Saturday, July 25, 2015

subterranean blues

Lava Beds strikes a delicate balance between spelunkers looking for adventure and tourists looking for an easy, packaged cave experience, all the while looking out for the delicate environment and real dangers of people disappearing and never being seen again.

I'm not that sure-footed, and I get claustrophobic, and I haven't always loved the caves I've been to in the past: Oregon Caves was cheesy and slippery and crowded, and Howe Caverns in upstate New York terrified me with the elevator hundreds of feet beneath the surface and the moment they turned the lights out in the boat and all the bats flew by. 

But I did love the cave filled with glow worms in New Zealand. And Carlsbad Caverns, a roadside attraction of a different era, filled me with awe. 
So today I visited four of the easy caves at Lava Beds and then went for a hike called the Big Nasty by Mammoth Crater. 
Pretty impressive, right? And even though it was a Saturday in summer, hardly anyone was there. You could wander in a cave and have the whole place to yourself. 

This is me : 

I had my Langer's "hot" pastrami baseball cap and a dorky headlamp and of course my iPhone flashlight, but you get the idea. 
My favorite was Valentine cave which has two arteries that meet up, like a heart or a subway tunnel. 
I did feel momentarily overwhelmed by the vastness of Skull cave. It had 20+-foot ceilings.
The people who went in ahead of me seemed to vanish into the darkness and their voices grew quieter and quieter. 
Or maybe it's that post-apocalyptic novel I'm reading, imagining living underground for years, with the skylight and the cave opening sealed. 

The Mushpot cave even has a classroom and lights on the floor, like an airplane. 
And warnings before you conk your head on the sharp lava rock. 
At the end of the day, it sure is nice to emerge back into the bright daylight, and take a deep breath, and appreciate the vastness of the sky.