Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Kentucky - Day 7 - Mammoth Cave

Barren River Lake State Campground
Monday, 7 October 2019

today's route
On the way to Mammoth Cave, I passed another one of those homemade religious signs, this one saying "Use the rod on your children and save their life."  If I worked for Child Protective Services, I'd investigate that home.

I passed a local road and saw a Great Pyrenees ambling across the road, holding up several cars.  It looked pretty funny because of course those dogs are about half the size of today's cars.

I passed an Amish horse-and-buggy on the road.

This area of the state, like others I've passed, is used for crops, including tobacco and corn and soybeans, as far as I could tell - they were mostly all harvested now.  Also small herds of cattle and some scattered houses.

Bluebird (internet photo)

I saw a Bluebird.  Such a gorgeous blue.  When they fly it's hard to miss seeing them.  And they always make me understand where the phrase "bluebird of happiness" came from.

A sign at the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park said it's a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.  Important stuff.

It only took me about an hour to get to the parking lot at Mammoth Cave, but I'd left the campground early just in case, so there was plenty of time for me to pick up my ticket and go through the exhibits in the Visitor Center and walk the dogs and feed us all lunch and fix Kongs with peanut butter to keep the dogs happy while I was gone.  Turned out well.

Mammoth Cave
I took the tour called Frozen Niagara, advertised as being a fairly easy ¾-mile walk with some of the most spectacular of the cave's scenery.  And it was all that, as advertised.  But there was almost no place for the guide (aka National Park Ranger) to stand with us all in a group around her - we were on longish passages through parts of the cave - and when she'd stop and talk, I always seemed to be farthest away from her.  We had 20 or 25 people in our tour group (our guide said it was nice to have a small group) which was about 10 too many for me to be able to hear what she was saying much of the time.

What that means is that most of what I can tell you I saw in the Visitor Center.  Because that helped me understand what I saw in the cave, I'll show that to you first also.

Visitor Center
One of the things they did with their exhibits was say the same things in several different ways, so I've got photos of several signs that say slightly different things about the same topic.  Rather than try to explain it myself, I'll let their experts do the talking.

the 412' of Mammoth Cave that've been mapped and surveyed
They don't actually know how long this cave really is, but so far 412' of it have been discovered, making it the longest known cave in the world.

The exhibits at the Visitor Center weren't presented in an order that makes sense to me, personally, so I'm going to give them to you in the order that does make sense.

describes results of tectonic shifts
tectonic plate location 330 million years ago

how limestone formed from marine life

"Karst" seems to be the natural factor that allows caves to form.  The photo on the right shows part of Carlsbad Caverns (in NM), another karst formation.

The following photos show more particularly how Mammoth Cave was formed, beginning with slightly acidic water working on limestone, followed by the formation of the sandstone cap that's protected Mammoth Cave where other caves have dissolved and collapsed.

that's carbonic acid that's seeping
our tour went in both upper and lower parts

320 million years ago with mountains rising (see below)

another way to say the same thing
1st way to say sandstone formed
Sandstone matters here because the sandstone cap is what's protected the limestone, the foundation of Mammoth Cave, from erosion by the continuing presence of running water.

how the running water decorates the caves
how they say the same thing

Cave Tour
There are more than 170 species of critters that have adapted to live in the cave environment, including several species of crickets, they said. 

Right after we entered the cave, the rangers showed us a long, fat, fuzzy, black millipede sitting on a ledge.  As it wasn't far from the entrance, I thought it might have figured out how to come and go, though I don't know what it would come into the cave for.  I don't know if the rangers explained it because I missed a lot of what they were saying.

They also showed us the entrance to the den of a packrat.  We saw all the debris it'd left at the entrance to the burrow; the ranger said it did that so a predator would have to walk across it to get to her; even in the dark it'd be able to hear the predator coming and would have time to run away.  Because the packrat can't see in the dark, it leaves a scent trail that it can follow back to the entrance to escape.

The park service has several different entrances they use to go to different parts of the cave.  The entrance for our tour was where another longer tour going a different route would finish up, having started somewhere else.  Our tour began, of course, in an upper part of the cave, where it's mostly dry and the formations are old.  The ranger told us the dry part is typical of most of Mammoth Cave.  The stalactites and stalagmites we saw on our part of the tour are unusual in this cave. 

