It’s time for another Haun roadtrip out west. This time our main goal is Yellowstone National Park. On the way we plan on visiting the Rockies and Dinosaur National Monument. On the way back we hope to see Mt Rushmore, Badlands, and some friends in Minnesota.
As in the past, Heidi will fly out to join us for a portion of the trip. Her job doesn’t grant her 4 weeks off like my lack of a job does.
After Mammoth Cave we drove towards Lexington to my aunt’s home and small farm (technically, she’s not my aunt but my first cousin once removed). The drive to their property was beautiful – old stone walls, those classic Kentucky wooden fences, and autumn colors everywhere.
We arrived just before sunset and got a tour of the barn and pasture. Trey got to sit on the tractor, help feed the horses, and run around with an old Ghostbusters Nerf gun my second cousin used to play with over two decades ago. My second cousin-in-law also came over and we got to meet their little newborn fella. Quite the cutie.
Here is the last round of photos pulled from Trey’s camera on our trip. He didn’t use the camera quite as much and we didn’t stop nearly as often in the Midwest as we had out West. He still took some good ones!
Once you’ve seen Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, it’s hard to be impressed by many other cave systems. What Mammoth Cave has going for it is its sheer size (hence the name). It doesn’t boast much for underground rock formations and cool colored lights to illuminate them but does have over 390 miles of known passageways. The caverns are by far the longest discovered to date (South Dakota’s Jewel Cave comes in second around 150 miles).
The lack of cool stalactites and stalagmites is due to an upper sandstone caprock that prevents water from penetrating the the cave. Making things worse is that many of the few formations that were visible on our tour were sadly locked behind hideous metal fencing and bars to protect them from ignorant (and mischievous) tourists.
In the 19th century, the cave exchanged hands among private parties and at first was mined for calcium nitrate before it became an international tourism sensation. As a result, the formations suffered a lot of damage from souvenir hunters and profit seekers. It wasn’t until 1941 that the National Park Service took over and with the help of the newly formed National Speleological Society began active conservancy of the area.
We arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park in the late afternoon and setup our tent at the camp site. We had missed the last cave tour so we bought tickets for the first one the next morning and then headed out for a short hike.
We took the Green River Bluffs Trail which led us to a river overlook then down a good dozen switchbacks to a cave entrance where a creek flowed out. Being late in the day, Trey was a bit tired so I carried him back up the bluffs as the dusk settled in. Needless to say, my legs were quite sore the next morning!
We missed the Illinois state line photo since it was in the middle of the bridge over the Mississippi River. The next morning we stopped at the Indiana state line on our way to Kentucky and its Mammoth Cave.
Our last stop on our busy one-day tour of St. Louis was its zoo. Thanks to a cultural tax, admission to our nation’s top-rated zoo is free the public. That’s right – over 19,300 exotic animals that I could take my son to see and appreciate for free.
We didn’t anticipate the 5pm closing time so our visit was crammed into a mere hour and half (a zoo this size easily requires a full day to begin to appreciate it). I got the map read the animal names off to Trey and he decided how we would proceed. His selections? Penguins, monkeys, big cats, and reptiles. We managed to see them all before the gates closed and I had one happy, tired boy to hit the road with.
Another St. Louis landmark my uncle highly recommended was the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. He was right again! It was incredible! It seemed like every square inch of wall, floor, and ceiling inside was covered in mosaics. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life!
The impressive mosaics in the cathedral were installed from 1912 to 1988. They collectively contain 41.5 million glass tesserae pieces in more than 7,000 colors. Those in the main dome were done by exiled Polish artist Jan Henryk de Rosen and depicts Biblical scenes from both the Old & New Testaments.