Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Allure of Going Underground

It's starting to warm up, and during the hot summer afternoons I think about what the animals are doing to stay cool. I especially admire the animals that go underground--the burrowing owls, snakes, marmots, badgers, kit foxes, and many insects. If you just go a couple feet underground it's amazing how much cooler the temperature is. I spent many afternoons as a kid in the basement to take advantage of the natural coolness the ground provided (and Mom wouldn't let us go to the swimming pool until late afternoon when the sun rays weren't as strong). Perhaps those many afternoons in the basement helped develop a love of caves in me.When I see a dark hole beckoning, I can't help but wonder what is in there. The desert is full of caves; perhaps the most famous one is Carlsbad Caverns in the Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico. Gigantic rooms are followed by even larger ones. Towering formations that reach to the ceiling are overwhelming. I can't really fathom the time it took for these formations to grow, one drop of water at a time, the calcite slowly accumulating over years, decades, centuries, millenia. Seeing so many formations in desert caves makes it obvious that the desert above the cave has not always been around, at one point the climate was much wetter. A trip through a cave like Carlsbad Caverns is breathtaking and awe inspiring.
But what really gets my blood pumping is when I'm in a cave off the beaten path and see a hole that perhaps no one has been down. I'll wiggle through to see what's on the other side. I even know how small a hole I can fit through and not get stuck. That's important when your hobby is wiggling through little holes in the ground.
There are always holes too small for me, but I know that other creatures might be there. I'm just a visitor to the cave. There are creatures who make their homes underground. This cave cricket spends part of its life cycle in a cave and has extra long antennae to be able to feel around in the entirely dark environment. I always make sure to take three sources of light and a helmet because I don't want to be left in the dark and bump my head. But sometimes I turn off my light in the cave, and the rest of the group I'm with does the same, and we stay as quiet as we can. The dark becomes so intense that I start imagining that I'm seeing cave walls or creatures. The quiet becomes a dull roar in my ears, sometimes punctuated by a drop of water hitting the cave floor. Drip, drip, drip. The monotony becomes torture, and before long someone makes a noise so that we can reassure ourselves that we aren't alone. We'll continue on the trip, enjoying the journey of being in a place that few people experience.
No matter how beautiful and exciting the cave, I always feel a little surge of adrenalin when I see daylight peeking through the entrance. I emerge from the cave and take a deep breath of the vegetation-tinged air and feel the heat of the sun on my cheeks. I've made it out; the cave has not claimed me. It doesn't take long, though, to start thinking about that next trip into the unknown. 


Cassi said...

I am SO loving reading your blog- it brings me back to beautiful Baker! I miss it back home! All the pictures and stories are wonderful!
Thanks so much, Cassi

flatbow said...

You forgot to mention that the basement was also the realm of such computer classics as Robowar and Moria where we'd spend hours upon hours designing "robots" that fought each other in the digital arena or hunted the balrog of Moria (represented by a 'B' on the computer screen).

Those are some good looking cavers you have pictures of. I wonder who they are? ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm hyperventilating right now! But who knows, maybe one of these days I'll be able to........or maybe not.
Love your blog and your adventuresome spirit.

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