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Mammoth Cave National Park*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Rotunda Room at Mammoth Cave.
State Party File:Flag of the United States.svg United States of America
Type Natural
Criteria vii, viii, x
Reference 150
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1981  (5th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Mammoth Cave National Park is a U.S. National Park in central Kentucky, encompassing portions of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world. The official name of the system is the Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System for the ridge under which the cave has formed. The park was established as a national park on July 1, 1941. It became a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981, and an international Biosphere Reserve on September 26, 1990.

The park's 52,835 acres (21,382 ha) are located primarily in Edmonson County, Kentucky, with small areas extending eastward into Hart County and Barren County. It is centered around the Green River, with a tributary, the Nolin River, feeding into the Green just inside the park. With over 390 miles of passageways it is by far the world's longest known cave system, being well over twice as long as the second longest cave system, which is South Dakota's Jewel Cave with just over 150 miles of known passageways.[1]

Limestone labyrinth[]

Mammoth Cave developed in thick Mississippian-aged limestone strata capped by a layer of sandstone, making the system remarkably stable. It is known to include more than 390 miles of passageway;[1] new discoveries and connections add several miles to this figure each year. Mammoth Cave National Park was established to preserve the cave system.

The upper sandstone member is known as the Big Clifty Sandstone: thin, sparse layers of limestone interspersed within the sandstones give rise to an epikarstic zone, in which tiny conduits (cave passages too small to enter) are dissolved by the natural acidity of groundwater. The epikarstic zone concentrates local flows of runoff into high-elevation springs which emerge at the edges of ridges. The resurgent water from these springs typically flows briefly on the surface before sinking underground again at elevation of the contact between the sandstone caprock and the underlying massive limestones. It is in these underlying massive limestone layers that the human-explorable caves of the region have naturally developed.

The limestone layers of the stratigraphic column beneath the Big Clifty, in increasing order of depth below the ridgetops, are the Girkin Formation, the St. Genevieve Limestone, and the St. Louis Limestone. For example, the large Main Cave passage seen on the Historic Tour is located at the bottom of the Girkin and the top of the St. Genevieve Formation.

Mammoth cave 01 - 1887

The Bottomless Pit in Mammoth Cave, woodcut, 1887 (Nuno Carvalho de Sousa Collection, Lisbon)

Each of the primary layers of limestone are divided further into named geological units and subunits. One area of cave research involves correlating the stratigraphy with the cave survey produced by explorers. This makes it possible to produce approximate three-dimensional maps of the contours of the various layer boundaries without the necessity for test wells and extracting core samples.

The upper sandstone caprock is relatively hard for water to penetrate: the exceptions are where vertical cracks occur. This protective role means that many of the older, upper passages of the cave system are very dry, with no stalactites, stalagmites, or other formations which require flowing or dripping water to develop.

However, the sandstone caprock layer has been dissolved and eroded at many locations within the park, such as the Frozen Niagara room. The "contact" between limestone and sandstone can be found by hiking from the valley bottoms to the ridgetops: typically, as one approaches the top of a ridge, one sees the outcrops of exposed rock change in composition from limestone to sandstone at a well-defined elevation.[2]

At one valley bottom in the southern region of the park, a massive sinkhole has developed. Known as "Cedar Sink," the sinkhole features a small river entering one side and disappearing back underground at the other side.

Mammoth Cave is home to the endangered Kentucky cave shrimp, a sightless albino shrimp.


Mammoth Cave tour

A ranger-guided tour of the cave

The National Park Service offers several cave tours to visitors. Many of the most famous features of the cave, such as Grand Avenue, Frozen Niagara, and Fat Man's Misery, can be seen on lighted tours ranging from one to six hours in length. Two tours, lit only by visitor-carried paraffin lamps, are popular alternatives to the electric-lit routes. Several "wild" tours venture away from the developed parts of the cave into muddy crawls and dusty tunnels.

The park's tours are notable for the quality of the interpretive program, with occasional graphics accompanying artifacts on display at certain points in the cave. The lectures delivered by the National Park Service cave guides are varied by tour, so that in taking several tours the visitor learns about different facets of the cave's formation, or of the cave's human history and prehistory.

The Echo River Tour, one of the cave's most famous attractions, used to take visitors on a boat ride along an underground river. The tour was discontinued for logistic and environmental reasons in the early 1990s.[3]



Mammoth Cave WHS plaque

The World Heritage Site plaque

The story of human beings in relation to Mammoth Cave spans six thousand years. Several sets of Native American remains have been recovered from Mammoth Cave, or other nearby caves in the region, in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Most mummies found present examples of intentional burial, with ample evidence of pre-Columbian funerary practice.

