On the hiking trail of John Muir in Hart County

In September of 1867 John Muir, now considered the Father of the National Park Service, set out on a 1000 mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico.  This route, which began in Indianapolis, was the first of many explorations by Muir. His curiosity took him over much of the United States, discovering the importance of preserving our national treasures along the way.

Many of the places he mentions are waiting to be discovered by you today. We hope you enjoy the journey through his eyes. A portion of his “A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf” journal entries follows, from sierraclub.org:

September 5. No bird or flower or friendly tree above me this morning; only squalid garretrubbish and dust. Escaped to the woods. Came to the region of caves. At the mouth of the first I discovered, I was surprised to find ferns which belonged to the coolest nooks of Wisconsin and northward, but soon observed that each cave rim has a zone of climate peculiar to itself, and it is always cool. This cave had an opening about ten feet in diameter, and twenty-five feet perpendicular depth. A strong cold wind issued from it and I could hear the sounds of running water. A long pole was set against its walls as if intended for a ladder, but in some places it was slippery and smooth as a mast and would test the climbing powers of a monkey. The walls and rim of this natural reservoir were finely carved and flowered. Bushes leaned over it with shading leaves, and beautiful ferns and mosses were in rows and sheets on its slopes and shelves. Lingered here a long happy while, pressing specimens and printing this beauty into memory.

Old Munford Inn in Munfordville Kentucky.

Arrived about noon at Munfordville; was soon discovered and examined by Mr. Munford himself, a pioneer and father of the village. He is a surveyor — has held all country offices, and every seeker of roads and lands applies to him for information. He regards all the villagers as his children, and all strangers who enter Munfordville as his own visitors. Of course he inquired my business, destination, et cetera, and invited me to his house.

After refreshing me with “parrs” he complacently covered the table with bits of rocks, plants, et cetera, things new and old which he had gathered in his surveying walks and supposed to be full of scientific interest. He informed me that all scientific men applied to him for information, and as I was a botanist, he either possessed, or ought to possess, the knowledge I was seeking, and so I received long lessons concerning roots and herbs for every mortal ill. Thanking my benefactor for his kindness, I escaped to the fields and followed a railroad along the base of a grand hill ridge.

Re-creation of John Muir’s travel on the railroad tracks from Munfordville.

As evening came on all the dwellings I found seemed to repel me, and I could not muster courage enough to ask entertainment at any of them. Took refuge in a log schoolhouse that stood on a hillside beneath stately oaks and slept on the softest looking of the benches.

John Muir walk re-creation, a schoolhouse in between Munfordville and Horse Cave.

September 6. Arrived at Horse Cave, about ten miles from the great cave. The entrance is by a long easy slope of several hundred yards. It seems like a noble gateway to the birthplace of springs and fountains and the dark treasuries of the mineral kingdom. This cave is in a village [of the same name] which it supplies with an abundance of cold water, and cold air that issues from its fern-clad lips. In hot weather crowds of people sit about it in the shade of the trees that guard it. This magnificent fan is capable of cooling everybody in the town at once.

Hidden River Cave, once called Horse Cave and visited by John Muir.

Those who live near lofty mountains may climb to cool weather in a day or twos but the overheated Kentuckians can find a patch of cool climate in almost every glen in the State. The villager who accompanied me said that Horse Cave had never been fully explored, but that it was several miles in length at least. He told me that he had never been at Mammoth Cave — that it was not worth going ten miles to see, as it was nothing but a hole in the ground, and I found that his was no rare case. He was one of the useful, practical men — too wise to waste precious time with weeds, caves, fossils, or anything else that he could not eat.

Arrived at the great Mammoth Cave. I was surprised to find it in so complete naturalness. A large hotel with fine walks and gardens is near it. But fortunately the cave has been unimproved, and were it not for the narrow trail that leads down the glen to its door, one would not know that it had been visited. There are house-rooms and halls whose entrances give but slight hint of their grandeur. And so also this magnificent hall in the mineral kingdom of Kentucky has a door comparatively small and unpromising. One might pass within a few yards of it without noticing it. A strong cool breeze issues constantly from it, creating a northern climate for the ferns that adorn its rocky front.

Mammoth Cave National Park Historic Entrance, visited by John Muir in September of 1867.

I never before saw Nature’s grandeur in so abrupt contrast with paltry artificial gardens. The fashionable hotel grounds are in exact parlor taste, with many a beautiful plant cultivated to deformity, and arranged in strict geometrical beds, the whole pretty affair a laborious failure side by side with Divine beauty. The trees around the mouth of the cave are smooth and tall and bent forward at the bottom, then straight upwards. Only a butternut seems, by its angular knotty branches, to sympathize with and belong to the cave, with a fine growth of Cystopteris andHypnum.

Started for Glasgow Junction. Got belated in the hill woods. Inquired my way at a farm-house and was invited to stay overnight in a rare, hearty, hospitable manner. Engaged in familiar running talk on politics, war times, and theology. The old Kentuckian seemed to take a liking to me and advised me to stay in these hills until next spring, assuring me that I would find much to interest me in and about the Great Cave; also, that he was one of the school officials and was sure that I could obtain their school for the winter term. I sincerely thanked him for his kind plans, but pursued my own.

Read more about the places Muir visited here: