Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mammoth Cave

In Kentucky, we made our way to Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is by far the largest cave system in the world, but letting people in to explore on their own would be both dangerous to the people and destructive to the cave. So, in spite of its hundreds of miles of cave systems, you can only tour very limited areas with lighting systems and the like. It's hard to get good pictures in that sort of light, but this one came out OK - you get a sense of the scale if you look at Nicole in the corner. There were much larger sections as well, and areas with underwater lakes, rivers, stalactites, etc. I found the human history of the cave fascinating: it's been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century, and it has been used for mining for thousands of years and a small section briefly housed a tuberculosis sanitarium. (It didn't help the patients.) Another interesting bit: in different words, the park service brochure mentioned that national parks were important in the creation of American nationalism. It is well known that nationalism rests on an imagined antiquity; but the United States couldn't call on civilizational antiquity in the way that Europe could. Its natural history filled part of the gap, so to speak, claiming places like Mammoth Cave and the Grand Canyon as part of "American heritage." One could say more about this, of course. I wonder if there are any serious studies of this aspect of the history of the NPS.

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