An exception to purposeful burial was discovered when in 1935 the remains of an adult male were discovered under a large boulder. The boulder had shifted and settled onto the victim, a pre-Columbian miner, who had disturbed the rubble supporting it. The remains of the ancient victim were named "Lost John" and exhibited to the public into the 1970s, when they were interred in a secret location in Mammoth Cave for reasons of preservation as well as emerging political sensitivities with respect to the public display of Native American remains.

Research beginning in the late 1950s led by Patty Jo Watson of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri has done much to illuminate the lives of the late Archaic and early Woodland peoples who explored and exploited caves in the region. Preserved by the constant cave environment, dietary evidence yielded carbon dates enabling Watson and others to determine the age of the specimens, and an analysis of their content, also pioneered by Watson, allows determination of the relative content of plant and meat in the diet of either culture over a period spanning several thousand years. This analysis indicates a timed transition from a hunter-gatherer culture to plant domestication and agriculture.

Another technique employed in archaeological research at Mammoth Cave was "experimental archaeology", in which modern explorers were sent into the cave using the same technology as that employed by the ancient cultures whose leftover implements lie discarded in many parts of the cave. The goal was to gain insight into the problems faced by the ancient people who explored the cave, by placing the researchers in a similar physical situation.

Ancient human remains and artifacts within the caves are protected by various federal and state laws. One of the most basic facts to be determined about a newly discovered artifact is its precise location and situation. Even slightly moving a prehistoric artifact contaminates it from a research perspective. Explorers are properly trained not to disturb archaeological evidence, and some areas of the cave remain out-of-bounds for even seasoned explorers, unless the subject of the trip is archaeological research on that area.

Besides the remains that have been discovered in the portion of the cave accessible through the Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave, the remains of cane torches used by Native Americans, as well as other artifacts such as drawings, gourd fragments, and woven grass moccasin slippers are found in the Salts Cave section of the system in Flint Ridge.

Earliest known history[]


Map of Mammoth Cave from 1842, penned by Stephen Bishop, a slave, who was given personal credit.

The 31000 acre tract known as the "Pollard Survey" was sold by indenture September 10, 1791 in Philadelphia by William Pollard. 19897 acres of the "Pollard Survey" between the North bank of Bacon Creek and the Green River were purchased by Thomas Lang, Jr., a British American merchant from Yorkshire, England on June 3, 1796, for £4,116/13s/0d (£4,116.65). The land was lost to a local county tax claim during the War of 1812.

Legend has it that the first European to discover Mammoth Cave was either John Houchin or his brother Francis Houchin, in 1797. While hunting, Houchin pursued a wounded bear to the cave's large entrance opening near the Green River. Some Houchin Family tales have John Decatur "Johnny Dick" Houchin as the discoverer of the cave, but this is highly unlikely because Johnny Dick was only 10 years old in 1797 and was unlikely to be out hunting bears at such a tender age. His father John is the more likely candidate from that branch of the family tree, but the most probable candidate for discoverer of Mammoth Cave is Francis "Frank" Houchin whose land was much closer to the cave entrance than his brother John's. There is also the argument that their brother Charles Houchin, who was known as a great hunter and trapper, was the man who shot that bear and chased it into the cave. The shadow over Charles's claim is the fact that he was residing in Illinois until 1801. Countervailing against this story is Brucker and Watson's The Longest Cave, which asserts that the cave was "certainly known before that time." Caves in the area were known before the discovery of the entrance to Mammoth Cave. Even Francis Houchin had a cave entrance on his land very near the bend in the Green River known as the Turnhole, which is less than a mile from the main entrance of Mammoth Cave.

The land containing this historic entrance was first surveyed and registered in 1798 under the name of Valentine Simons. Simons began exploiting Mammoth Cave for its saltpeter reserves.

19th century[]

In partnership with Valentine Simon, various other individuals would own the land through the War of 1812, when Mammoth Cave's saltpeter reserves became significant due to the British blockade of United States's ports. The blockade starved the American military of saltpeter and therefore gunpowder. As a result, the domestic price of saltpeter rose and production based on nitrates extracted from caves such as Mammoth Cave became more lucrative.

In July 1812, the cave was purchased from Simon and other owners by Charles Wilkins and an investor from Philadelphia named Hyman Gratz. Soon the cave was being mined for calcium nitrate on an industrial scale.

