Crystal Onyx Caves.

Brownie

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Tim
My son and I decided to take an impromptu trip down to Kentucky after another trip he had planned was cancelled. Tickets to Mammoth Cave were sold out for Saturday, so we went a day early and booked tickets for Friday at 9:15am. We headed down with the idea that we'd see the cave, drive around and check out my dad's old stomping grounds in nearby Glasgow, then leave the rest to our imagination.

Mammoth cave is appropriately named, it's freakin' huge. The last time I was there was the early 60's, and I don't recall much except the entrance and them turning out the lights. They continue to discover and survey more cave. It is the largest cave in the world, and last week was declared to have grown to 428 miles long. The runner up is a bit over 200 miles, so no contest. There are multiple tours, we took the Gothic Avenue tour which is mostly historic.

The Mammoth Cave shots were all made with a G9 and PL 8-18 @ISO 1250. They do not allow flash, tripods, or monopods and they make sure everyone knows it's not a photo tour, although they do hold photo tours. I think people with cellphones held up the line more than me. These shots were mostly all underexposed in order to maintain a manageable shutter speed, most of which are very slow. The incredible IS of the G9 made them possible. They needed a lot of processing to bring the details up enough to appreciate the size and context of this cave. I hope to find some clean enough to print.

There are two album links in this thread, one for Mammoth Cave and the other for Crystal Onyx Cave, more on that later.

Before the cave, a bit of interesting photographic history:
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Our guide in the Rotunda. He's standing on the other side of a nitrate mining operation from before the war of 1812. America realized they needed a supply of black powder of their own instead of depending on foreign governments for purchase. As it turned out, that was critical in 1812 since we were buying it from England. Everything you see in the shots is original, not a reproduction. It's been there for over 200 years.
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Some of the bins for washing the soil from the nitrates. They made pipe by hollowing out poplar logs and piped in the water from the cave entrance.
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Did I mention this place is big?
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The formation to the left is called Bridal Altar. There were a few weddings held here. There's another shot in the folder showing the arch the couple would stand near.
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An unnamed formation
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Another shot showing the sheer size of the cave. In the background left you can see some of the log piping and supports, there are some closeups in the album. In the distant background you can see the walkway leading to the next chamber or path.
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The cave has been a pay for access tourist attraction since the mining operations ended, as far back as 1812 or so. The very first tour guides were slaves. Since they weren't paid for their work they earned money by getting tips from allowing the tourists to use candles to write their names in soot on the cavern ceiling. These weren't wax candles, they were tallow. The slaves would carry a walking staff with a nail on the end. The tourist would pay the guide to affix their candle to the nail. They would them extend it to the ceiling and using dots of soot write their name. The problem with this was the beef tallow would drip on them as it melted. So, the guides started carrying mirrors so the tourists could look down. The result was, of course, backwards names in many cases!
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Once they realized they were ruining the cave with the name writing (there was also a period they allowed etching or scratching a name into the rock) they decided it was ok to allow tourists to stack rocks into monuments. These are dotted throughout the cave. None of these activities are allowed anymore, and in fact you can't even touch anything. The formations are fragile and can be damaged by repeated touching and transfer of oil from our hands. You are warned to not brush up against the rock, lean, or anything else. Caves are now protected by federal law, and only the owner is allowed to touch or modify.
Most monuments are stacked a few feet high and maybe 2 or 3 feet across. This monument is for the State of Kentucky and is the largest in the cave. Folklore has it that every time someone tried to make one larger, a local would remove stones and add them to this one.
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Link to the Mammoth Cave Album:
https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWGPBWe

After we finished our days' plans we decided to check out one of the other smaller and privately owned caves in the area. The Crystal Onyx Cave (not to be confused with the Onyx Cave or the Great Onyx Cave :hmmm:) came highly rated by Expedia, so we thought we'd give it a shot. To be honest we weren't expecting much more than a tourist trap, and the place looked kind of hinky on the way in, but in for a penny in for a pound. Boy, were we ever surprised.

While not a large cave by cave standards, it hosts an extraordinary amount of formations. Stalactites and Stalagmites, Columns, Soda Straws, Wash Stones, Pools, Bacon and Draperies. (amazing what you can learn in an hour!) This experience was the complete opposite of Mammoth Cave but every bit as enjoyable and in some ways moreso. There were only about 10 people on the tour, and the guide was personable. This was an intimate experience as compared to Mammoth.

I had removed the 8-18 and replaced it with the 12-60/3.5 when we were out driving around. While walking into the cave entrance they told me I couldn't take a bag in (evidently people had been caught removing stones) so they waited while I walked it back to the truck. I had completely forgotten that I had put the 12-60 on until I got in the cave, so having no other choice I went with what I had. Fortunately this cave was lit much better than Mammoth, and as always the lens did a stellar job.

Not much to say about this historically, so mostly just images:
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I was able to rest the camera on the handrail for a water-movement shot. Had to dial the aperture to 7.1 in order to get a 2.5 second SS, which is as long as I dared. Really ended up not being all that hard with the short FL and IS.
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Looking up!
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They call the long pointed formations that look like they're folded Drapery. To the right you can see what looks like veins on an arm, like a strip of raised rock. They call that Bacon.
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A few pools. The sides are formed as the water spills over slowly, leaving the minerals behind.
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The Dinosaur Mouth
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Link for the Crystal Onyx Cave Album:
https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWGnHyf
 
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Joined
Jan 7, 2017
Messages
1,114
Tim , thanks for the write up and journey log. If you enjoy reading I can recommend this work which I discovered back in the 70's and still find interesting, the author doesn't say its Mammoth but it probably was in his mind when he wrote it.
I lost my first copy and found a esoteric book dealer in N.D. that printed me a copy back in the 90's pre-www.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etidorhpa
 

Darmok N Jalad

Temba, his aperture wide
Joined
Sep 6, 2019
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Location
Tanagra (not really)
Folklore has it that every time someone tried to make one larger, a local would remove stones and add them to this one.
Having read some interesting history on the rivalry between Mount Elbert and Mount Massive in Colorado, I totally believe it. In a nutshell, Mount Massive is 12’ shorter than Elbert, and so people rooting for Massive to be the highest peak in Colorado stacked rocks at the summit to make it taller. Elbert fans would then climb Massive and knock the pile down. All this took place around the Great Depression, but who knows if there are still some rivalries in that area, since the 2 peaks aren’t that far apart.

Edit: I should add that both mountains are ”Fourteeners,” meaning they exceed 14,000ft in elevation. That’s some dedication to the cause.
 
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