Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Caverns

June 10-15, 2013 

Phase II: Camp Meeting, etc. 
Camp meeting is always a big blur, with no time to post during it, and no brain cells left to remember the full story of what happened. It must be fun, because we keep going back. This is our second year now of leading out in the kids’ department, Early Reader group. The kids are so sweet, and lots of fun to teach.  

Tina is the boss woman, and Jack and I are the assistant leaders, or something. Our two field trips this year were fantastic – the usual trip to the Bozeman Swim Center, and a visit to the bear rescue facility just east of town. Admission to the bears is free, but they ask you to bring an offering of fresh fruits and veggies for the furry residents. I guess you could even call them denizens. Get it? Den-izens!  That was bearly tolerable. 

We finished our 4 days, deeply grateful to God for the opportunity to share with our wonderful peeps.

June 16, 2013 

***Boring business part omitted*** 

Fossilized sea creatures clearly
 visible in the rocks
beside the trail.
To encourage Montana residents to visit, some of the natural and historic sites had special rates for a couple weeks leading up to Father’s Day. And though our badly beaten budget was trembling by this point, we were able to pay the deeply discounted admission to the Lewis and Clark Caverns. $20 for a family of 4 is pretty amazing for a guided cave tour. Ok, so there was one person left over, but still not bad. Ok, so the one person was me. Why am I always the leftover one? But I didn’t quibble, since I got to go in. (If you didn’t know, I’ve got a thing for caves. Big ones, little ones, holes in the ground, giant caverns…they’re all my favorites.)  

Starting from the parking lot, there was a trail up to the cave entrance. Since the rise was 300 vertical feet, it was a bit steep but doable. Got my exercise for the day. The caverns got their name because Lewis and Clark passed by on the river below, failing to discover the adventure in the cliffs above. Boy, I sure wish I could get stuff named after me just for walking nearby it and not finding it—what a racket! My life would have been so much different if I’d learned about this principle sooner. Why, I bet I’ve been close to lots of things! There’s the Noni Beth Gold Mine, the NBG archaeological site, the Hawaiian Noni Active Volcano of Oahu (pretty sure no one has discovered that one yet). The deep sea creature, Monstrumius Gibbsii… the list could go on and on. 

My favorite moment came when they did the obligatory turn-out-all-the-lights maneuver. Tiggy had previously taken her glow-in-the-dark tape and spelled out "DAD" on the back of Jack's sweatshirt. Let's just say we had no problem locating him, even in the pitch blackness. Well, what would have been pitch blackness without the incredible neon glow.

Entrance to the slides.
While still pretty well tamed, this lovely little cave would be shut down due to liability in some states. There were few handrails, only if you really, REALLY needed one, and many places where you had to duck low under formations to enter the next chamber. There was even one place where you had to slide down a little slide to get through. The two slide paths were worn smooth by hundreds of thousands of patooties.  

It was also a novel experience to be so close to all the formations throughout the tour, and not blocked off from them. The guide tells you not to touch, and expects that you will simply not touch. That kind of trust level is completely gone in the other tame caves I’ve visited. Even with more than 80,000 visitors a year, all right up close and personal with formations, even including rare speleothems such as soda straws, there is universal respect.  

Almost universal. 

Deep in the belly of the caverns, there was a chamber containing some of the debris from the exit tunnel blasted back in the early days of the cave tours. One gent decided he would help himself to some formations, and snuck in after closing. That’s how far he got before he ran out of battery in his flashlight. 

The next morning, he sheepishly allowed himself to be escorted out. He was asked not to return. He no doubt boarded one of the trains that used to pass only a few feet below the exit on a terrifying, cliff-hanging railroad track. It’s fine for walking back to the parking lot on, but I can’t imagine riding a train so far above the plunging valley below. What part of “Do NOT build railroads on cliffs” did those early builders not understand??? Apparently the “not”.
My only complaint was that they didn't allow tripods. In case you've never tried to hand-hold exposures of several seconds long, it works about as well as putting railroads on cliffs: you've got something to show for it, but it just shouldn't be done. 

Jack was just about to have to make a short trip to Texas for a conference with our main electronics dealer (at their expense, which is the best kind of business trip to have), so we headed back to help him finish preparing for his trip. We were looking forward to having a couple days to sit around camp, read books, play games, and paint paintings while he was gone. Maybe even take naps! 

A little time of rest sounded really good after our busy week-and-a-half.

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