A half-interest in the cave changed hands for ten thousand dollars (a huge sum at the time). After the war when prices fell, the workings were abandoned and it became a minor tourist attraction centering on a Native American mummy discovered nearby.

When Wilkins died his estate's executors sold his interest in the cave to Gratz. In the spring of 1838, the cave was sold by the Gratz brothers to Franklin Gorin, who intended to operate Mammoth Cave purely as a tourist attraction, the bottom long having since fallen out of the saltpeter market. Gorin was a slave owner, and used his slaves as tour guides. One of these slaves would make a number of important contributions to human knowledge of the cave, and become one of Mammoth Cave's most celebrated historical figures.

Stephen Bishop, an African-American slave and a guide to the cave during the 1840s and 1850s, was one of the first people to make extensive maps of the cave, and named many of the cave's features.

Stephen Bishop was introduced to Mammoth Cave in 1838 by Franklin Gorin. Gorin wrote, after Bishop's death: "I placed a guide in the cave – the celebrated and great Stephen, and he aided in making the discoveries. He was the first person who ever crossed the Bottomless Pit, and he, myself and another person whose name I have forgotten were the only persons ever at the bottom of Gorin's Dome to my knowledge.

"After Stephen crossed the Bottomless Pit, we discovered all that part of the cave now known beyond that point. Previous to those discoveries, all interest centered in what is known as the 'Old Cave' ... but now many of the points are but little known, although as Stephen was wont to say, they were 'grand, gloomy and peculiar'."[4]

In 1839, Dr. John Croghan of Louisville bought the Mammoth Cave Estate, including Bishop and its other slaves from their previous owner, Franklin Gorin. Croghan briefly ran an ill-fated tuberculosis hospital in the cave, the vapors of which he believed would cure his patients. A widespread epidemic of the period, tuberculosis would ultimately claim the lives of both Bishop and Croghan.

Throughout the 19th century, the fame of Mammoth Cave would grow so that the cave became an international sensation.

At the same time, the cave attracted the attention of 19th century writers such as Dr. Robert Montgomery Bird, the Rev. Robert Davidson, the Rev. Horace Martin, Alexander Clark Bullitt, Nathaniel Parker Willis (who visited in June 1852), Bayard Taylor (in May, 1855), Dr. William Stump Forwood (in Spring 1867), the naturalist John Muir (early September 1867), the Rev. Horace Carter Hovey, and others.[5] As a result of the growing renown of Mammoth Cave, the cave boasted famous visitors such as actor Edwin Booth (his brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865), singer Jenny Lind (who visited the cave on April 5, 1851), and violinist Ole Bull who together gave a concert in one of the caves. Two chambers in the caves have since been known as "Booth's Amphitheatre" and "Ole Bull´s Concert Hall".

By 1859 when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad opened its main line between these cities Colonel Larkin J. Procter owned the Mammoth Cave Estate. He also owned the stagecoach line that ran between Glasgow Junction (Park City) and the Mammoth Cave Estate. This line transported tourists to Mammoth Caves until 1886 when he established the Mammoth Cave Railroad.

Early 20th century: The Kentucky Cave Wars[]


River Styx cave boat tour

The difficulties of farming life in the hardscrabble, poor soil of the cave country influenced local owners of smaller nearby caves to see opportunities for commercial exploitation, particularly given the success of Mammoth Cave as a tourist attraction. The "Kentucky Cave Wars" were a period of bitter competition between local cave owners for tourist money. Broad tactics of deception were used to lure visitors away from their intended destination to other private show caves. Misleading signs were placed along the roads leading to the Mammoth Cave. A typical strategy during the early days of automobile travel involved representatives (known as "cappers") of other private show caves hopping aboard a tourist's car's running board, and leading the passengers to believe that Mammoth Cave was closed, quarantined, caved in or otherwise inaccessible.

In 1906, Mammoth Cave became accessible by steamboat with the construction of a lock and dam at Brownsville, Kentucky. The construction of this dam has had a long-term impact on the biota of the cave. The dam's construction would also prove to have implications for cave exploration.

In 1909, Max Kaemper, a young German mining engineer arrived at the cave by way of New York. Kaemper had just graduated from technical college and his family had sent him on a trip abroad as a graduation present. Originally intending to spend two weeks at Mammoth Cave, Kaemper spent several months. With the assistance of African-American slave descendant Ed Bishop, Kaemper produced a remarkably accurate instrumental survey of many kilometers of Mammoth Cave, including many new discoveries. Reportedly, Kaemper also produced a corresponding survey of the land surface overlying the cave: this information was to be useful in the opening of other entrances to the cave, as soon happened with the Violet City entrance.

