After a successful trip with the boy (to St. Louis, Missouri), I felt very empowered to take my young son on more adventures. The park ranger at The Gateway Arch National Park was monumentally important in determining the trajectory for all of our trips from that point out.
Gabriel wanted more junior ranger badges!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Junior Ranger program and you have small kids, I highly suggest doing this with your children. When visiting National Parks, Historic Sites, National Shorelines, etc, visit the ranger station and your child will get an activity book to fill out while exploring the area. The workbooks are age adjusted, so the activities for preschoolers are much less intense than the ones for older elementary children. It’s a great way to learn about the park, and the park rangers get totally stoked to swear-in the kids. Every park we’ve been to, the rangers stop whatever they are doing to help kids– even at one park they “fought” over who got to swear Gabriel in that day. They are wonderful, wonderful people!
Being a teacher has many positives and negatives, but one of the positives is that I have breaks from work when my son has breaks from school… for the most part. And, in central Indiana we have a modified schedule where we have multiple two-week breaks: two weeks in October, two weeks in December, two weeks in March/April. My school does something slightly different now, but at the time of this trip, we had two weeks in October- and so we looked for National Parks that we could drive to pretty easily.
Gabriel decided that his next adventure should be Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, just 3 1/2 hours from where we live. We decided to go over our fall break since the tree colors would be pretty on the drive and in the park.
On the first day of our trip, we started off early and went straight to the park. We got there in time to go on a tour of the main cave. There is a small fee to go on the guided tours, but it is well worth it for the vast knowledge of the park rangers.
There are a plethora of tour options from the very tame, where you walk on well-lit paths that are basically paved and accessible to everyone, to the extremely intense, where you are crawling on your belly and need head-lamps. I believe they even have zip-lining now! We took the basic tour of the main cavern since my son was still quite young, just six years old.
At that age, Gabriel soaked up every. single. word. the ranger uttered. He instructed me what I should write down in the activity book, and he made sure that I kept track of the different uses for the caves over the years.
Some of the great facts we learned:
- It is the longest system of underground caves in the entire world
- Originally it was thought to be several different systems that were eventually connected through further exploration
- Portions of the cave are still unexplored and underwater
- Evidence of Native American habitation has been found in multiple portions of the cave
- For a time it was used as a tuberculosis hospital
- Discoveries are still being made
- Some animals discovered in the cave (insects) have completely translucent skin because of the complete lack of light (Gabriel’s favorite fact)
Park rules prohibit flash photography in the cave, and this was 2012, so I probably had an iPhone 3 that I was using as a camera. 🙂 Here are a few pictures that are less awful than the rest.
One of the coolest part of the tour we went on was that once we had walked around for a while and looked at the various sites, the ranger warned us and then turned out all of the lights in the cave. I have never known complete darkness like that. I had my hand right in front of my eyes, and couldn’t see anything – not even the movement of my hand. If it makes sense, it was even darker than when I close my eyes! The lights were only out for a few brief moments, but it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before.
After our tour, we hiked on several trails around the main cave and the visitor center. It was a beautiful cool day, but not so cold that you needed a coat.
Fall was the right time to visit Kentucky. The leaves on the trees were turning, and it was positively beautiful.
Like many National Parks, Mammoth Cave has a lodge where you can stay in the park, and they also have several campgrounds for both tents and campers. We chose to stay in nearby Glasgow, Kentucky – but I’ll talk more about that in the next post when I talk about day two of our wonderful time at Mammoth Cave National Park!
New to the blog?
Check out the first mom/son adventure that my son and I went on:
Or, check out my adventures in Ireland in 1997 by starting here:
How about my trip to Italy and Greece with some of my students? Start here: