A journey through Aladdin’s Cave
Fellow wanderers- it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, so let me start by apologizing for my absence. In doing so, I can’t help but mention some of the projects that have claimed of my time, as 2018 has felt like a juggling act. While the corporate day job remains perpetually understaffed, I managed to carve out the time to re-enroll in college this spring in order to complete what has been sitting on hold for the last half-decade. As long as schedules continue to fit together, I will have not one, but two bachelor’s degrees by next spring. There’s commitment involved beyond just waiting out that time frame, though, so as I write this, I *might* be procrastinating on studying for an exam. The family seems to like attention, too, and those additional characters of Carl and Arwyn that I presented a couple of years ago didn’t run off to Siberia after all- in fact, Alison and I started the year by moving in together with them, so my previous roles of mom/ boss have expanded to mom/ stepmom/ girlfriend/ superhero/ budget keeper/ still the boss.
In the midst of it all, though, we’ve still found time for adventure. Last weekend, Carl rappelled into a pit here in good ol’ Indiana (a trip that I was sorry to miss!) and at the end of the month we head to Montana for the National Speleological Society’s annual convention. Despite my restrictive schedule, I’ve been able to sneak in some hikes and the occasional caving trip, not to mention working on SCUBA training, too- more on that in a future post. You could say that I’ve spent this last year doing field research on the adventurous family, and there are stories that want told from over the course of it, and before. Today we look at an environment, nestled in the American South, that seems straight out of a fairy tale.
Georgia, November 2017
It was just days after Thanksgiving and here we were in Georgia, amid herds of cattle that eyed us suspiciously as they stepped between their calves and our vehicles. Miles of unprepossessing farmland surrounded us in the land of cotton and cattle, where brilliantly white scraps litter the roadsides after harvest time. But that was not what we were here to see. In a farm field guarded by bovines we found the fenced-in area we sought, and within, a culvert that looked no more extraordinary than the rest of the land surrounding it.
We had left late the day before and driven twelve hours for this adventure, arriving in Georgia shortly before dawn on the same day that we were supposed to meet up with the local grotto member who would lead us on the trip. Carl was beaming when he first told me about the invitation.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. This cave, *whose name I have withheld at the request of the conservancy who manages it, is exquisitely beautiful, but equally fragile; very few people are allowed to explore its passages in any given year, and most who do enter are engaged in restoration efforts, due to previous vandalism and the damage that even well-intentioned but poorly informed people could cause.
We slept for a couple of hours in the Jeep in a Wal-Mart parking lot, met up with some friends from Kentucky who had also made the drive down, and our trip leader, who apparently was not quite local either- she hailed from Tallahassee, Florida. After the typical greetings and gear checks and gas station coffee, we made the forty-five minute drive to the cave.
A blast of air made the dead leaves dance and threw grit in everyone’s eyes as we opened the culvert. A ladder stretched down within, and one by one, we began to descend into the darkness.
The ladder led into a corkscrew canyon, wallpapered with densely packed helictites. They were sand-daubed and gritty, and brought two distinct images to mind: the extravagance of an aged coral reef, or piles of wriggling earthworms, fruitlessly attempting to burrow into the rock. Helictites are the troublesome siblings of soda straws, ignoring such burdens as gravity; instead, the path of least resistance is their way, and fantastic growths ensue. In the heavy airflow of this entrance, the detritus nearly obscured the gorgeous calcite.
The canyon led into a passage named the Hall of High Hopes. There’s a clear double meaning to the name. It winds and it’s cramped and ironic, but for many the high hopes in this cave are sincere: this is Aladdin’s Cave, or so it seems, and just around the corner are the glittering diamonds and jewels. Coming out of the muddy passage that bears the illustrious name, we headed into the Sand Room. This name seems ironic as well- much more salient than any sand were the gorgeous formations of clean calcite, almost transparent in places. Though the air was warm, around seventy degrees, the entire room looked full of ice sculptures.
Further on, we reached the Crystal Pools, another one of the cave’s otherworldly features. Here, the floor was a mass of calcite crystals, thousands of them, growing in the pool that stretched wall-to-wall. It would be easy to get carried away in description, just as I got carried away with photography, shooting nearly 700 frames that day; it seems only reasonable to let some of the pictures of this glorious place speak for themselves.
We exited after dusk, the setting sun no more than a red smear on the horizon. The culvert was easier to exit than to enter, as this way we were able to avoid looking into the blowing grit that had complicated the journey down; it was difficult to say goodbye, though, to the rare beauty that lay under Georgia fields. We upgraded the previous night’s accommodations to actual beds in a hotel, then spent the next day en route back to Indianapolis, ready to plan the next adventure.
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