Posts Tagged ‘outdoor activities’

“They’re Like Little Green Brains”


“Monkey Brain!”

It happens every fall; I walk up from a cave tour and come across a group waiting for their tour. One of them sees my uniform and name tag and comes to me with a question mark floating over his or her head. As the guest says, “I have a question for you,” others in the group lean in. It seems they also would like to hear the answer to the forthcoming question. Having been through this for many autumn seasons now, I already have a pretty good idea of what the question is going to be. I respond, “What’s your question?” and the guest says, “There are these little. . .green. . . things on the ground that look like. . . monkey brains or something. What are they?”


“It looks like an old banana peel…”


These “monkey brains” are one of the two tree features that inspire questions each fall at Lost River Cave, the other one is a long brown pod that is often described as looking like an old banana peel. I’d like to shed a little light on these fall ground decorations and the trees that produce them.




Osage Orange Tree at Lost River Cave

First of all, the “monkey brains” the fruit of a tree known as the Osage Orange (Malcura pomifera). The fruit is often referred to as a hedge apple. This tree was used profusely as a hedge row tree both for the purposes of being a windbreak as well as a cattle fence before the wide availability of barbed wire. I have heard it said that to build an Osage Orange hedge, you dig a trench, line up the hedge apples in the trench, cover them, then walk away. The shoots of this tree can grow 3-6 feet in a single year, so before long you had a thick hedge row with twisted intertwining trunks. Making it especially useful as a fence are its short, stout spines present on the branches. The fruit is not poisonous and can be eaten by humans, but, and I’ve not tested this myself, apparently it tastes absolutely awful. When exposed to frost the taste improves and becomes “cucumber-like” which to me is still absolutely awful, but to each his/her own. The wood has been considered very useful. It resists rot, has a tight grain, and is dense therefore it makes excellent tool handles, tree nails, and fence posts. It is also an excellent wood for making bows. In fact the French name for the tree is “bois d’arc,” which means “bow-wood.” The fruit of the tree was long believed to be a repellent for spiders and insects, and studies have found that an extract from the fruit indeed is an effective insect repellent.


Honey Locust Tree, notice the thorns on the right of the trunk.

Our other interesting tree is easy to spot once you know its distinguishing characteristic. That would be the gigantic, sharp, scary looking thorns that emerge from the trunk of the Gleditsia triacanthos, or “Honey locust.” In the past, the thorns have actually been used as nails. The wood of this tree is very high quality, but isn’t used often, probably because people don’t like working with a tree which has thorns that can puncture tractor tires. The seed pods that catch people’s eyes on the trails this time of year are where the “honey” part of this tree’s name come from. They contain a thick, green, very sweet pulp inside that was used as food by Native Americans and can be fermented to make beer. The seeds in the pulp have even been roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

No wonder the tree is covered in thorns larger than my hand. It has fruit growing on it that can be made into both beer and coffee.

So, that’s a wrap on the two most asked about trees at Lost River Cave. Come on down and get acquainted with them for yourself. We have wonderful nature trails to hike, and while you’re here, take a cave tour as well.

For lots more information on what we have to offer, find us online at, and follow us on facebook.

Welcome new team members!

ImageThis week has been intense for our new summer tour guides and guest service employees. They are discovering the rich cultural history of the cave and valley area as well as the biology, geology and ecology that makes a visit to Lost River Cave an unique experience.

New team member Crys Smith noted, “There is so much to know about Lost River Cave… It’s not overwhelming, it is eye opening!”

New team member Sabir Khayaliyer was most excited about our vibrant ecology, but he didn’t fail to mention how good the Linzie’s sandwich was that we had for our welcome lunch.

“This is a fantastic team! We are blessed this year with confident, personable individuals who are sure to make this one of the best years Lost River Cave has ever had,” added Wildflower Gift’s Manager Sylvia Risher.

Our Executive Director Rho Lansden couldn’t have agreed more. She believes this team really has a grasp of our mission to restore, preserve and protect Lost River Cave. Lansden observed the team’s excitement about becoming part of the Lost River Cave culture.

Writings on the Wall

Men at Lost River Cave when the dam was being built.

Lost River Cave Historical Photo

With over 600 known miles of cave passages networking their way through South-Central Kentucky, many residents of these areas are well aware of our unique underground. Even with this, massive subterranean caves in the region are still being forgotten and our children continue to grow up without ever experiencing this frontier. Perhaps this can be accounted to a lack of knowledge, or maybe you’re just not quite ready to shell out $150 for a headlamp that boasts a 200 lumen light… especially when you’re not even sure what the heck a lumen is. Regardless of the reason, caves remain a valuable, entertaining, and hands-on way to educate our children on a variety of topics ranging from safety to science, to interpretive storytelling.

Every cave has a story to tell, from the writings on the wall, to the way the carbonic acid carved its way through the soluble bedrock; and nearly every caver will agree it is a major reason to venture into the dark (with at least three sources of light of course).  Did you know over a dozen names of both Confederate and Union soldiers are written on the cave walls with smoke at Lost River Cave? All of these soldiers called the Lost River Valley home during their respective encampments. Of course, this is merely a speck of Lost River Cave’s timeline that has spanned hundreds of thousands of years.

With so much raw maturity, it’s no wonder why caves remain such a beautiful and fragile environment. For many first time cavers, simply seeing this maturity from an up-close perspective is enough to instill a genuinely profound, lasting respect for the natural world which, as you can imagine, truly helps in our conservation efforts of these karst features.