These formations are, as you saw above, the results of seeping water.  And even in this upper, older part of the cave, we saw some of that.  Most of what we saw in the beginning were like boulders - huge rocks and slabs of rock.  Though it's interesting to be surrounded by all this rock, I didn't bother with photos because we all see rocks (though much smaller) every day.  I did take these photos of stalactites that we saw near the entrance.

looking up - see the cascades?
and another formation
looking down from the photo above

These photos were taken in the upper part of the cave.  Up here, even a short person like me had to bend over to avoid hitting the rocks in the passages, which were pretty narrow in some places. 

Still, as you can see, there were places where the rock had eroded away entirely to form chimneys, as in those two photos at left and above.

But though this looks a lot like frozen water, it's stone.  One cubic inch of this stuff takes 100-150 million years to grow.  So, not an overnight freeze, like the icicles from a house roof.

From here we went down via a ramp and a few stairs into the section named Frozen Niagara.  As you'll see, it's quite a tall formation, and I took photos of three altitudes of it.

looking up to the top of the Niagara formation,
which begins on the left

middle of the formation

lower part of the Niagara formation

another view of the lower part

As you can tell, there are a series of 96 steps (the ranger told us) that leads down below the hanging formation to another, small room.  This part of the cave was definitely more damp than the upper part, and the staircase to me seemed like it'd be slippery.  Add that on to 96 steps down and 96 steps back up, plus my dislike of heights (because the cave went below what my photos show) - well, I decided to stay on the plateau at mid-range with the 2nd, less experienced ranger who came with us and a few others on the tour.  The people shown in my photos, though, give you an idea of the size of this place.

In all, I wish I'd had several days to spend here and fewer fears to hold me back from learning more about what I was seeing.  And I wish the group had been much smaller, or that the 2nd ranger had been more experienced, because I missed so much of what the lead ranger was telling us.  I'd recommend this place to anyone other than my mother, whose fear of heights far exceeded my own.

We were taken to and from the cave entrance in a park service bus.  When we got back to the Visitor Center, they insisted we all walk across this little platform (below).  Whatever that liquid is we walked through is designed to keep us from spreading the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome, which is killing huge parts of bat populations around the US.  Mammoth Cave is home to a large number of bats, and the park service knows that many people take more than one tour in a day, possibly spreading spores from one part of the cave to another.

An interesting conclusion to an interesting trip.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Kentucky - Day 6 - Scottsville

Barren River Lake State Campground
Sunday, 6 October 2019

I saw in a brochure I'd picked up at the Visitor Center on the 1st that Mammoth Cave offered multiple types of tours of the cave, as well as self-guided tours.  I figured I'd likely learn more from a person than a sign so decided on one of those.

Online I found that the only tickets left for this morning were first-come-first served at the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center, so I called to ask a human being if that were true.  Yes, Mammoth Cave is something people'd want to go see on a weekend, but it's October and, despite my experience with crowded campgrounds, I'm still having trouble believing the tours would be sold out.  The morning ones were, it turned out.  I didn't much want to go in the afternoon because the tours last a couple of hours and Google was already telling me it'd take me 45 minutes to get there, which I figured for me meant an hour at least, and I didn't want to be wandering around on unfamiliar roads in the late afternoon.

I managed to get the next-to-last ticket available for tomorrow mid-morning's tour and decided to stay an extra day here.

I spent some time checking out what's available in Bowling Green, which is where I figure I'll go next.  What I had trouble finding is a place with public recycling bins.  Kentucky isn't any more enthusiastic about recycling than Illinois is, apparently.  None of the state facilities does any more than put out a bin for aluminum cans, not useful for me as I don't drink pop or beer.

I've begun to notice that my heater isn't working.  I knew a couple of days ago it wouldn't come on when I turned on the thermostat, but I thought maybe it was air in the lines or something.  But my stovetop works just fine, which it wouldn't if an air block was the problem, so I want to get someone to check my heater.  Winter's not far away, after all.  I found an RV dealership/service place across the street in Bowling Green from the National Corvette Museum, which I'd thought about visiting anyway, so figured I could talk to them.

Meanwhile, I drove into the small nearby town of Scottsville for groceries and to see what's there.  What's there, it turns out, is a Smucker's plant.  I'd have expected it would provide a number of jobs, and maybe it does, but I don't know where they all live.  It sure doesn't seem to be in Scottsville, because I didn't see enough houses for them or enough prosperity to go along with what I figure Smucker's would pay employees.

