In these last two posts I have been answering a common question: "Where do you go when you get time off?" While Elk Lake, and the Centennial Valley are always our first choice, sometimes we enjoy exploring other locations in our general area. Thus, one warm August day we headed north a couple hours to visit Lewis and Clark Caverns.
In the last post we made it to the cavern's mouth. Today we venture inside. Note: My apologies in advance for the photo quality. While our guide 'said' he would tell us when we could begin using our camera's flash, he never gave the okay. Thus all these photos depended on a steady hand (which I sometimes lack) and what light the cave provided.
Since this was my first cave adventure, I had no idea what to expect. However, talking to others since my visit, I suspect I started with one of the best - and most interesing! The schematic drawing we purchased from the gift shop should have clued me in to the amazing vastness and variety this cavern offers.
Waiting for the final members of our expedition to reach the cave's mouth, I enjoyed looking at the scenic vistas spread at our feet. However, my attention sooned turned to the cavern itself. Look at these colors! I'm glad I noticed them as the poor light inside did not allow us to really appreciate the colorations on the interior walls.
As I mentioned last time, I was not quite sure I really 'wanted' to venture into the earth's belly. However, these youngsters don't seem the least fearful. That dark hole ahead of them clearly offers adventure! So. . .shamed into subjection I plunged into my first middle-earth experience!
Little did I know today's cavern introduction is much milder than what earlier explorers experienced. Our first stop was at the 'original' entrance - a much smaller opening high on the hillside followed by a steep (rope aided) descent.
From here we slid down further and further into the darkness. Yet, coming around a bend we caught sight of a hole - a big hole! Here, our guide informed us, early cave visitors would descend even further down a rickety wooden spiral staircase. I thought, "I'm not sure I'd want to go down there - even with good access." Little did I know, before our exploration ended, I'd be at the bottom looking up while listening to the story of the guy who fell down that hole!
Anyone who has explored many caves has probably seen a LOT of this kind of thing. However, I found these cave 'growths' fascinating! To imagine water and time and temperature were the primary forces to create such beauty - WOW!
Over and over - everywhere I looked (or at least could 'see') there was eye-candy to behold. Oh, I know, it has a lot of fancy- like 'stalagmite' - and not-so-fancy - like 'popcorn' - names, but this was my FIRST cave experience thus, like a true tourist exploring Tolkein's Middle Earth, the details were not nearly as interesting as the sights!
From pillar to post and back again our path wandered up and down and over and through. At one point we even slid down a short rock slide. The variety of 'cave-scapes', the sheer beauty of our surroundings, and the adventure finally took hold and I began to thoroughly enjoy this experience!
Did you know these stalactites are formed much like a tree - in rings? Of course the 'rings' are less uniform - but the layers are amazing and the years required to create even a 3 inch diameter stalactite are mind boggling.
Sometimes a guide is nothing but a traffic cop - just herding people around and reining in their curiosity. However, I have come to really appreciate a GOOD guide - and we were blessed with a very good one. I would have totally missed this old couple, admiring the view high above us had our guide not pointed them out!
Like a good landscape, these middle-earth rock formations never became dull. The waves and folds, the humps and bumps, the colors and variety kept me turning and staring and snapping pictures (many of which were just too dark) to try and capture the diversity.
One of the final 'rooms' we visited seemed to explode with color. While I believe they used colored lights to enhance the effect, these rocks bloomed in various shades of purple, blue, orange and pink. Little did I expect to find middle-earth's rock flower garden!
But what is a fancy flower garden without a water feature? And, since middle-earth has its own personality this water feature showcased a pink cascade of molten rock sparkling and shining in a frozen flow from the ceiling above!
All too soon, even for this solar-powered wide-open-space gal, the tour ended. We traversed the long tunnel and stumbled out into the now-blinding sunlight above. Would I recommend this day trip from Elk Lake? You bet!
Lady of the Lake