Featuring worldwide places known for their art, sculptures, monuments, landmarks, travel articles

Archive for July, 2009

Mammoth Cave National Park

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on July 21st, 2009

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky includes the most extensive cave system known in the world. More than 367 miles of cave passageways have been mapped, and there may be more miles still uncharted. The national park preserves this cave system along with Kentucky’s Green River Valley and the surrounding hills. Since becoming a national park in 1941, the area has also been designated a World Heritage Site and an international Biosphere Reserve.

Mammoth Cave started to develop 350 million years ago in a layer of limestone. Over 70 million years, water slowly dissolved the stone and left the extensive network of tunnels. Then a new layer of rock, sandstone, formed a stable roof for the tunnels. Different layers of tunnels were formed by the Ohio River during the Tertiary and Quaternary Periods. Most of the caves are now dry, but the lower level of tunnels continues to be carved by the Green River, which is 450 feet underground. It can be seen outside, where it emerges along the eastern border of the park. When the river floods, whirlpools swell back into the cave system; similar whirlpools formed the cave’s larger rooms millions of years ago.

Anthropologists believe that Native Americans first found the caves about four thousand years ago. Artifacts like torches, pottery, woven cloth and petroglyphs show that people explored the cave network for two thousand years. They likely lived at the entrances and mined the tunnels for salt, gypsum, mirabilite and other minerals.

Why did the natives leave the area? Nobody knows for certain, but a gruesome 20th century points clearly in one direction. In 1935, cave guides found the mummified remains of a gypsum miner. He’d been crushed by a 5-ton boulder! Park officials named him “Lost John”. Several other ancient bodies were preserved in Mammoth Cave, and most seem to have buried there on purpose. One mummy was sold to P. T. Barnum. Lost John was displayed until the 1970s, when he was given a proper burial.

White settlers first arrived in the 18th century. Miners starting taking saltpeter (potassium or calcium nitrate crystals) in 1792; it was used to make gunpowder. The saltpeter demand dwindled after the War of 1812, but word of the unusually large cave system spread. Mammoth Cave quickly became a tourist attraction. By 1816, crowds of people in formal attire chiseled their names and the date into the cave walls. (Nowadays, people are encouraged to wear sneakers, and the practice of leaving messages is forbidden.)

Under the direction of a slave-owner and prospector named Franklin Gorin, a 17-year-old slave named Stephen Bishop began charting much of the network in 1830. Bishop was praised for his genius in many areas, and he excelled in geology. He explored the caves for many years and was the first to cross the now-famous Bottomless Pit. This opened the cave to further exploration. In 1839 he found two rivers and their odd eyeless inhabitants. In 1840 he discovered Mammoth Dome, a 192-foot tall structure draped in stalactites. Stephen’s discoveries continued until his death in 1857

Today the National Park Service makes many tours available. These range from the hour-long Mammoth Passage Tour, which is less than a mile long, to the 6-hour Wild Cave Tour that passes through five miles of the cave network. Some tours are pre-lit, but others require tourists to carry a paraffin lamp. Photography and videotaping are allowed. The cave is always chilly, so visitors are advised to bring a warm layer of clothing.

Explorers might spot some of 130 rare animal species. These include bats, beetles, fish, and the endangered Kentucky cave shrimp. It is blind and albino; there is little need for sight or pigment in the depths of a cave. At least eleven other Mammoth Cave species are eyeless and unpigmented.

After the darkness of spelunking, cave visitors might enjoy catching sunlight along Mammoth Cave National Park’s 70 miles of trails. These are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

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Mount St. Helens

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on July 15th, 2009

Mount St. Helens is most famous for its catastrophic eruption in 1980. The active volcano is located in Washington State, about 90 miles south of Seattle and 50 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon. The Mount St. Helens recreational area was re-opened in 1987.

The Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980 was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in United States history. A series of small earthquakes were detected starting on May 16, 1980. Two days later, at 8:32 on a Sunday morning, a massive earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale violently shook Mount St. Helens. The volcano violently erupted, its north face exploded, and lava poured fourth for nine continuous hours. Minor explosive activity would continue for six years.
More than 1,300 feet of the mountain’s rocky summit were blown away, leaving a mile-wide crater. The lava – which was 1300 degrees Fahrenheit — incinerated the surrounding forest and campsites, killing fifty-seven people and 7,000 large wild animals. It also destroyed more than $1 billion in property. The lava coated 185 miles of highway and 230 square miles of forest. It incinerated 250 homes, dozens of bridges, and 15 miles of railways.

In addition to the lava damage, the area surrounding Mount St. Helens suffered a massive avalanche of mountain debris. Within fifteen seconds of the largest explosion, ash clouds had formed fifteen miles up in the atmosphere. Ash was carried by wind throughout eastern Washington. Two hundred and fifty miles away, residents of Spokane said that daytime was as dark as night. After President Jimmy Carter surveyed the damage, he commented, “Someone said this area looked like a moonscape. But the moon looks more like a golf course compared to what’s up there.”Archaeological evidence suggests that many civilizations may have been impacted by Mount St. Helens’ eruptions. Campsites at least 6,500 years old have been discovered in the mountain vicinity. About four thousand years ago, aboriginal settlements were buried in pumice. People seem to have abandoned the land for two thousand years, after which hunters and gatherers returned for seasonal collection of food. These included members
of the Upper Chinook, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Taidnapam, and Yakama tribes. The tribes developed many legends to explain the historic catastrophe and intermittent volcanic activity.

Europeans may have first spotted the volcano in 1792 when the British Royal Navy Commander George Vancouver and his officers surveyed the Pacific Northwest coast. Vancouver named the mountain St. Helens in honor of a British diplomat, an Alleyne Fitzherbert, First Baron St. Helens. Geologists later determined that starting in 1800, the Goat Rocks area started erupting for 57 years! Fur traders and missionaries started to settle the area around 1840. Starting in the wintry days of 1842, they reported a “Great Eruption”. This produced ash clouds and was followed by 15 years of small-scale steam-and-ash explosions.

By 1980, Mount St. Helens did not seem as threatening. The nearby Spirit Lake offered recreational activities year-round, and the region was a popular boating, camping, and skiing destination. During the 1980 eruption, the lake was dramatically uplifted. Thousands of trees were uprooted and the lake sloshed water 800 feet upward. Once Spirit Lake settled again, it was smaller and much shallower than before. The lake was devoid of life, as volcanic gases removed all its oxygen.

The Mount St. Helens area was left to naturally recover. It has gradually changed from gray to green. Some areas are thriving with new coniferous forests, and even the areas coated with volcanic rock have seen vegetation emerge. By 1993, scientists reported seeing fish in the once uninhabitable Spirit Lake. Barring another explosion, by the year 2200 the forest may look as it did before the 1980 catastrophe.

President Ronald Reagan and the US Congress established the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in 1982. The park was reopened in 1987 and has only closed briefly, though seismic activity is still evident. People can access visitor centers on the west side of the mountain via State Road 504. Mountain climbing is permitted, and people can even dare a climb to the new crater of Mount St. Helens.

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