Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Underground wonders

While camping in Redwoods National Park, we made a day trip into Oregon to tour Oregon Caves National Monument. The caves here are some of the five percent of the caves around the world that are marble caves. Most are created from limestone. Those that are near major plate boundaries tend to be marble, because of added heat and pressure from below which metamorphoses the limestone into marble. Sequoia National Park has a marble cave tour that we've gone on several times and have enjoyed. This one would be no exception.

We were fortunate to get as our tour guide one of the park rangers whose specialty is geology, so we got a very informative tour. We got to experience a cave blackout, which is pretty standard on most cave tours, but it's always kind of creepy to experience that total darkness, where no light penetrates. I can't imagine getting lost in something like that, yet it seems that most of the early discoverers of caves seemed to have done just that: went in with minimal light, then had to grope their way out. I guess they all make good stories to tell on the tour.

When touring a cave, the number one rule is always, DON'T TOUCH THE FORMATIONS! I can't stress that enough. Oils from your hands can get on the formations, which will alter the water flow of the formations, usually causing them to stop growing. I've toured several different caves during my lifetime, including Wind Cave in South Dakota, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Crystal Cave in California (Sequoia), Lehman Caves in Nevada, and now Oregon Caves. To a greater or lesser extent, all of these caves have had some damage from humans. It's pretty much inevitable.

I can't remember much of Wind Cave, since I was there almost 40 years ago. Carlsbad seemed to have the least, although it does have an elevator shaft built in it, complete with stalactites growing in the roof of the elevator shaft. The worst damage that I can recall was in Lehman Caves. This was primarily because the caves were an entrepreneurial adventure for Absalom Lehman back in the 1920s. He let people literally go into the caves with sledgehammers so they could leave the caves with souvenirs. The damage was pretty evident in those caves.

The human damage was much less here in Oregon Caves although it was evident. We came across a rock where past visitors, from the 1809s felt it necessary to write their names on the stone in pencil. We walked right by the rock formation. It seemed obvious to many of us on the tour, that if the graffiti had been written in pencil, it should be fairly easy to erase it. Not as easy as it was thought however, because the cave is still a growing cave the pencil marks have since been covered over by a thin patina of flowstone. In other words, the graffiti has become one with the rock. The only other damage I noticed was a formation that reminded me of a painting by Edvard Munch entitled, "The Scream." At the bottom of the scream, there appears to be a piece that has been broken off.

This particular cave has gotten me to think about creating an earthcache. I found a nice spot where geocachers can observe some different cave formations. In the next week or so, depending upon my schedule, I'll be working to create this earthcache. I already have permission from the chief geologist of the park, so it's now just a matter of writing it all up and submitting it. That's the kicker though is finding the time.

The past week has seen me start back to school. We keep starting earlier and earlier. 14 years ago, my wife was pregnant with our third child, the Tadpole. His due date was September 12th, which was problematic at the time because that was my scheduled first day of school. Fortunately, I worried about this needlessly, because the Tadpole decided to make an entrance into the world 11 days early, so it didn't impinge upon my schedule. Look again though. September 12th was the first day of school in my district in 1995. My first day of classes this year was August 10th. Sigh. My apologies for not writing much this week. It was a busy first week.

Pictures were taken at or near the following future (hopefully) earthcache:
Oregon's Hall of Marble - by Webfoot

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1 comment:

Steve Natoli said...

Loved "The Scream" formation!