Monday, July 14, 2008

Desert Destination: A Marshmallow Cave

Over the weekend I went on a fun adventure to a cave. Full disclaimer: I love caves. I go in a cave whenever I can. Usually the caves involve lots of mud and/or lots of crawling. To my great surprise, this cave didn't involve either.

That little hole way up on the mountainside is Goshute Cave, but it's more fun to call it Marshmallow Cave because much of the interior is filled with giant white mammilaries that look like marshmallows! You'll see in a minute.

The trip was sponsored by the Northern Nevada Grotto. Grottoes are caving clubs, and they're located all over the country. They are part of the National Speleological Society, which has lots of great information about caves. One of the best parts about the Northern Nevada Grotto is that it has no dues. And it meets online. So all in all, it's a rather convenient organization to be a part of. The downside is that to actually see other members, you have to turn off the TV, get off the couch, and go somewhere. It worked out that I could go on this trip at the last minute because my wonderful hubby agreed to come along and watch Desert Boy. Desert Boy doesn't love caves, at least not yet, and my hubby can't get very excited about crawling so he didn't mind skipping the cave. 

Here's a view from the trail up to the cave. (It was a steep trail, so I had to do something while I was gasping for air.) You can see the Great Basin desert stretching out into the smoke-filled hazy horizon. The California wildfires are definitely having an impact on much more than California.
Here's the rock scramble below the entrance. Actually the entrance is a smaller hole to the left of the big, gaping one, but you can't see it until you're up there.
In case I didn't know where I was. Rooms throughout the cave had been named, apparently by a group back in 1912.
Here are those marshmallows I was talking about! These are mammillaries, which formed under water. Although they look sort of soft, they are hard calcite.
In some places the mammilaries have been eroded away, showing rings. These indicate that the mammilaries formed one layer of calcite at a time.
Another white, intriguing formation was the folia, layer upon layer of honeycomb looking calcite.
This is a closeup of the folia, where you can see that the layers aren't quite parallel. One suggestion as to their formation is that bubbles created the slightly sloping edges.
The main cave passage descended steeply, and we had to slide down some sections.
The proper caving gear of helmet, headlamps, sturdy clothing and boots, and kneepads, made the caving trip much more enjoyable and safe.
These aragonite crystals were tucked away in a little alcove. It is amazing to see such a delicate-looking formation and marvel how it has survived for thousands of years.
Here is a cave shield, a fairly rare speleothem. Its color contrasted with the wall behind it, suggesting that the water percolating into the cave to form the shield is picking up minerals along the way.
We climbed into an upper passage to go down a tight little hole called The Toilet Bowl. It is so small that your whole body completely fills the hole, and you can't see where you're going.
Eventually even your head disappears, and you are flushed into another part of the cave. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
These colorful draperies were part of the attraction of the cave. I was impressed with the diversity of formations and the large walking passages. The entire group seemed to enjoy the cave trip.
After reading this post, you're either ready to head down into the nearest hole or you're saying that cavers are a weird group of people, for who in their right mind would want to descend into the bowels of the earth? If you're in that second group, this photo helps explain why it's great to go into a cave. When you see a weird formation like this helictite, which grew upward and curving in spite of gravity, you realize that caves are one of the last frontiers, where we don't understand exactly how they formed and don't know what their bounds are. It might just be possible that you're sitting on top of a cave right now! 


Anonymous said...

Hooray caves!

Anonymous said...

So when do we get to go with you to a muddy, crawly cave?

flatbow said...

When you come for the wedding this fall I can take you to a couple of local caves that have plenty of mud and water!

Anonymous said...

You're not weird, just crazy! I'm having a panic attack just seeing the decent into the toilet bowl!

Lori said...

I agree with anonymous - I felt my throat close up a little just looking at that second photo of the toilet bowl!!

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