The Croghan family suppressed the topographic element of Kaemper's map, and it is not known to survive today, although the cave map portion of Kaemper's work stands as a triumph of accurate cave cartography: not until the early 1960s and the advent of the modern exploration period would these passages be surveyed and mapped with greater accuracy. Kaemper returned to Berlin, and from the point of view of the Mammoth Cave country, disappeared entirely. It was not until the turn of the 21st century that a group of German tourists, after visiting the cave, researched Kaemper's family and determined his sad fate: the young Kaemper was killed in trench warfare in World War I at the Battle of the Somme just eight years later, in 1917.

Famed French cave explorer Édouard-Alfred Martel visited the cave for three days in October 1912. Without access to the closely held survey data, Martel was permitted to make barometric observations in the cave for the purpose of determining the relative elevation of different locations in the cave. He identified different levels of the cave, and correctly noted that the level of Echo River within the cave was controlled by that of the Green River on the surface. Martel lamented the 1906 construction of the dam at Brownsville, pointing out that this made a full hydrologic study of the cave impossible. Among his precise descriptions of the hydrogeologic setting of Mammoth Cave, Martel offered the speculative conclusion that Mammoth Cave was connected to Salts and Colossal Caves: this would not be proven correct until 60 years after Martel's visit.[6]

In the early 1920s, George Morrison blasted a number of entrances to Mammoth Cave on land not owned by the Croghan Estate. Absent the data from the Croghan's secretive surveys, performed by Kaemper, Bishop, and others, which had not been published in a form suitable for determining the geographic extent of the cave, it was now conclusively shown that the Croghans had been for years exhibiting portions of Mammoth Cave which were not under land they owned. Lawsuits were filed and for a time, different entrances to the cave were operated in direct competition with each other.

In the early 20th century, Floyd Collins spent ten years exploring the Flint Ridge Cave System (the most important legacy of these explorations was the discovery of Floyd Collins' Crystal Cave and exploration in Salts cave) before dying at Sand Cave, Kentucky, in 1925. While exploring Sand Cave, he dislodged a rock onto his leg while in a tight crawlway and was unable to free himself.[7] Attempts to rescue Collins created a media sensation: the resulting publicity would draw prominent Kentuckians to initiate a movement which would soon result in the formation of Mammoth Cave National Park.

The National Park Movement (1926–1941)[]

Mammoth cave

Visitors on a tour of Mammoth Cave descend the stairs of the Historic (or Houchins) entrance.

As the last of the Croghan heirs died, advocacy momentum grew among wealthy citizens of Kentucky for the establishment of Mammoth Cave National Park. Private citizens formed the Mammoth Cave National Park Association in 1926. The Park was authorized May 25, 1926.

Donated funds were used to purchase some farmsteads in the region, while other tracts within the proposed National Park boundary were acquired by right of eminent domain. In contrast to the formation of other National Parks in the sparsely populated American West, thousands of people would be forcibly relocated in the process of forming Mammoth Cave National Park. Often eminent domain proceedings were bitter, with landowners paid what were considered to be inadequate sums. The resulting acrimony still resonates within the region. Though deer hunting is prohibited within the park, the park boundary is ringed with poachers' deer blinds, hunting platforms which face into the park.

For legal reasons, the federal government was prohibited from restoring or developing the cleared farmsteads while the private Association held the land: this regulation was evaded by the operation of "a maximum of four" CCC camps from May 22, 1933 to July 1942.[8][9]

According to the National Park Service,[10] "On May 14, 1934 the minimum park area was provided. On May 22, 1936, the minimum area was accepted "for administration and protection." [citation needed]

Superintendent Hoskins later wrote of a summer tanager named Pete who arrived at the guide house on or around every April 20, starting in 1938. The bird ate from food held in the hands of the guides, to the delight of visitors, and provided food to his less-tame mate.[11]

Birth of the National Park (1941)[]

Mammoth Cave National Park was officially dedicated on July 1, 1941. By coincidence, the same year saw the incorporation of the National Speleological Society. R. Taylor Hoskins, the second Acting Superintendent under the old Association, became the first official Superintendent, a position he held until 1951.

