Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fresh Feeling

Outside of Woodville, Alabama, there is a state park called "Cathedral Caverns." Under the forests and rocks and dirt and kitschy stuffed bats in the park gift shop, there is a cave system that stretches far back under what they, in northern Alabama, call a mountain, and I, of course, would call a foothill. I had never been in a cave before yesterday, since the northwest's propensity for earthquakes tends to hinder underground cavern systems from forming, and also because I have seen the movie The Descent, thank you very much, and I know what lives in caves underground.

Cathedral Caverns was named when Jay Gurley brought his wife underground, to see where he spent his days exploring & spelunking. He took her back to the stalagmite forest, where pillars and columns reached up from the floor and down from the ceiling to touch each other over millions of years, and she saw splendor and wonders that she told him were equal to the beauty of the old cathedrals of Europe. The dorky teenage tour guide was paid to point out to us stalagmite formations that supposedly resembled church spires, organs, and gargoyles, but I think Mrs. Gurley's comparison was more transcendant than that. 

Cathedral Caverns boasts some of the world's most stunning formations, including the largest column in the world, named Goliath, which is 243 feet around, and the largest (commercial) cave mouth in the world, pictured just above.

Your eyes play tricks on you in the caves, showing deep pits that are actually reflecting pools of water, and bats flit almost silently from room to cavernous room. On the ceilings in more than a few places are embedded sharks teeth, evidence that millenia ago, an ocean stretched up past the Gulf to cover all of Alabama, on up into Kentucky & southern Illinois.

As we walked deeper into the caves, our tour guide turned the lights off behind us, until we reached the end of the paved walkways. The caves stretch about a mile, maybe two, further back, and the final room of the caverns is called the crystal room. The calcite formations there are so pure they are white, and shine and sparkle like quartz. To get there, you have to wiggle your way through a hole the size of a five gallon bucket, and climb over boulders that have been in the same place, undisturbed, for more time than I can fathom.

At the end of the tour, our guide flicked off the final switch, leaving us in total darkness. We were 3/4 of a mile from the entrance, around twists and turns, with mammoth rock formations blocking out any possible sunlight. The guide said that within 48 hours, we would go blind, as our body would tell us we no longer needed to see, and our other senses would kick into high gear. My eyes strained, the muscles pulsing and dilating, and I felt disconnected in a way I have never, ever felt before. When I told Patrick this, as we walked back toward the cave entrance, he said I was experiencing an entirely new sensation, something for which my mind had no approximation. I haven't felt anything that new or different in 25 years. 


Chelsea said...

The title of this post makes me think of...

Ashley said...

Ooooo tell me tell me