aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A Mammoth Adventure

Daniel turned the big 1-0 this month, so his present was a four-day camping trip with Grandbear. Setting this up proved to be a challenge with the virus and all, but we managed to snag a reservation for two nights at Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky) and another night at Charlestown State Park (Indiana). On the way home, we were planning to look into Big Bone Lick State Historic Site (Kentucky again).

The focus of our trip was rocks, fossils, and nature (both prehistoric and current). That was what Daniel was to explore. But another focus was just giving the boy a chance to have the undivided attention of his Grandbear. We went at his pace, consulted his interests, let him try whatever he wanted. We ate enormous amounts of food. And we talked about all kinds of things.

Wednesday, June 24

I was mostly packed the night before. Just had to finish my personal packing, plus the cold food, get gas and ice and a prescription before leaving town. I was on my way out of B-town by 9:20 a.m., heading for Richmond. When I got there, Daniel was on hot coals, waiting for my arrival. He had been pacing back and forth with his day pack on for some time, and wanted to leave as soon as I pulled up in my truck. Within minutes, we were on our way down the road. We left Richmond at 11:45.

We toodled down to Cincy via Oxford, Ohio. Lots of road work. More road work on I-71/75 through Cincy. Traffic was backed up for miles in the lanes headed for the Roebling Bridge over the Ohio. Finally, I shifted over to whizz through downtown and cross the river on I-471 and followed the ring road around to Florence, KY. It would'a been quicker to take a mule path, if I could'a found one. We drove down I-71 to Louisville, then finally got on I-65 heading south. And within an hour and a half or so, we found ourselves pulling into Mammoth Cave N.P. We found our campsite at 4:45 Central Time. That means it was 5:45 our time. Six hours from Richmond (eight hours for me from Bloomington). We were tired.

There was no one to check us in at the campground entrance, so we went to find our reserved site. I was surprised at how empty the place was. When I made our reservations, most of the sites seemed taken already. But that was just the Park blocking off two out of every three sites to enable social distancing. As someone who had already paid online, the Rangers had no beef with me just pulling in and setting up.


Still Life with Ten-Year Old
Our campsite at Mammoth Cave

We set up camp and got to work on supper. Daniel liked the sausage and potatoes I whomped up. I told him, "Hunger is the best sauce." We saw deer walking through the camp. The woods were cool and shady. It was wonderful. We went to bed at dusk.

Thursday, June 25

I got up early, at 5:15 a.m. The first task of the day is always, Make Coffee. I brought my backpacking French press, so I was set. I got Daniel up when the coffee was steeping. For him, I brought along envelopes of hot chocolate mix. So we started every day with a mug of one's choice. Then we whomped up scrambled eggs with cheese. I had forgotten salt and pepper for seasoning, so I tore up some pre-cooked bacon for seasoning. It was outstanding.

After breakfast, Daniel was running about, climbing into and out of the bed of my truck, excited to start the day. I told him he was a member of the Mongoose Tribe. He looked puzzled. I asked if he'd read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. He had, but he didn't remember the allusion. I told him, "The motto of the Mongoose Tribe is, RUN! and find out."


Getting taller
Standing in the truck bed makes it even more so

Nothing opens in the park before 9:00 a.m., not the Camp Store nor the Visitors Center. We had some time to kill, then. We were not pleased to find out that the camp showers were closed because of the virus. We were left to slowly ripen over the course of our stay, I guess.

Lots of young deer were moving through camp. Daniel had never seen any up so close. We talked about deer. I told him the meaning of crepuscular as a means of explaining why early morning was the best time to see wildlife.

There was a beautiful blue sky up above the trees. Not a sign of rain. A gift from God.

We were in line a little before our 10:00 a.m. start time. They were only offering one kind of tour, the Extended Historic Tour, where you go through the Historic Entrance and explore the first couple of major aisles. Rangers were stationed at key points to assist as necessary, but it was mostly a self-guided thing.


Descensus ad inferos
More Virgilian than Christian, but still

The Cave itself was staggering. Beautiful and dreadful at the same time. I had forgotten how amazing and overwhelming it was. Daniel was boggled -- and a little afraid of the roof collapsing. I tried taking some pictures, but they won't let you do flash photography underground, and everything I tried turned out blurry.


What goes down must come up
Returning to the surface

The total mileage of our hike down into the earth and back up to the Visitors Center was only about two miles, but Daniel was pooped. He said he didn't want to go hiking in the afternoon. I thought I just might manage a nap, then.

Back at the Visitors Center, we hit the gift shop and got some swag. One of the things Daniel wanted was a miniature archaeologist's dig kit, in which fake fossils were buried in a cake of something compressed and crumbly. After he dug out all the fossils, he proceeded to smear the matrix all over himself and everything else. Just what any kid would want, I thought: Artificial Dirt.

We ate BLTs for lunch. Stuffed and tired, I did manage a short nap in my camp chair while Daniel played with his fossil kit. After a while, Daniel got his second wind and said he wanted to go hiking, anyway. I consulted my trail map and found an easy trail, a little over six miles there and back to Sloan's Crossing. I figured it would take me about two hours and a wee bit to do it. How fast we could do it together was another matter.

And indeed, Daniel started to wear out early. The day was hot and we didn't have shade all the way. He started to lag behind. This is not like him; he usually wants to trot out front. I talked to him about the mind games you play when you're hiking, setting targets for breaks and timing your advance. He was about all in when we reached the halfway point and turned around. But suddenly, it all made sense to him. Because he knew where we'd been, he could imagine going so far to X and then stopping for a break. He kept up and finished the return trail like a champ.