The New Entrance, closed to visitors since 1941, was reopened on December 26, 1951, becoming the entrance used for the beginning of the Frozen Niagara tour.[12]

The Longest Cave (1954–1972)[]

Mammoth Cave Mammoth Dome

Staircase tower in Mammoth Dome

By 1954, Mammoth Cave National Park's land holdings encompassed all lands within its outer boundary with the exception of two privately held tracts. One of these, the old Lee Collins farm, had been sold to Harry Thomas of Horse Cave, Kentucky, whose grandson, William "Bill" Austin, operated Collins Crystal Cave as a show cave in direct competition with the National Park, which was forced to maintain roads leading to the property. Condemnation and purchase of the Crystal Cave property seemed only a matter of time.

In February 1954, a two-week expedition under the auspices of the National Speleological Society was organized at the invitation of Austin: this expedition became known as C-3, or the Collins Crystal Cave expedition.[13]

The C-3 expedition drew public interest, first from a photo essay published by Robert Halmi (in either Sports Illustrated or Look magazine) and later from the publication of a double first-person account of the expedition, The Caves Beyond: The Story of the Collins Crystal Cave Expedition by Joe Lawrence, Jr. (then president of the National Speleological Society) and Roger W. Brucker. The expedition proved conclusively that passages in Crystal Cave extended toward Mammoth Cave proper, at least exceeding the Crystal Cave property boundaries. However, this information was closely held by the explorers: it was feared that the National Park Service might forbid exploration were this known.[14]

In 1955 Crystal cave was connected by survey with Unknown cave, the first connection in the Flint Ridge system.

Some of the participants in the C3 expedition wished to continue their explorations past the conclusion of the C-3 Expedition, and organized as the Flint Ridge Reconnaissance under the guidance of Austin, Jim Dyer, John J. Lehrberger and E. Robert Pohl. This organization was incorporated in 1957 as the Cave Research Foundation, Inc. The organization sought to legitimize the cave explorers' activity through the support of original academic and scientific research. Notable scientists who studied Mammoth Cave during this period include Patty Jo Watson (see section on prehistory.)

Colossal Cave was connected by survey to Salts Cave in 1960 and in 1961 Colossal-Salts cave was similarly connected to Crystal-Unknown cave, creating a single cave system under much of Flint Ridge.

In March 1961, the Crystal Cave property was sold to the National Park Service for a sum of $285,000.[15] At the same time, the Great Onyx Cave property, the only other remaining private inholding, was purchased for $365,000. The Cave Research Foundation was permitted to continue their exploration through a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Park Service.

Flint–Mammoth Connection (1972)[]

River Styx

River Styx, one of the cave's semi-subterranean waterways, emerges onto the surface in the park.

On September 9, 1972, a Cave Research Foundation mapping team led by John P. Wilcox, Patricia Crowther, Richard B. Zopf, P. Gary Eller, Stephen G. Wells, and Cleveland F. Pinnix (a National Park Service Ranger) managed to pursue a low, wet passage that linked two of the area's long cave systems—Flint Ridge Cave System to Mammoth Cave. (Flint Ridge had itself recently surpassed Hölloch Cave, in Switzerland, as the world's longest cave.)

On a previous trip deep in the Flint Ridge Cave System, Patricia Crowther—with her slight frame of Template:Convert/LinAoffDbSoff—crawled through a narrow canyon later dubbed the "Tight Spot", which acted as a filter for larger cavers.

A subsequent trip fielded past the Tight Spot by Crowther, Wilcox, Zopf, and Tom Brucker found the name "Pete H" inscribed on the wall with an arrow pointing in the direction of Mammoth Cave.[16] The name is believed to have been carved by Pete Hanson, who was active in exploring the cave in the 1930s. Hanson had been killed in World War II. The passage was named Hanson's Lost River by the explorers.

On the September 9 trip, following Hanson's Lost River led the six-person team to Cascade Hall in Mammoth Cave, final proof that the caves were connected. John Wilcox emerged in waist deep water to see a regular horizontal line across his field of vision, which proved to be a tourist handrail: the "One small step for a man" quote for "conquering the Everest of speleology" was his exclamation to the others "I see a tourist trail!" Of all of the many miles of Mammoth Cave, only a small fraction is developed with trails and lighting, so it was remarkable that the moment of connection took place in an utterly familiar setting.

