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The Mammoth Cave- The Oldest Tourist Attraction In North America

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world, consists of 367 miles of passage ways with more being discovered all the time. The cave system is actually many cave systems that connect at some point underground. Among the attractions of these cave system are limestones riddled with crinoid, blastoid, gastropod, and shark teeth, and other Mississippian fossils. The most mysterious of the features of the Mammoth cave systems are the ghosts that roam the sinuous passages and caverns.

The Mammoth Cave is among the oldest tourist attractions in North America. Tours started as early as 1816. In 1941, Mammoth Caves gained the status of national park. It went on to become a World Heritage Site in 1981 and an international Biosphere Reserve nine years later. The caves cover a surface of 52,830 acres and the Mammoth Caves park encompasses large parts of Edmonson County, Kentucky and a smaller area of Hart County and Barren Counties.

The Cave was discovered in 1797 by the European John Houchins. Later on, it was bought by Franklin Gorin who used his slaves as guides. Remember Kentucky was part of the South during the civil war. Therefore, slaves were plentiful in the area. The African-American slave Stephen Bishop, was among the first persons to draw extensive maps of the cave, and became a legendary figure of the sight, which he described as a ”grand, gloomy and peculiar place”.

The Mammoth Caves were used by Native Americans as a burial place, as most mummies presented evidence of pre-Columbian funerary practice. The only exception were the remains of a pre-Columbian miner, who had been accidentally killed by an enormous boulder. He is called ‘Lost John’, and was first exhibited to the public and then buried in a secret location of the park.

The park is visited by almost 2 million people every year. The main attractions remain features such as Grand Avenue, Frozen Niagara, and Fat Man’s Misery. The cave tours vary in difficulty and length, the cave being either lighted electrically or by the paraffin lamps carried by the visitors themselves. Along with these tours, visitors can choose among plentiful outdoor recreation activities, such as riverboat rides, campfire programs, hiking, biking, riding or canoeing and kayaking.

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