Scottsville sits on either side of the Barren River and the connecting bridge is under construction.  Google didn't want me to go that way to the grocery store I was aiming for, but I figured it just wanted to insist on what it thinks is the fastest route.  At least, I thought that until I found where it was taking me when I insisted the scenic route is the one I wanted.  When I saw it was a river that I was being routed away from, I realized it might be a washed-out bridge or something.  And I was nearly right.  But I still got to see most of the main part of town, going my route.

I found out later that Google wanted to take me down the shortcut road that the locals use.  Fine, except it would have meant heading down a very steep narrow road with a lot of (doubtless low-hanging) tree branches.  Fine if I'd been driving a passenger car.  Not at all fine in an RV.  Google LOVES shortcuts, and so many of them are down roads I have no business being on that I've learned to take a close look when it says I shouldn't take a main road.  On the other hand, it insists I should want to go on interstates and gets very upset when I insist on a state or county road instead.  I just have to keep a close eye on what it tells me to do and we're fine.

This time I got lucky.  I missed the turn it told me to take (it really is an obscure local shortcut - I saw people taking it) but still found not only the grocery store but - serendipitously - large recycling bins in the parking lot.  And even a little room to walk the dogs.  So a successful trip.

Kentucky Public Radio plays local music on weekend afternoons, I'm learning, and today I heard a wonderful piece of fiddling.  I thought the announcer said it was a piece called "Fly Through the Country" by someone named Tennessee Wagner.  I've now figured out that the tune itself is called "Tennessee Wagoner" and it was released on the 1975 "Fly Through The Country" album by a group called New Grass Revival.  And if you want to listen, you can click on this link.

My campsite is perched - almost literally - on a hill.  It's got a long driveway, but it curves in the middle and is on such a sharp angle that it's realistically only usable by a small RV like mine.  And I barely fit on the flattish top part, because of the curve.  I watched my next-door neighbors set up their 27' or so camper and, even though their rise wasn't as steep and they didn't have to deal with a curve, they still had a hard time getting it level and stable.  But mine has nice shade and it's right by the entrance, which I like for the dog-walking, and it's high enough that I can get spotty internet, and it's fairly dark at night, and it's near the washing machines and showers, all of which I used today, so I can deal with the hill/curve combo.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Kentucky - Day 5 - south to cave country

Barren River Lake State Park, Lucas
Saturday, 5 October 2019

today's route
Louisville must be down in a sort of bowl at river level, because I'd noticed when I came to the area the other day that the road was taking a long slow drive downhill; now, leaving town, I was doing a long slow climb uphill.

I keep passing distilleries.  Near Louisville it was Makers Mark.  I'll take a tour of one of them before I leave the state.

The memorial to Abraham Lincoln's birthplace is located smack on my route to tonight's campground so of course I stopped to visit.

Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park
As far as I can tell, all that's known about Lincoln's early life is what he's told himself, but the National Park Service did the best they could here with what they had.

This graphic shows to me more than the Park Service's point about how many famous relatives Lincoln had, and how some of those he worked with were related to him without him knowing it.  The graphic also demonstrates how mobile people were then, and Abe's own branch of the Lincoln family was plenty mobile.  His parents had lived in Elizabethtown before moving to the Sinking Spring cabin where Abe was born.

Lincoln was the first president born outside the original 13 colonies.

But as the exhibit at right shows, the family's stay at Sinking Spring was brief.  They moved not far away to a place at Knob Creek.

The Visitor Center's exhibit about Lincoln's family and early life - though mostly limited to items of the replica variety - does have one table that they're certain was made by Thomas, Abe's father, and it clearly demonstrates what a good woodworker he was.

The original cabin of Lincoln's birth is, of course, long long gone but, after his death, a replica was constructed and taken from town to town as part of the national mourning process.  It was then placed inside a memorial that's here on the park service site.  And what a memorial it is.

It was built just a few years after his death, and the architectural style undoubtedly made sense both for the time and for the sense of mourning and respect for the dead president.  But for me in this time it's too much.  I don't mind the style - Washington DC is full of buildings that look like this and it's one of my favorite cities in the world.  But it seems to me to be the antithesis of the sort of person Lincoln was.  And the idea of putting a replica cabin inside is way too much like a shrine.

For the first time I can see what is meant about the mythology surrounding Lincoln.  I never before felt like I was getting even as much myth as the George-chopping-down-the-cherry-tree stuff.  But for those who lived in that time, it must have seemed Lincoln was being made larger than life and more than a man.  I can see why a writer like Edgar Lee Masters, who didn't support Lincoln's policies anyway, would have wanted to puncture that myth that was building up.

