Sinkholes Don’t Always Mean Catastrophe

When you’re hunting for caverns–glorious underground labyrinths with features formed from rock and water–you hope to find a sinkhole. It means that the cavern extends–you’ve found a weakness in the roof; which is scary for your home, and kinda for a cave, but excellent news for finding otherworldly beauty.

Sinkholes led college-age explorers to find the vastness of Natural Bridge Caverns, near San Antonio Texas. They drilled a hole 22 inches in diameter, which my math-defunct brain had difficulty with when I compared it to my bra size, lowered themselves down in a rappelling sortof way, and heard echoes and saw blackness. Good signs for them. The stuff of nightmares for me.

stunning

Couldn’t you look at this forever? The tour descends into its depths; and it feels abyss-like, but thankfully there is a bottom. It’s like another planet, a place where Indiana Jones would find the Ark of the Covenant, Yoda could like here (even though it’s not a swamp)–or perhaps his ancestors.

Natural Bridge Cavern

The caverns are named “Natural Bridge” for this feature, at the mouth of the cave. Whatever the Texas temperature is outside, inside the cavern it is always 99% humidity and 70 degrees. Add humidity and it feels like 80-85. This was a surprise to me, because all caverns I’d been to on the East Coast had the same temp of 54 degrees.

A Note About the Photos

Nary a one in this post are mine–they’re all from Flickr. Why?

  • I don’t have the camera equipment to take pictures in low light. And that’s ok.
  • Cavern tours move quickly. I would rather take in the beauty than have my eye behind the camera. When I’m out and about on my own, I can do both–shoot and gaze for as long as I like.

Descending into the Cavern

cavern experience

Descending into the cavern scares and thrills me. It cascades in a spiral that’s dizzying more from all to look at than from being circular. The pathways are steep, and slick with dripping water; not a good combination when you want to look at everything except where your next step is.

The Five Senses

  • There’s more to see than you can absorb. It’s up to you to look beyond what the guide shares and to use your imagination when looking at the formations.
  • You can look, but you can’t touch. The oils in human skin will tarnish the cavern, turning it black. Although you do feel a drop of water hit from above. It’s startling and smile-inducing. You’re a part of the cavern.
  • There’s no smell. That happens with no animals, other than blind crickets who eat each other because there’s no one else to eat.
  • The sound of water dripping is just faint and erratic enough to make you think you need to pee.
  • Taste: I got nothing.

An Intro to the Cavern

The formations are sparkly and patterned; look like bacon or sandcastles; appear gloppy and waxy, depending upon their stage of development. At times you think you’re in the bowels of a space monster; others you’re certain that this is where fairies live.

Formations grow one cubic inch per 100 years–the size of an ice cube. The combination of water dripping through limestone and its calcification is awesome.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Room Available

Caverns are divided into rooms. Narrow passageways connect them, and then an expanse reveals formations for royalty and mythical creatures. Natural Bridge Cavern is equivalent to an 18 story building–underground.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Formations

Some glitter; some are massive; straws hang from the ceiling like icicles. They look like mushrooms, beets, and cacti. I loved all of them, even the ones that would inspire Georgia O’Keefe.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Oh, People

Two questions stand out from the tour.

1. When showing us the hole by which spelunkers descend, someone asked if they put out a ladder for them. Sigh.

2. Did they find gold in the cavern? Yes they did, because all caves have gold; waiting in bricks stamped by the U.S. Treasury.

***

What’s the funniest question you heard asked on a tour or at a tourist destination?

2 Responses

12.31.12

Paula, this is fantastic, other-worldly!

When your next travel project involves the world, go to the salt mines in Wieliczka, (I think that’s how you spell it) Poland, now open to tourists. In addition to beautiful images created by nature, like what you’re showing us, tourists can see sculptures the miners carved into the salt – these are salt miners, laborers, not trained artists, and yet their work is awesome. Hard to know which is more beautiful, nature’s artistry or human artistry.

Jeannine – thanks for the tip about the salt mines. The statues sound amazing!

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