Rewind to the days of oil lanterns and manila rope, when the excitement of caving lay in the thrill of discovery. When early guides like Stephen Bishop, who discovered most of what is today Mammoth Cave, would spend days at a time traversing passages, that back then, had more than likely never seen a footstep.  It’s what keeps cavers coming back; the thought that, at any point, only a handful of people have ever witnessed the same jaw-dropping formation.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way advocating throwing on an old pair of Levis, grabbing the closest BIC lighter and taking to the underground. Proper caving requires much more organization and planning. There’s equipment to gather, people to inform, batteries to check, and maps to read. All of which can result in a serious headache for the under-experienced. Then, there’s the final issue of tracking down a knowledgeable guide. This has to be someone who’s undoubtedly familiar with the cave and knows the challenges the group may face (I say ‘group’ because a general rule is to never go caving in groups of less than three

Kid's Discovery Cave Crawl

Now, beginning April 14, Lost River Cave can help your children ‘dig deeper’ into this environment by way of our new Kid’s Discovery Cave Crawl. This tour is designed for children ages 6-12. It not only gives children an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers and famed speleo-explorers while learning safe caving practices, but also allows them the chance to fulfill one of their earliest fascinations… to get dirty. And by dirty, we mean REALLY DIRTY!


Guest Writer

Outdoor Adventure Journalist, Danny Dresser

Annie Holt – Nonformal EE Certification Program

Congratulations to our Park Naturalist, Annie Holt, who recently became one of the 2012 graduates of the Nonformal EE Certification program.

The Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KEEC) is a state agency within the Education Cabinet. One opportunity it offers is an annual Nonformal EE Certification program. The course work includes debates and research papers over prominent environmental topics, in addition to tests over theory and practice of environmental education techniques.

In reflection, Holt said, “It was very challenging, stressful at times, but fun. In the end I was very proud of what I was able to bring into our programming at Lost River Cave.”

We are so proud of what Holt has accomplished to forward our mission as well as provide schools and families with fun and educational programs.


Annie Holt

2012 Graduating Class

Holiday Survival Guide

This time of year is often known as the great race to see what gives out first – your feet or your money. Bring the whole family to Lost River Cave for a well deserved and peaceful Holiday outing that won’t strain your pocketbook.

  • Take family photos on Santa’s sleigh – Free
  • Take a scenic nature walk on the bluehole or greenways trail – Free
  • Become a Junior Tour Guide – Free
  • Geo-caching – Free
  • Bird watching at the Bird Blind – Free
  • Get last minute shopping done without the holiday hassle at our gift shop Wildflower Gifts
  • Cave Boat Tour (call ahead to check water levels)

We are open seven days a week 9-6pm. Closed – December 24, 25, and January 1

Not-for-Profit 101

8th Annual Earth Day Invasive Plant Pull

It’s time to root out and destroy pesky plant invaders with at the 8th Annual Invasive Plant Pull!  In celebration of Earth Day, Lost River Cave and Valley invites you to spend an afternoon to help re-invigorate the valley floor, on Saturday, April, 23th from 1:00PM – 4:00PM. Bring your entire family and join other community members as they band together in an attempt to eradicate invasive plants from the Lost River Valley.

Pre-register so we can plan a plant plot for you to help pull pesky plants from the valley. Early-bird registrants will receive free Invasive Plant Pull t-shirts, Free Boat Tours, Door Prizes, and Gift Shop Discounts.  Volunteers can pre-register by visiting us online at to download the application. Applications can also be picked up at Lost River Cave and Valley located at 2818 Nashville Road in Bowling Green, KY or calling us at 270-393-0077.

The Invasive Plant Pull is an annual event at Lost River Cave & Valley offering individuals a chance to gain volunteer experience while teaching you to detect invasive plant species wherever you see them. With your help Lost River will one day be rid of the pesky sprouts that run rampantly over the 25-acre valley floor. Clearing plants like winter creeper and privet is easy work that provides much needed elbow room for our long suffering native plants. Your handiwork will be rewarded when you see that sunshine, rain and nutrients are helping to re-invigorate the forest floor with a carpet of ferns and native flowers that provide food and shelter for the valley’s native and migrating animals.


FRIENDS OF LOST RIVER is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The organization is committed to environmental education, community building, and natural resource preservation. Lost River Cave has been visited by travelers from all over the world who come to experience Kentucky’s Only Underground Boat Tour.

Butterflies Flutter at Lost River Cave

One of the most unique features of the wooded, 70-acre valley at Lost River Cave is the Charlie Miller Butterfly Habitat.

Photo courtesy of Laura Kissinger

This gem, located approximately a quarter of a mile down the Blue Hole Trails, is the only butterfly habit open on an annual basis in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Make a special trip to witness hundreds of native Kentucky butterflies flutter around you as they land on specially selected vegetation.

During the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the habitat is open everyday from 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at no charge for guests.

On Sunday, June 27th, the annual butterfly celebration will take place! From 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. children will be able to release their very own butterfly into the habitat. Other activities include face painting, a butterfly talk, and the ability to walk around and enjoy the park.

Your children will be amazed as they take a butterfly into their hands and watch it fly away. The heat from the sun and the oxygen from the air give the butterfly the lift that it needs to soar through the habitat.

Many different types of butterflies fly around the habitat everyday including, painted ladies, monarchs, black swallowtails, red admirals, morning cloaks, gulf fritallry, and giant swallowtails.

Can you find all of them?

We hope to see you this Sunday at the Butterfly Habitat at 1 p.m.!

Laura Kissinger Designs