Over break, our NC family visited and wanted to visit Mammoth Cave, twenty minutes northeast of Bowling Green, Kentucky. We arrived at the visitor center early and milled around. While standing by myself, a large, uniformed man with a beard and pleasant voice approached me and said, “Do you have a question?” This seemed aggressive, but I didn’t know Ranger Dave yet. He was coming on duty and already spotted a potential visitor in distress. Actually I was fine but thanked him.
Ten minutes later, our group assembled outside for the prep talk prior to walking the 200 yards down to the cave entrance. Who should stand up front to address us but Ranger Dave. He’s a burly guy, which immediately suggested to me that if he can navigate the low and tight parts of the cave walk, then a burly guy like me can too.
Ranger Dave immediately took charge in a pleasant, firm way to thank us for joining him in his love for the cave and its fascinating history. He threw in enough surprise bits of humor and catchy facts to let us know that nothing about this job is merely academic to him. He was even corny at times but in an entertaining way.
He proceeded to tell us the major challenges we would encounter: lots of steps, low overhangs in places, and one tight spot. He also emphasized safety procedures. All of this let us know that the walk is do-able but that if anyone needed to reassess taking it on, there is no shame in that. Once in the cave, if there is a medical event, rescuers have to come in the same way as tourists, so there is no miracle exit once into this two-mile loop that begins and ends at the same entrance.
Off we went. The walk is spectacular in this world famous cave. Five or six times, Ranger Dave waited until the single-file line pooled into a group where he had stopped to assemble us for a humorous but very informative few minutes of history and science. Ranger Lance always pulled up the rear to make sure that no one get left behind.
Ranger Dave ended with an invitation to come back to the “lure of the cave.” He never tires of researching Mammoth Cave, and has studied the history of the area and visitor letters dating back to the early 1800s. Especially interesting is the fact that Civil War soldiers on both sides visited, and though war weary and even depressed in their letters about missing home and mom’s cooking, their letters brightened up with enthusiasm and intensity when describing their cave visit.