Recent discoveries[]

Further connections between Mammoth Cave and smaller caves or cave systems have followed, notably to Proctor/Morrison Cave beneath nearby Joppa Ridge in 1979. Proctor cave was discovered by Jonathan Doyle, a Union army deserter during the Civil war, and was later owned by the Mammoth cave railroad, before being explored by the CRF. Morrison cave was discovered by George Morrison in the 1920s. This connection pushed the frontier of Mammoth exploration southeastward.

At the same time, discoveries made outside the Park by an independent group called the Central Kentucky Karst Coalition or CKKC resulted in the survey of tens of miles in Roppel Cave east of the Park. On September 10, 1983, a connection was made between the Proctor/Morrison's section of the Mammoth Cave system and Roppel Cave. The connection was made by two mixed parties of CRF and CKKC explorers. Each party entered through a separate entrance and met in the middle before continuing in the same direction to exit at the opposite entrance. The resulting total surveyed length was near 300 miles. Incremental discoveries since then have pushed the total to more than 392 miles.[17]

On March 19, 2005, a connection into the Roppel Cave portion of the system was surveyed from a small cave under Eudora Ridge, adding approximately three miles to the known length of the Mammoth Cave System. The newly found entrance to the cave, now termed the "Hoover Entrance," had been discovered in September, 2003.

It is certain that many more miles of cave passages await discovery in the region. Discovery of new natural entrances is a rare event: the primary mode of discovery involves the pursuit of side passages identified during routine systematic exploration of cave passages entered from known entrances.

Related and nearby caves[]

Two other massive cave systems lie short distances from Mammoth Cave: the Fisher Ridge Cave System and the Martin Ridge Cave System. The Fisher Ridge Cave System was discovered in January 1981 by a group of Michigan cavers associated with the Detroit Urban Grotto of the National Speleological Society.[citation needed] So far, the cave has been mapped to 110 miles (Gulden, B. 2007). In 1976, Rick Schwartz discovered a large cave south of the Mammoth Cave Park boundary. This cave became known as the Martin Ridge Cave System in 1996 as new exploration connected the nearby caves of Whigpistle Cave (Schwartz's original entrance), Martin Ridge Cave, and Jackpot Caves. As of December 2008, the Martin Ridge Cave System is mapped to a length of 34 miles, and exploration continues.

If connections are found between the three giant caves—Fisher Ridge Cave System, Martin Ridge Cave System and Mammoth Cave—the total mapped system would exceed 500 miles (Gulden, B. 2005).

Biology and ecosystem[]

The bats that inhabit the caverns are the following: Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), Gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and the Eastern pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus subflavus).

All together, these and more rare bat species such as the Eastern Small-footed Bat had estimated populations of 9-12 million just in the Historic Section. While these species still exist in Mammoth Cave, their numbers are now no more than a few thousand at best. Ecological restoration of this portion of Mammoth Cave, and facilitating the return of bats, is an ongoing effort. Not all bat species here inhabit the Cave; the red bat (Lasiurus borealis) is a forest-dweller, found underground only rarely.

Other animals which inhabit the caves include: two genera of Crickets (Hadenoecus subterraneus) and (Ceuthophilus stygius) (Ceuthophilus latens), a Cave salamander (Eurycea lucifuga), two genera of eyeless Cave Fish (Typhlichthys subterraneus) and (Amblyopsis spelaea), a Cave Crayfish (Orconectes pellucidus), and a Cave Shrimp (Palaemonias ganteri)

In addition, some surface animals may take refuge in the entrances of the caves but do not generally venture into the deep portions of the cavern system.

Common misconceptions[]

Misconceptions relating to Mammoth Cave's impressive length[]

The superlatives which are justly applied to Mammoth Cave often lead to exaggeration of the cave's extent and reach. One such misconception is that the cave extends far beyond its well-known geographical boundaries, even to other states in the United States. This misconception is easily debunked. Caves of Mammoth's type form as water from the surface seeks the level of the surface streams that drain them: in Mammoth Cave's case, the Green River to the north. It is a virtual certainty that no cave passages connecting to Mammoth will ever be found north of the Green River, or substantially east of the Sinkhole Plain which is the primary recharge area (the place where water enters) for the cave. More tantalizing is the prospect of ancient passages to the south which might bridge the current drainage divide between the Green River basin and the Barren River basin south of it, but in that case, the maximum expected southerly extent of Mammoth Cave would be the Barren River.

