For work, I've been doing some maps and reports for the Central Appalachian area's caves, and last monday and tuesday we had the meeting to talk about it all. The meeting was interesting, but the part that was even better was when they actually brought us into a cave. I didn't think I would like being in a cave, because I generally don't like small dark spaces that are underground. But, we were told that we would be going into one of the biggest caves in Virginia, so I was slightly reassured.
When we got there, two guys gave us a little talk on the history of the cave and caves in the area, and then explained where they would be taking us. The shorter guy was going on a slightly more strenuous route, for "those of us who like climbing up and down", while the taller dude was going to take the group more interested in the larger passageways. The Boston contingent chose the walkable passageways.
The cave opening was this door into a highway culvert--I guess that many of the caves on private land are gated, to keep out intruders and to keep the inside of the cave more like what it had been before us pesky humans had come and disturbed everything. We descended the culvert, which had a wooden ladder on it, and soon found ourselves clambering downhill through a big tunnel thing. It almost looked manmade, until you paid attention to the faults in the rock and the way the ceiling was formed. Occasionally we'd pass smaller passageways to the sides, some of them way up high, some of them half-filled with rocky debris from the last floods, most of them too small (according to my expert opinion here) for an adult. We saw the occasional bat, mostly eastern pipistrelles, which had the cave biologists in our group very excited. Frankly, there wasn't much life down there, so I guess seeing a cave beetle could set you off if you spend enough time underground.
We stopped at one of the side passageways to take a look down it. I poked my head up there, and decided there was no way I would ever fit through there. It disappeared off into the darkness, barely big enough for a small cat to squeeze through. Our guide said he'd been down there, apparently it leads into a much larger room, but there was no way that we were going there.
This cave apparently has 17 miles of passageways, and we saw barely a mile of it. Our guide took us up to the upper passageways, which were a little drier and a little larger, and we only had to crawl once. At one point, he showed us "the pit", and with my dinky little light I couldn't see the bottom, which is supposedly 150 feet down. We did get to see some sweet helectites (I really don't know what these are, they were described to me as "stalactites that have gone crazy"), they were these delicate little crystalline things, I guess they're pretty rare. Mostly, the cave just looked like slimy limestone, with not much happening biologically. One of the first things I noticed was the lack of airflow-- if you farted, it smelled for a looooong time. I did this experiment away from the group, luckily.
After the helectites, our guide was talking about taking us through "the rabbit hole", but luckily we were out of time. I know that I had no interest whatsoever in going through something called "the rabbit hole".
Cavers come up with some interesting names for their caves... I made a list of my favorite ones from the caves we were looking at during the meeting:
50 Foot Hell Cave
Commander Adama Killer Bat Cave
Dying Skunk Cave
Holy Terror Cave
Mashed Finger Cave
Rubber Chicken Entrance
Salamander Suicide Pit
Thistle Ass Cave
Definitely Nasty Cave