Anyway, I didn't bother to go inside this memorial.  I didn't care about seeing a replica cabin, which would only tell me what I already knew: that it was a small and crude place to try to live.

I guess I'm glad I came here, because I learned a little more about Lincoln's family and his views on his early life.  But I found his Springfield home much more enlightening about the kind of man he was.  That's the home he and his wife built and raised a family in; that's the town where he spent most of his adult life.

What this site shows us, though, is how far he had to go to get there.  But here are his own words about that:

Back on the road
I passed mile after mile of cropland, with the crop - mostly corn - already harvested. 

I went through numerous villages and small towns, one of them named Uno, and I wish I knew who gave that name to the town.

On barns scattered along the way I saw large signs saying ___ County Cattleman's Association/Beef - It's What's For Dinner.  Fill in the blank with each county I passed through.  So as you can see, they raise beef cattle here, and I saw herds scattered along the way.

I also saw lots of houses and farms with signs saying I Stand For Life - about the size of campaign yard signs but in bright yellow with red letters - easy to spot.  Lots of them.

Throughout the drive today I saw yard sales.  Some of them were huge and caused traffic problems, and others were just a few items laid out on the grass by the road.

In several barns I saw what I'm guessing is tobacco hanging in the doorways like a curtain.  I'd passed several of these before I finally saw a few fields that had held what might have been tobacco.  Past harvest time, of course, so they were as picked over as the cornfields.

I turned off the highway to visit the American Cave Museum in the town of Horse Cave, but ended up deciding not to go inside.  It just looked weird from the outside and I'd seen online they'd charge me $8 for going in, so I just decided not to and hoped I'd learn what I was missing when I went to Mammoth Cave.

The museum is also how you go to visit the cave called Horse Cave, and I have no idea whether the town or the cave got named first.  But the entrance to the cave is right there on Main Street.

Apparently this whole section of the state is riddled with caves.  I'm sure they're different from the areas of subsidence that seem to keep opening up in places like Orlando, but I still wouldn't feel comfortable living on top of this cave.  You can't see in my photo but just above the entrance is a 3-story house, backed right up to the fence you can see a bit of above the entrance.  Brave people to live there.

I went back to the highway (it's just 1 lane each way with no shoulder, but it's designated a US highway, so it's a highway) and continued south.

North of the town of Glasgow I saw quite a few enormous single-family homes perched on a hill above town.  They were much bigger than your usual B&B and it seemed so odd to see so many like that in such a rural area.  Glasgow's got only about 14,000 residents and there aren't any metropolitan areas nearby.  Odd.

Glasgow is in Barren County and together they host the Kentucky annual Scottish Highland Games, much of them held at the nearby state park where I stayed.

I thought that name - Barren County, Barren River, Barren River Lake - was an odd name to choose, implying as it does a lack of resources.  The river is plenty big, very wide and carrying a lot of water.  And it seems a fertile place, given the number of farms I passed.  Maybe long ago settlers didn't think much of it?

As I got near the state park I saw a very large homemade sign saying Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery, with an accompanying Bible passage.  Made me wonder what the sign maker thought was going on in the area.

Even with this sign and all the I Stand For Life signs, I didn't see what I thought was an unusual number of churches or even particularly large ones or any unusual sects, so I suppose folks around here are religious without being fanatical church-goers.

We had pleasant weather today, plenty of sunshine.  Made for a nice drive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

American Printing House for the Blind

American Printing House for the Blind
I spent several hours taking a tour at this fascinating place.

They begin in the lobby to show how much a part of the city of Louisville they are:

On this list of wonderful things Louisville has contributed to American life, this printing house is ranked #9.  You might want to blow up the list to see some of the surprising things they claim for Louisville's own.

The historical marker on the left explains the importance of the printing house; the one on the right explains the history of the School for the Blind immediately next door.

This printing house, a private non-profit organization, is the official publisher of aids for the blind for all US states and territories, a substantial reach.

I guess the main reason I was interested in coming here is that my mom spent thousands of hours over nearly 25 years volunteering for Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, which records school textbooks for the reading-impaired.  This place is focused on producing materials for people with vision problems who need help in (figuratively) navigating publications and (literally) navigating walking around town and living an ordinary life.

Of course they show basic information about some of the various causes of vision impairment.  It can be caused not only by a birth defect, but by anything that disrupts an image from making its way to the brain.  Traumatic injuries after birth, such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, are an example of a disruption.  Louis Braille himself was blinded as a child by an accident with a tool in his father's leatherworking shop.  (I didn't realize there was an actual person named Braille, though I guess I should have.)