It is true, however, that the layers of sedimentary rock in which Mammoth Cave has formed do extend many miles in almost any direction from Mammoth Cave. These rocks were all laid down over the same period. The similarity of the rocks of the broader region to those in the immediate vicinity of Mammoth Cave means that conditions are right for cave formation; however, the absolute boundaries of the Mammoth Cave system are known, so it is expected that these other caves will not be found to connect to Mammoth Cave.

Misconceptions related to the Mammoth Cave System's name[]

No fossils of the woolly mammoth have ever been found in Mammoth Cave, and the name of the cave has nothing to do with this extinct mammal. Rather, the name "Mammoth" refers to the cave's large size, compared to other caves. Ironically, the name was given even before the cave system's true extent was fully known. Modern discoveries have proven the aptness of the name; old predictions of the cave's final length have been far outstripped by actual discoveries.

Park superintendents[]

  • Robert P. Holland; September 2, 1936 – June 21, 1938; acting
  • R. Taylor Hoskins; June 22, 1938 – June 30, 1941; acting
  • R. Taylor Hoskins; July 1, 1941 – March 31, 1951
  • Thomas C. Miller; April 1, 1951 – June 30, 1954
  • Perry E. Brown; July 1, 1954 – September 14, 1963
  • Paul McG. Miller; September 15, 1963 – December 30, 1965
  • John A. Aubuchon; January 2, 1966 – September 7, 1968
  • Robert H. Bendt; September 8, 1968 – January 23, 1971; assigned line supervision of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, September 2, 1970 – April 27, 1975
  • Joseph Kulesza; February 21, 1971 – May 31, 1976
  • Albert A. Hawkins; July 4, 1976 – August 11, 1979
  • Robert L. Deskins; August 12, 1979 – September 1, 1984
  • Richard N. Strange; September 2, 1984 – December 8, 1984; acting
  • Franklin D. Pridemore; December 9, 1984 – January 2, 1988
  • David A. Mihalic; January 3, 1988 – July 1994[18]
  • Ronald R. Switzer; March 1995 – January 2005
  • Bruce Powell; January 2005 – January 2006; acting
  • Patrick Reed; January 2006 –[19]

The list is incomplete.[10][20]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 World’s Longest Caves List from The National Speleological Society
  2. In some cases, slump blocks of sandstone have broken off the ridgetops and tumbled down the limestone slopes below, rendering the local "contact" layer less clearly defined.
  3. Mammoth Cave National Park - Frequently Asked Questions
  4. Brucker and Watson 1976, p. 272-273
  5. Thompson, Bob: Early Writers Flocked To Mammoth Cave By Bob Thompson - 2000
  6. Watson 1981 pp. 15-16
  7. Brucker and Murray 1983
  8. Bridwell 1952, p. 60.
  9. Civilian Conservation Corps at Mammoth Cave National Park
  10. 10.0 10.1 National Park Service: Historic Listings of NPS Officials
  11. Hoskins 1941
  12. Bridwell 1952, p. 60
  13. Lawrence and Brucker 1955
  14. Brucker and Watson 1976 p. 31
  15. Bridwell 1952, p. 59.
  16. Brucker and Watson 1976, p. 208.
  17. "History & Culture; Did You Know?". National Park Service. Retrieved 17 December 2010. 
  18. Mihalic Named Superintendent of Yosemite National Park
  19. Glasgow (KY) Times: Park super enjoying scenery change
  20. Bridwell 1952 (inside back cover)


General references[]

  • Bridwell, Margaret M. (Bridwell 1952) The Story of Mammoth Cave National Park Kentucky: A Brief History 11th Edition 1971. (First edition copyright 1952.) No ISBN.
  • Gulden, B. (Gulden 2005) NSS Geo2 USA Longest Caves. National Speleological Society. [1]
  • Hoskins, R. Taylor Faithful Visitor First Park Superintendent R. Taylor Hoskins describes the yearly visits of "Pete" a tame summer tanager (Piranga rubra rubra.) In "The Regional Review, Vol VII, 1 and 2 (July-August 1941.)
  • Hovey, Horace Carter (Hovey 1880) One Hundred Miles in Mammoth Cave in 1880: an early exploration of America's most famous cavern. with introductory note by William R. Jones. Golden, Colorado: Outbooks. (Copyright 1982) ISBN 0-89646-054-1
  • Watson, Richard A., ed. (Watson 1981) The Cave Research Foundation: Origins and the First Twelve Years 1957 - 1968 Mammoth Cave, Kentucky: Cave Research Foundation.

