Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mammoth Cave - wildflowers and Cedar Sink

After our expedition into the cave, we went in search of an above-ground adventure in Mammoth Cave National Park that would give us a taste of the region, and found this in Cedar Sink Trail. A short walk leads to the lip of a giant depression, at the very bottom of which is a glimpse of an underground river as it briefly emerges into the sunlight. From the Highway 422 trailhead it was 0.6 miles on the spur trail to the intersection with the loop that descends down into the sink. Several short spur trails in the sink allowed hikers to view various natural features before the loop takes you back up the other side and circles around on the rim of the sink. I believe the total mileage to be somewhere around 1.6 miles, including the several flights of stairs.

yellow trout lily

The small body of water visible in the sink is a section of the Hawkins-Logsdon underground river system, which stretches dozens of miles before surfacing, then disappearing again into the bluff to continue its journey to the Green River (which it meets at Turnhole Bend). Sinks are essential to the cave ecosystem, as organic matter is washed into the cave providing nutrients to the underground ecosystem.

Our visit to the sink corresponded to the rebirth of the forest floor after the cold winter. The sink was carpeted in wildflowers, dozens of different species in a plethora of colors painting a gorgeous canvas on our morning hike. On our way out we noticed smaller sinks, deer trails, animal tracks and more beautiful flora.

Catesby's trillium
celandine poppy

common blue violet

cutleaf toothwort

immature ferns

fire pink

Halberd-leaf yellow violet



rattlesnake plantain

red trillium

rue anemone

wild blue phlox

this one is so familiar, but I couldn't place it...

star chickweed

spring beauty


It was easy to get lost in the beautiful spring landscape on this short, but educational hike. Other than a ranger, a few people taking photographs of the trout lilies and a couple of families out for a hike, the woods were quiet and still – I imagine most of the crowds stick to the underground tours and Green River hikes. However, this relative ‘wildness’ gives a false sense of security – not far away the National Park boundary marks the beginning of private lands, and although the underground rivers don’t recognize these boundaries, pollutants do. Contamination from agriculture, transportation corridors and residential developments pose serious threats to the fragile underground habitat of the cave rivers.

Upon our return to the trailhead we settled down for a picnic lunch before continuing our exploration of the above-ground portion of Mammoth Cave National Park. Next was a stop at Turnhole Bend, to see where the river that runs through the Cedar Sink joins the Green River.

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