The Great Outdoors Beneath Your Feet
~ ZZ Troutski
You’ve climbed mountains, cast your line in the crystal clear ponds and streams, hunted in the wilderness that this extraordinary country has to offer, and more. But there’s another local right beneath your feet that can become the experience of a lifetime. It’s also one of the best places to go in order to get out from under the blazing heat of the summer sun.
Although above-ground is lovely and there are many excursions, journeys and adventures one can take with the family – below-ground there’s an entire world filled with some of the most stunning formations you’ll ever see. Not to mention, the history of some of these caverns is extraordinary.
Cathedral Caverns State Park, located in Alabama, is a sight you’ll never forget. Originally named Bats Cave, this was an attraction developed by Jay Gurley. It was declared a historic landmark in the 1970s because the owners – the Kennamer family – actually settled in the cave and used it as a home.
If you’re a horror fan, it was in 1983 that this cave was used as principal photography for ‘Secrets of the Phantom Caverns’; and then in 1995, Cathedral Caverns did a complete genre turnaround and was the actual cave set for Disney’s film ‘Tom and Huck.’ A true archaeological wonder, excavations have actually proven that Cathedral Caverns was home to Native Americans as early as 7000 BCE.
Another below-round sight you can enjoy is located in Arizona. The Colossal Cave system near Vail offers 3.5 miles of mapped-out passageways you can explore. And if you’re looking for a cool place, this is definitely it. The temperature remains at an average of seventy degrees year-round, and being that it’s an ancient ‘dry’ cave, the formations you see inside have been frozen in time. Literally. Seeing as that everything is completely dry, they no longer grow.
The Ursa Minor Cave, a fraction of Sequoia National Park, is also a location that many people rave about. Naturally formed, the cave was discovered recently – in 2006 – by four professional cave explorers from the Cave Research Foundation. They actually stumbled across a small-sized hole on a cliff face in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and after widening the hole, they discovered one of the most stunning caves known to man.
Getting its name from a large bear skeleton that was found inside the cave, Ursa Minor has been in a ton of magazines, calling out to explorers, researchers, and scientists to come find new species that could very well be growing in the darkness.
Mark Twain Cave is, of course, found in the prolific writer’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. This is the oldest operating ‘show’ cave in the state;
tours have been given to people since 1886. This is a truly cool National Landmark that played a pivotal role in Twain’s most memorable story, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.’
In a slightly more horrific piece of history, the Cave also played home to Hannibal physician, Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell, who purchased it and used it as a laboratory for experiments on human corpses – including Twain’s daughter.
Even the notable gunslinger, Jesse James, was part of the history of this cave. In September, 1879, after a train robbery in the nearby town of Saverton, the outlaw used the cave as a hideout; he even signed and dated one of the cave’s walls that tourists can get a look at all year long.
Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico still reigns supreme in the cavern-lovers category. Here, visitors can hike or ride on an elevator into the depths of the mammoth structure.
The sights are stunning and the rooms are many: Big Room, New Mexico Room, Kings Palace, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room and Green Lake Room, just to name a few. And the cave’s memorable formations also have names; from the Totem Pole to the Witch’s Finger to the Temple of the Sun.
So if you’re slightly bored with all those above-ground sports and activities, take a dip into history and witness some of the most thrilling sights Mother Nature has ever created.