I like spelunking. I’m not sure if I like spelunking because I genuinely like spelunking or because it gives me an excuse to use the word ‘spelunking’, but either way, I’ve done my fair share of spelunking and I clearly get a considerable amount of enjoyment out if it.
On August 20th, 2001 I engaged in what will likely stand as my biggest spelunk. Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico is one of the largest caves in the world. The night before I had driven to the mouth of the cave and sat with a hundred other tourists at sunset and watched about 300,000 bats fly out of their enormous home and into the night. Bats being one of my favourite creatures it was something I had always wanted to see, and I promise you it was a sight definitely worth seeing.
Arriving just before noon at the National Park box office I punched my ticket and took the plunge into a spelunk of epic proportions. I lingered as I walked along the wide-mouthed chamber, deeper and deeper into the earth. As the air cooled to a consistent 65 degrees I stared in awe at the stunningly colourful formations. Every inch was worthy of a photograph, every swirl of rock and built-up calcium deposit was a work of art produced by time and happenstance. And the tunnel was so big! You could easily drive a garbage truck down there and not scrape the sides.
After what seemed like miles of geologic beauty I saw a sign up ahead. I assumed it was the elevator back up to the surface (at least I hoped there would be an elevator), but I was shocked when I got to the sign. “You are now entering the Big Room.”
After three hours in the cavern I thought I was at the end of the tour, but it was only the beginning.
I’m not going to muddy the facts by checking them on wikipedia, so let me state from memory that the Big Room is one of the largest underground chambers in North America and it covers the floor space equivalent to an incredible sixteen football fields. There are stalactites and stalagmites (“tites” = hangs from the “top”) that have grown up to fifty and sixty feet tall (or long).
I spent another three hours gaping at the sheer vastness and muffled glory of the place. It was dark, quiet and reverent, as people strolled along as subdued with awe as I was. I was very pleased to find there was indeed an elevator out of there and I rode it back to the surface just before suppertime.