Part of his tiredness, I think, is that he is trying to get used to his new body. As he shoots up in height, he has gotten a little clumsy with his feet and he doesn't move smoothly. Typical problem for kids; it'll pass.


Just leave me by the side of the road to die
The hike was a bit more than he counted on

Supper was Beef Manhattans. And we had a fire. Daniel was delighted. He kept fiddling with it. I let him have at it: I've been a boy, too.


Now, you're talkin'!
What's a campout without a fire?

Friday, June 26

I got up at birdsong and made coffee and hot chocolate. Daniel got up when I called. After breakfast, I heated a pan of water and showed Daniel how to do a spit bath so we wouldn't be too overwhelming when we got back to civilization. We had everything cleaned up, packed up, and ready to leave around 7:30 a.m. We waited around so we could hit the gift shop One. More. Time. (Daniel had a jones for a pair of binoculars.) As I paid for the second lot of swag, I thought to myself, "I'm still getting off cheaper than I did last year when we went to the Field Museum."

And with that we were off on the road again. We ate lunch at a Waffle House just outside Louisville, and arrived about 1:00 at Charlestown State Park in Indiana. After setting up camp, we went in search of Rose Island, an abandoned amusement park that is part of the park.

Rose Island was a popular recreation spot that flourished in the 1920s. Boats from Louisville shuttled up to the landing after a trip of 90-120 minutes. Many were day-trippers. There were a hotel and family cabins as well. The park went bankrupt in 1931. The Flood of '37 wiped most traces of Rose Island's buildings away.


Spooky arcade
Main drag of the once-upon-a-time park

The trail around Rose Island was easy, but the trail getting down to Fourteenmile Creek was a genuine butt-buster. It was also a sweltering, blazing day. Daniel was a real champ. He took the lead on the trail. I taught him the routine of how to start a hiking crew, and he took to it. He was large and in charge, and it was a joy to follow in his steps, although my left hamstring was definitely not happy.

In all, the trail was about three miles, and some of it was as rough as anything I've done at Philmont (keeping in mind the very different altitudes and humidities of NM and IN). I was very glad I wasn't carrying a pack. It was pretty, though. We identified trees and other things as we walked along.


a.k.a. Jewelweed, Charlestown S.P.

When we got back to camp, we were soaked through and utterly bushed, and the sun was making a misery of our campsite. We sat in what shade was available and waited until 5:00 or so. Charlestown had REAL SHOWERS! We got nice and clean just before the shadows of evening drew on. After a supper of chicken ramen and White Cheddar Cheezits (amazing combination), we went to bed early. Daniel told me he was ready to go home. I was, too.

Saturday, June 27

We got up early, too. I was up at 5:30 and had Daniel up at 6:00. He's an early riser, and not grumpy about it, which helps. In fact, I find him easy to get along with and generally helpful. We rub along together very comfortably.

I observe that they're making ground harder than they used to. Generally, after the first night or so, I sleep like a brick, but I tossed and turned and my body ached every one of our three nights. I suppose I'm just getting older and all that, but it worries me. I'm not afraid of getting old, but I want to be able to do things with my grandcubs until they start taking off on their own. That means I need to keep myself in sufficiently good shape to do all the big adventures for another seven to nine years, maybe.

We left just after 7:00 a.m. and started up Highway 62 along the Indiana side of the Ohio River. The sky was overcast and felt of coming rain. We tootled through Hanover and Madison and Vevay until we came to Markland Dam, where we crossed back over to the Kentucky side. About 9:00, we pulled into Big Bone Lick, which sounds like it needs a name change.

Well, a "lick," of course, is a place where game animals find salt. And the "big bones" of this particular lick are mammoth and other prehistoric animals, which have been found here. The Indians knew about them. William Clark sent some specimens to President Jefferson, which were mislaid; another scientist sent further specimens to Jefferson. The study of these bones is the beginning of Paleontology in North America. Hence the name of the site: Big Bone Lick.


Young men are frequently subject to attacks of sloth
Giant Ground Sloth skeleton at Big Bone Lick

We hiked their quarter-mile historic trail from the Visitors Center to a salt spring. If you look at the photo, you can see the whitish cloud of salt spreading out into the water, with a clearer patch of salt that has precipitated to the bottom of the creek at the end.


Salt of the earth
Salt spring, Big Bone Lick

Rain began to spatter down as we were driving away from Big Bone Lick. We went through a number of squalls as we headed north. I was determined to avoid Cincinnati, so we crossed over at Lawrenceburg and headed up Highway 1. As we passed Tanner Valley UMC, I pointed it out to Daniel. That was where his parents were married, when I was the pastor there. Good memories.

Daniel was hungry, but didn't like my suggestions. He was craving pancakes. So I said to wait just a bit until we made it to Connersville. There, we stopped at Stack's, a local pancake house and landmark. He was chilled from the air conditioning but brightened up when he saw hot chocolate on the menu. He sipped his chocolate while he waited for his order.

I ordered an omelette, hash browns, and pancakes. He ordered two large chocolate chip pancakes with fresh strawberries and a side order of sausage links. I struggled to finish mine, and wondered how Daniel would make out with his. He kept going until he had folded the last wad into his mouth. "I have never had such food!" he said.


Sheer joy
Daniel prepares to wrap himself around a stack of pancakes

From Connersville, it was less than an hour to Richmond. As we neared the city, I saw a billboard that declared, "Richmond is a Dementia Friendly Community." That could be taken in more than one way, I'm thinking. And then we were there.

Hugs were shared. We unpacked the personal gear. We admired the swag. And soon, I was on my way home. I finally got home to B-town about 4:30 after a trip of 837 miles. Total hiking mileage about 11.5 miles.

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