Social Distancing at Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave Broadway

If you are a couple of RV’rs driving around the country, you may not have a clue as to what is going on in the day-to-day worlds of politics, economics or current events.  Many days we don’t have the 110v electricity needed to power up the flat screen.   It hardly matters since we don’t have over-the-air TV signals anyway.  One bar of Verizon LTE is a luxury.  Our most reliable source of news comes from satellite radio with the complimentary 6-month Sirius/XM subscription in Boss. 

No Over-the-Air TV

We blissfully and cluelessly hike through America’s wilderness searching for waterfalls while the world is overcome by a global pandemic.  With memories of managing through 9/11 and the Great Recession, it feels surreal.  Both of us were responsible for employees and business in the not too distant past and recognize the complexity of the current situation.  But other people are upper-middle-lower management now and it is their crisis to manage. 

Nolin Lake State Park at dawn

We learned that what we are doing now is termed an extreme form of social distancing.  We blog from remote places and share our experiences via pandemic-safe posts.  Not being communicable disease scientists, we cannot affect the current crisis in any meaningful way.  So we will continue to report on America as we find it, even in the midst of COVID-19, with our episodically humorous point of view and dearly hope that no offense is taken as we mean no disrespect.  What else can we do? 

Visitor Center, Still Open, Cave not so much

Covid 19, aka Coronavirus, has put the wildcat state on high alert.  While the Visitor Center of Mammoth Cave National Park was open on Monday, all the tours were cancelled and we were allowed underground for only 3/4 out of 412 miles of cave, with no more than 50 of us spelunking at a time.  50 go down, 4 come out, 4 can go in.  Tit for tat.  The rest stand in line, many loudly pontificating on the ‘hoax.’  Political talking points and conspiracy theories are seamlessly mixed with firsthand accounts of business closures and toilet paper runs from groups in the crowd.  

Lining up for the self-guided tour

All complain that cancelling ranger lead tours of 50 while letting those same 50 people into the cave on a self-guided tour seems nonsensical.  In a clear moment it is obvious that the Cave will close, perhaps all National Parks will close any day now.  We consider ourselves fortunate to self-guide into the cave at all and keep our opinions on how viruses spread to ourselves. 

Cave Entrance

The cave is huge –over 400 miles of huge.  Rangers descend into the main ‘Rotunda’ then close entrances to the extensive network of passages.  Fifty visitors in a long, closely spaced queue are allowed in after a ranger provides the required safety brief in loud voice. 

No mention is made of the elephant in the room; the viral reason we are not on ranger lead tours.  Much emphasis is placed on cleaning the soles of our shoes on exit to ensure that we do not transport white-nose bat disease to other bats in other caves we might visit today.  Bored children who have tired of the wait, cough and push through the line to catch up to their parents.  The irony is not lost.

It is a Cave

Fifty is a fungible number and as we shiver outside in line, the rangers go loosy goosy and let 10 down when 2 come up; then 20 down when 4 come up; and so on, doing their best to handle a situation that is almost certainly not in the ranger handbook.  They are doing a great job in their new capacity as National Park Infectious Disease Rangers.  As a result, the wait was shorter than Space Mountain but longer than the Flying Teacups and the no-crowd walk-through complimented the nothing to see here venue. 

Do not touch the interactive display

With 411.25 miles of trail closed, we basically stand in the Rotunda looking at cave walls and rubble on the ground.  The $36 we paid for the Historic Cave Tour tickets was exchanged for the $20 required for the self-guided tickets.  Refund or exchange – no new tickets for sale.  Even though we lost money on the deal, we did get to tour the Visitor Center and not touch any of the interactive displays.  Doesn’t matter, we still our checking Mammoth Cave National Park off our parks-to-visit list. 

The cave is large for sure.  A naturally formed thick sandstone layer prevents water from forming Carlsbad-like decorations.  It is impressive but plain – like the heifer that won the Best-In-Class cow at the Kentucky State Fair.  If they said this was a mine where they are digging for coal, or diamonds, or gold, we would not be surprised.  In fact, it was a mine for saltpeter which was used to make gun powder in the Civil War.  That sounds about right. 


Somewhere 300 feet below the main chamber where we explored, an underground river can be navigated by kayak.  Surely there are sights to see and hikes to navigate that inspire awe.  We hear a ranger talk of cave rooms full of decorations, and passages of incredible complexity.  Alas, that will have to wait for another long-ass drive to middle of nowhere Kentucky along narrow roads with mailboxes strategically placed to clip your RV.

Backroads of Kentucky

We purposefully are rolling without reservations on a loosely mapped plan to tackle 12 National Parks before arriving in Glacier National Park, Montana in June.  Who knows if that will actually happen.  Appreciating electric in these chilly Spring temps, the internet showed us Nolin Lake State Park, just 8 miles from Mammoth in a waterfront site with 50 amps.  Bam! 4 nights – we’ll crush these southern Kentucky farming towns.

Leaving at 8am for a 10am cave tour, we followed the GPS route and ended up at the Green (brown) River Ferry crossing.

Probably too deep

While Eric likes to test a Road Closed sign now and then, Boss made the call to turn around and find an alternative route, 30 miles the hard way.  We got a good look at farms, cows, closed businesses and snaking roads, stopping to cancel 2 of the 4 nights at Nolin and call to find out what was going on at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.  Like Mammoth, the Hot Springs visitor center is open, but the hot springs and bathhouses are closed.   That hardly seems worth the 500 miles west, so we’ve decided to head south. 

COVID-19 flyer frequently seen

It is obvious that the country, even the world, will be much different for a little while.  We will have to push pause on the National Parks; too many crowds or conversely not open.  Time to find a social-distanced, COVID19-free, safe harbor in the storm for our rolling condo and us.  We may not be able to buy toilet paper and the local libraries are closed but at least we can shed these hats and gloves.