Braille was born in 1809 in France and was saved from a life of poverty (due to his blindness) by having a good brain.

The photo at left is a timeline of developments in education of the blind, including Louis Braille.

This sign (right) compares the Barbier Code, using 12 dots, with the 6-dot modified system Braille came up with.  Because Braille's code is more flexible, has less to memorize, and is easier to use, it was eventually adopted everywhere.

But that didn't happen quickly.  By the early 1900s, there were at least 5 modifications of Braille's original code in use.  A dominant one in US schools was called the New York Point system (having originated in NY).

The problem for an average reader was in needing to know all these various systems because a book could be printed in any of them.  It would be as if when I went to the library, I'd need to know French and Italian and Polish to be able to read the various books I wanted.

In 1892, a new kind of printing machine began to change the situation.  This machine printed the New York Point system, and for a while it was the most widely used.  However, in 1910, the American Printing House (where I was) voted to print half its books in American Braille.  And in 1917, talks between the US and England to establish a unified English language system broke down, and the Americans decided on a Revised American Braille System, which is what's in use today.

The innovations have been remarkable.  They included this 1915 printing machine (below) that allowed blind people to operate it and go through emerging computer technology, where IBM partnered with the printing house to computerize translation of ordinary English into Braille.

using a keypunch to translate into Braille
1915 printer

advances in materials for the blind

Advances weren't limited to Braille materials.  In 1913, for instance, an Ohio company began to produce books in large print, reasoning they would help low-vision students attend mainstream schools.  Of course, now all kinds of books are produced in large print editions - mysteries, biographies - it's not limited to textbooks.

Another innovation was what we now think of as Talking Books - books recorded on audio equipment.  The American Printing House produces a number of these books, much as Recordings for the Blind does.  Part of the tour included showing me their recording and proofreading studios being used while I was there.

The printing house produces much more than books now.  They recognized the need for blind people to have aids that would allow them to live full lives within the community - something they call orientation and mobility (O&M).  The street plan at right that they produce helps a person who has never been able to see understand what a street is, what an intersection is, what a roundabout is, and how to navigate through them.

skeleton teaching aid
it looks just as intimidating to me with Braille dots added

gives new meaning to having the world at your fingertips

The machines on the right are various ways to use computer chips to read and listen to recorded materials.

The machine at left produces Braille letters on the center pad as it "reads" something, so the blind reader can read without it being produced as a separate Braille document.  I've seen a fancy version of this in movies - Sneakers, for instance (a Redford movie).

Talking Books, by the way, were originally produced on vinyl records, then on cassettes, and now (skipping CDs altogether) on flash drives.  They are available on loan or for sale from the National Library Service for the Blind, a part of the Library of Congress.  These "books" can be used by anyone who is print-disabled, including those who can't hold a book for one reason or another.

The Blind Boys of Alabama
information about hymnals for the blind

The exhibit on music makes the point that though blind people often have an increased ability to hear, they don't necessarily have an increased ability to sing.  Music is as important to them as to anyone, and hymnals help them participate more fully in daily life.  (Again, not something I'd ever thought of.)

Using a cane to help navigate in the world seems obvious to us now but was yet another technique that developed slowly.  The printing house has an exhibit explaining how that happened, and a similar one about guide dogs.

Per Wikipedia, the dog's handler is like an airplane's navigator who knows how to get from one place to another, and the dog is like the pilot that gets them there safely.
development of guide dog use
guide dog at work

development of cane use by the blind

a convenience the early users
of canes never dreamed of

Helen Keller's 1947 desk and photos of her

explains the safe
gorgeous safe used by the printing house
The printing house and next-door School for the Blind are in an established residential neighborhood in Louisville.  There are sidewalks on both sides of the street for pedestrians.  But the street is a main thoroughfare and there's a railroad track nearby, so this is not an easy area for a blind person to navigate, though it certainly gives them practice in the real world.

There's a great deal more information presented on this tour than I was able to really appreciate.  Innovations such as figuring out how to print Braille dots on both sides of a piece of paper, for instance.  It all developed slowly over time, making life for a vision-impaired person today far easier than in the past.  Nonetheless, this place gave me a real appreciation for what my eyesight does for me, and how very much more difficult life is for people who can't see it.  I hope mine holds out for another 35 years.