Brucker series[]

Roger W. Brucker [2] has co-authored four nonfiction books and authored one historical novel on the history and exploration of the Mammoth Cave System. They are presented here not in the order of publication, but in the order in which the events of the books' major narratives took place:

  • Brucker, Roger W. (2009) Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave. Cave Books. ISBN 978-0-939748-72-3 (hbk) ISBN 978-0-939748-71-6 (pbk). Based on the true story of Stephen Bishop, the slave who gained fame as a guide and explorer at Mammoth Cave from 1838 until his death in 1857, this historical novel is written from the perspective of Bishop's wife, Charlotte. Although it is a novel, Brucker has claimed the book does not alter any known historical facts.
  • Brucker, Roger W. and Murray, Robert K. (Brucker and Murray 1983) Trapped: The Story of Floyd Collins. University of Kentucky Press. Told by a scholar of early 20th century journalism and a veteran of the modern period of Mammoth Cave exploration, this book details the events of the entrapment and attempted rescue of Floyd Collins, who was trapped in a cave near Mammoth Cave in January 1925.
  • Lawrence, Jr, Joe and Brucker, Roger W. (Lawrence and Brucker 1955) The Caves Beyond: The story of the Floyd Collins' Crystal Cave Expedition New York: Funk and Wagnalls. Reprinted, with new introduction, by Zephyrus Press ISBN 0-914264-18-4 (pbk.) Details the story of the 1954 week-long C3 expedition from the separate points of view of the leader and an ordinary participant in the expedition, who went on to become one of the leaders of the then-nascent modern period of exploration.
  • Brucker, Roger W. and Watson, Richard A. "Red" (Brucker and Watson 1976) The Longest Cave. New York : Knopf (reprinted 1987, with afterword: Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press) ISBN 0-8093-1322-7 (pbk.) A comprehensive story of the exploration of Mammoth Cave told by two of the founders of the Cave Research Foundation. An invaluable appendix, "Historical Beginnings", outlines the story of the cave from prehistory to the mid 1950s, where the main narrative begins. The formation of the Cave Research Foundation is described from an insider perspective. A highly personal telling, this work is sometimes jokingly or with irony referred to by cavers as Roger and Red Go Caving, though its revered status in the literature and the reputations of the authors are hardly in doubt. The 1989 reprint includes an Afterword by the authors referring to the 1983 Roppel-Mammoth connection and other subsequent events.
  • Borden, James D. and Brucker, Roger W. (Borden and Brucker 2000) Beyond Mammoth Cave: A Tale of Obsession in the World's Longest Cave. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2346-X. Taking up where The Longest Cave leaves off, carries the story of Mammoth Cave Exploration from September 10, 1972 to September 10, 1983, when a connection was surveyed between Roppel Cave and the southern reaches of Mammoth Cave. Details the origins of the Central Kentucky Karst Coalition (CKKC).


  • Meloy, Harold (Meloy 1968) Mummies of Mammoth Cave: An account of the Indian mummies discovered in Short Cave, Salts Cave, and Mammoth Cave, Kentucky Shelbyville, Indiana: Micron Publishing Co., 1990 (Original copyright 1968, 1977).
  • Watson, Patty Jo (ed.) (Watson 1974) Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area. Reprinted 1997 by St. Louis: Cave Books ISBN 0-939748-41-X. 31 chapters by the foremost worker in the field of Mammoth Cave archaeology and several of her colleagues. The reprinted edition includes a brief new introduction and a brief updated bibliography.


  • Brown, Richmond F. (Brown 1966). Hydrology of the Cavernous Limestones of the Mammoth Cave Area, Kentucky [Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1837]. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office.
  • Livesay, Ann, and McGrain, Preston (revised) (Livesay and McGrain 1962). Geology of the Mammoth Cave National Park Area. Kentucky Geological Survey, Series X, 1962. Special Publication 7, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky.
  • Palmer, Arthur N. (Palmer 1981) A Geological Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park. Teaneck, New Jersey: Zephyrus Press. ISBN 0-914264-28-1. 196 pp. From the "blurb" on the back cover: "How did Mammoth Cave form? How old is it? Why does it look the way it does? What do the rocks tell us? These and many other questions are answered in this book about America's most popular cave." Written for the lay reader, but with much technical information of interest to those with greater scientific literacy, by a retired professor of geology at SUNY Oneonta.
  • White, William B. and Elizabeth L., eds. (White and White 1989) Karst Hydrology: Concepts from the Mammoth Cave Area. New York: Van Nostrand Rheinhold. ISBN 0-442-22675-6.

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