Outer Places: Photos of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cave formations.

Cave formations.

Mention the Cumberland Gap and many people immediately think of Daniel Boone who blazed the Wilderness Trail through the gap. European-American settlers then migrated along the trail into what is now Kentucky and Tennessee, but Native Americans traveled through the gap long before Daniel Boone.

The Cumberland Gap is the site of a national historical park. The old Wilderness Trail now serves visitors who want to hike along the route used by early settlers. Near the gap is one entrance to Gap Cave, a 14-mile (+/-) long cave winding through the mountains. It serves as habitat for several species of bats, but only a small portion is open to human visitors. A disease is killing the bats, and the Park Service wants to prevent humans from spreading spores. Even in the small part that’s open, the geological features are spectacular, especially as recorded by a digital camera.

A camera makes all the difference. Human eyes see the cave with the aid of a flashlight, which offers a limited, color distorted vision. But the camera, aided by a flash, records a more even distribution of color-balanced light, allowing us to see on the computer an image we couldn’t otherwise see.

I took a wide-angle zoom lens on a Nikon D200 camera. The Park Service doesn’t allow tripods or supplemental lighting setups in the cave, so a visitor has to take handheld photos with an on-camera flash. Later, on a computer, the cave comes into vivid color.

I edited the exposures, saturated some natural colors, sharpened and cropped the images, but that was about all.

I spent only part of day at the Park. The high road to Pinnacle Overlook was closed due to ice, then enshrouded in fog after it opened. I was able to photograph remnants of an old iron furnace, some hikers, and a few related scenes. The Gap Cave, however, became the highpoint of my visit.

Enjoy the photographs.

[Click on the first photo in the collection to activate the gallery feature, then click through the photos. Captions are below the photos.]