Hiking Team: Rosie Miller, Dave Miller
Hiking Date: November 5, 2016
This place is similar to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles that I visited in 1991 when I went out to run in the Los Angeles Marathon.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: In October 1803, while traveling down the Ohio River to meet William Clark for an expedition to the Pacific, Meriwether Lewis visited Big Bone Lick. He was to gather fossilized bones for President Thomas Jefferson. In September 1807, Clark supervised a three week dig for bones at President Jefferson’s request (over 300 bones and teeth were sent to him). Scientists consider William Clark’s dig at Big Bone Lick in 1807 as the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology. Found here by Clark were prehistoric native American artifacts and bone from the mastodon, wooly mammoth and giant sloth. Big Bone Lick became the talk of the scientific world.
FINDINGS: The ice age mega-mammals listed above including herds of bison visited these bogs satisfying their natural taste for salt and minerals. The tremendous weight of these creatures made them vulnerable to sink in the unstable marshy ground surrounding the springs. Thousands were swallowed up, the salty ooze sealed their remains from air and preserved their bones. As climate warmed and the bogs dried up, bones were discovered. American and foreign museums have acquired tens of thousands of bones from this park.
Rosie and I hiked the park, observing that many of the springs and marches consist of brine: water mixed with salt (the smell reminded me of the sulfur pits at Yellowstone Park). In the 1800’s, Big Bone Lick was used for salt manufacturing (it took 500 to 1,000 gallons of brine to collect one bushel of salt) and was a fashionable tourist attraction for the southern wealthy as they bathed in the sulfur-salt spring water for medicinal purposes.
The park had a nice display showing sloth and wooly mammoths in a fake bog. However, the real gem of the park was a herd of American Bison, the largest land mammal in North America, re-introduced into the park a few years ago. Wild bison had last been seen in Kentucky in the early 1800’s
Expedition Team: Jacqueline Miller, Holly Miller, Dave Miller, Javier Riesco Gonzalez, Shane Miller, Justin Eller, Kei Haguchi
Expedition Dates: 2006 & 2012
Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world with more than 348 miles mapped and explored. It is three times longer than any other known cave and geologists estimate there could be 600 miles of undiscovered passageways. Two guides led our group each time on a 7 hour, 5 ½ mile exploration to little explored areas that regular walking tours do not go on.
THE EXPLORATION: Our group was supplied thick coveralls, hard hats, head light, gloves, knee pads and a small pack for our lunch. We supplied ankle high hiking boots. Due to a cave fungus that kills bats, the National Park Service collect and wash the gear after usage to prevent the fungus from spreading. We descended 300 to 350 feet below the surface and spent the day walking, crawling, climbing, rolling or wiggling acrobatically through seemingly impossible openings or challenging climbs. We saw cave crickets, cave beetles and bats. On many rocks we saw charcoal autographs from the 1800’s and early 1900’s from early cave guides. There is a reason a person with a chest size of over 42 inches is not allowed to participate. You can get stuck. My hips barely made it through several tight holes. Many times the squeeze was so tight that you had to lay on your back, relax and control your breathing so that your chest sank enough to wiggle across long stretches. This trip is not for anyone who is claustrophobic. The exploration was starkly beautiful but physically demanding as everyone was pooped by the end. We all ate very well that evening around the campground campfire. Since photos were difficult to take, I included photos from previous trips in which we took our foreign exchange students, Javi from Spain and Kei from Japan.