Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Above and below are pictures of some unusual formations I’ve come across in private caves. I enjoy exploring them with owner’s permission. The problem is finding a cave that’s not been messed up by vandals, rock hounds or just inconsiderate cavers. It would be nice if people took out what they brought in and didn’t take out parts of the cave that took many hundreds, if not thousands, of years to form. This is what is left of a drapery formation that someone broke off for its white and amber travertine many years ago. The jagged remains are quite interesting, in this case, probably helped by partial re-growth since then:
There are supposed to be about 10 caves without surface openings for every cave that has an entry. I’ve found a few entrances that look more like animal holes than caves, but some can be gotten into and end up being fairly pristine caves. The trick of identifying them is finding cold air flowing out in the early spring, or hearing running water when your ear is by the hole. Not all places that have good flow of cold air can be gotten into, though. There’s a place some locals call the “refrigerator” in northern Arkansas where cold air really blasts out, but the air exits through a jumble of huge rock slabs that probably resulted when the outer portion of the cave collapsed. There are only a few inches of space between the slabs. The owner has been digging there to see if he can find a way under, over or around the slabs, but so far, without success. In living caves, water helps stalactites and stalagmites re-grow from the stubs left by vandals, and flowstone is slowly covering the graffiti left by past visitors. The date on the wall in the photo below looks like 1935. The flowstone that has formed in the past 80 years or so, a beautiful blue-white travertine, has built up to the point of masking most of the printing. The inscription is below what is known as the “cave ghost”. She’s got an oval mouth, flowing hair, and stands about fifteen feet tall:

This feature looks like the huge face of an old man with blood running down his face from a small hole above his right eye (left as you view the photo). Some people also see an old woman’s face to the left of his, but it’s not quite as clear:

Many of the living caves I’ve been in are a bit uphill of springs, (the “refrigerator” is, too) so I always look in areas above springs for caves. Inside the caves, there often are streams and small underground lakes that feed the springs. One cave had a 20-foot waterfall that splashed down into what looked like a pretty pool until you got close and found the bottom was littered with broken glass, pieces of broken stalactites and other trash left by inconsiderate visitors. A sixty-five foot deep sinkhole (below, looking up) has a spring that shoots water out of a wall like a fire hydrant after heavy rains. In dry weather, it just dribbles. It stays really cold at the bottom – you can see your breath even in the heat of summer, and water from condensation drips everywhere. A lot of caves are blocked by mudflows back in a ways. Maybe there’s more cave behind the mud, but then again, the whole thing might be plugged up. The picture below is of a cave that’s blocked that way. The mudflow comes in from a crack in the ceiling back 50 feet or so and the mud tapers down toward the entrance. I think the entrance probably has a couple feet of mud over it, too. It’s a cool-looking cave entrance. Too bad it doesn’t lead into to a nice cave. I’ve seen a lot like that.

Unfortunately, none of the undamaged caves I’ve found have been very large or spectacular. But I’m still looking.

Please be a zero-impact caver, and happy caving!


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