Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Hike to the Local Sink Hole

Joppa Ridge Road, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

We drove this densely forested backcountry road to get to a sink hole in Kentucky. Fortunately, we saw no signs of bootleggers or moonshiners in these backwoods, but we did see a few wild turkeys next to the road, so close you could almost reach out and touch them. Beneath this road and these woodlands lies the world's largest cave network, over 390 miles of caves, some of which are flooded with underwater rivers.

Outcrop, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

By the road was this outcrop of limestone, showing telltale traits of Karst topography, a geologic phenomenon important for the formation of caves. Weaker layers of limestone erode faster than harder layers above, creating ideal situations for cave development over time.

Hiking Trail to Sink Hole, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

The hike down into the sink hole depression was a short but challenging one. The day was dreadfully hot, and in the sink hole, extremely moist and humid. The air felt so thick you could almost slice it with the tail of Daniel Boone's coon skin hat.

Wooded Cliffs, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

Once in the sink hole gorge, we looked upward to the forested hillsides and cliffs, and saw trees. Many trees. And they seemed so tall. By this time we were sweating and breathing heavily. The air felt muggy, sultry, sticky and airless. Yes, that's right, airless air. Never mind the oxymoron. It was so.

A Lost River, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

At an overlook in the gorge, we spotted this lost river, a segment of the underground system of rivers in Mammoth Cave that suddenly emerges for a time, then disappears back into the caves. When the river emerges, it picks-up sediments and nutrients from the woodlands and carries them through the caves to help feed cave fauna, such as the cave salamander, and the Madagascan burrowing cow.

Cedar Sink, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

Finally we reached our destination, the holy grail of Mammoth Cave sink holes, Cedar Sink. Sink holes, which are sometimes called swallow holes, are typical of Karst landscapes. They are natural depressions formed by erosion of the limestone bedrock, or where a cave ceiling has collapsed. In this case it is an underground river which has surfaced. The sink hole looks so lush and swampy, you would almost expect to see a python.

As evening approached, it began to get a little dark, so we turned back up the trail to return to our car.

Kitschy Knight, Cave City, Kentucky  © Doug Hickok

As knight approached, we found our path blocked, and were forbidden to pass. Fortunately I happened to have in my knapsack a shrubbery and a herring, which the knight insisted I give to him, or he would say "Ni" over and over to us. He then let us pass unharmed, and so
we went on our jolly way,
 conking our coconuts together as we walked.


  1. What a wonderful adventure and such terrific landscape. Great photos. The colours are so vibrant. Wonderful.

  2. Very good reportage. Interesting and cognitive, and for that humorous.
    Thanks for sharing photos and thoughs from your adventure.

  3. You are so well equipped for knightly encounters... Fascinating post and such a wonderful lush green...

  4. LOL, Doug. I love how you can show-n-tell a good story. This is fabulous. The thing is, I have heard about Mammouth Cave for eons but had no clue this is what it was all about!!! Thanks for the education.

  5. Nice places and very good pictures.... i like them

  6. So did you ever make it into the cave? Great post: full of good info and beautiful pics (as usual).

  7. Unfortunately we didn't have time to take a tour. All the tours of the caves are ranger guided and leave a designated times throughout the day. Since we were mostly passing through on our way to Alabama, we picked this short trail to hike instead. Maybe next time we will have enough room in our schedule to take one of those long guided tours.

  8. a lesson to us all to carry shrubbery and a herring in our knapsacks. your description of the humid air is wonderful, doug. mr. brattcat claims he is not a morning person because there is "not enough air" at that time of day so he would understand this phenomenon you describe entirely.

  9. Thanks for taking us with you in this adventure.The park is beautiful, outstanding pictures!
    I love your imagination, it's very nice to dream that I'm also there, it's a gift to my day, thanks a lot!
    **the hole green picture is breathtaking.

  10. The road leading to Mammouth Cave reminded me of your sea island photos in SC. Ha, they actually very similar to me.

    >The sink hole looks so lush and swampy, you would almost expect to see a python.

    I know you have some serious Burmese python issues in the Everglades, FL.
    But not in Kentucky, right. ;^)

  11. Excellent Doug! Love the images and your adventure! So much fun!

  12. LMFAO that last pictures comments were win :)

    I always love me a good Ni joke :) Awesome shots BTW.

  13. long walks, fresh air .... is what it would take me!!!! :)

  14. Отличное путешествие и прекрасная работа!

  15. Thank goodness for the shrubbery and that herring or the knight might well have sliced and diced you! Great photographs and info, it looks like the sort of locvation that I'd love to visit.

    Now, mytself, I'd liked to have stumbled across a few bootleggers! Great work sir.

  16. Love this post Doug. From the shots to the descriptions of geological phenomena I'm hooked. And what's better than finishing with something entirely different?

    I'm glad you didn't enter the caves. Apologies to Mr. Nash but:

    The problem with a cave is that
    Eventually it will go splat.

  17. outstanding forest images, doug, and a hilarious end! my son would like this - he can quote non-stop from "the holy grail"! it's a good thing, too, that we can't "see" the heat and humidity ... there's enough around here anyway!

  18. really lovely forest shots. the greens are great.

  19. Thank you for sharing this wonderful trip with us :)
    Great pictures and storytelling...

  20. :))
    Great capture of the Kitschy Knight, and i like the color of that 'milky' water

  21. this is an amazing post. Though I am worried my mother was a hamster and my father smelt of elderberries the whole time. tee hee.

  22. What stands out in the photos, Doug, are the beautiful greens you've captured in the forest scenes. A great read, too. So, you too know of the Knights who say ni!!!

  23. très sympa, cette balade verte.

  24. It sounds a very painful way to walk - and with the heat, it sounds like you really suffered for your art. But all very much worth it in the end.

  25. I think I like the first photo best - the driving trail. The meandering muddy stream is good as well. Nice collection for an afternoon's work.

  26. lol, love reading about your adventures here.. nice captures too.. well done!

  27. Really great place and I can feel real mother nature.
    I want to go there.


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