Cave Exploration: The Quest to Appease My Inner Child

Our trek up the west coast of Florida has been pleasant and problem free. We decided to take it slow, and visit a few spots that were on our list. First up was Florida Caverns…

Florida CavernsFlorida Caverns State Park is located in the Panhandle, near the small town of Marianna. As the park’s name implies, there be caverns within! Back in the fall, when I started planning our route, I thought that it looked like an awesome place for us to check out and stay for a few days. I read over the description of the cavern tours and decided that it was a must see, especially since we would be traveling so close by. But in the days leading up to our arrival there, I started second guessing myself…

I’ve never been a big fan of dark, closed in spaces. Especially when they are underground. Both Fran and I have been to caves/mines in PA, but not since we were children. The more I read about the caverns tour, the less I wanted to go. There are warnings on their literature urging you to skip it if you’re claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, or not very steady on your feet. This clearly indicated that I should not be participating, but I wanted to explore! I had some making up to do, from an earlier experience…

Little Me

Little Me

When I was about 8 years old or so, my school took a class trip to Crystal Cave, near Kutztown PA. Actually, I may have been younger (or older) and it quite possibly could have been one of my Girl Scout trips…it’s been so long that it is very hard to remember. But what I do remember, quite clearly, was my utter disappointment in it. Before leaving for the trip, I got very worked up and excited about it. I imagined vast caverns that I would be climbing down into, having to duck my head to get through very small spaces, then coming upon huge open rooms with sparkling walls. I had also envisioned gigantic stalactites hanging down from the ceiling with their enormous stalagmites sisters rising up from the ground to meet them. At that young age, I was a very big ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ fan, (still am) and wanted nothing JTCEmore than my very own adventure, even if it was with a bunch of my classmates (or scout members) tagging along. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be running into any prehistoric creatures, giant underground oceans, or towering mushrooms (as in the book/movie), but I secretly wished that I would. I remember that once we arrived after what seemed like the longest bus ride ever, I could not wait to get in there! We gathered up at the entrance, and our guide lead us into…a cave room with a couple of measly stalactites & stalagmites. We stood in there for a bit while the guide explained how caves are formed, yadda yadda, etc. etc…I just wanted the journey to start!! After a bit of walking around the pretty lame cave room, we continued our journey…back the way we came! That was it. End of line. Adventure over. I couldn’t believe it, I was completely shocked! Where was my exploration? My adventure? I didn’t see anything in that ‘cave’ that even remotely resembled what I had seen on TV, read in books, or imagined in my head! I was completely and overwhelmingly disappointed and vowed never to return. Crystal Cave went down in my record book as one of the biggest disappointments of all time…

WarningFlash forward back to the present. Florida Caverns State Park, some 25+ years after my Crystal Cave debacle. I wanted an adventure and didn’t want a bunch of warnings to prevent me from missing out on something I had yearned for since I was a youngin’. So we marched over, bought our tickets, and stood in line to wait for the next tour to start. Our tour guide (I think her name was Angie? Or was it Alice? Let’s just call her Amanda for the rest of this post.) met our group of about 12 people, went over some rules, explained the tour, and then led the way to the entrance. Once we got there…I quickly realized this wasn’t gonna be anything like Crystal Cave, and my heart began to beat faster out of exciment…and fear. We descended down the entrance steps, and into the mouth of cavern. When everyone was safely inside, Amanda turned, closed the door, and I gave a little whimper in my head.

Into the Cavern We Go

It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust. We started out in a pretty roomy section of the cavern, with plenty to look at. I was surprised how warm it was inside, a balmy 65 degrees, and Amanda explained that it remains the same temp all year round. I thought caves were cool and damp? This one was warm and, for the most part, dry! There was a good amount of lighting all around and I started snapping pics. One thing I knew before going was that FCSP, like many other places with minimal elbow room, didn’t allow tripods. I figured I’d just try my best to get some somewhat decent shots in the low lighting (I didn’t want to use flash the entire time). After some time in the room, we moved onto the next section, and further down into the earth…

Deeper We Go

Deeper We Go

We arrived in the ‘Wedding Room’ after a short section of tight spaces and low hanging ceilings. Yes, even at 5’3” I had to duck while walking. It was awesome. This area had a huge dessert like formation up on a ledge, resembling a…wedding cake. Amanda explained that for a fee of $150 dollars, you could rent the room and invite up to 15 of your friends to watch you get married. In Florida. In a cavern. How cool is that?

The Wedding Room

The Wedding Room

The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake

And so it went. Down around and into one section, marveling at the sights, taking pictures, Amanda giving some background, and then onto the next room. I wish I had paid more attention to our guide, but I was busy snapping photos and taking it all in. I do remember her saying that it took 100 years for the formations to grow 1 inch. Amazing. Before the tour started, Amanda made it very clear that we were not allowed to touch any of the formations. The oil in our skin would essentially cause them to break down, stop growing, and die. However, she let us know that there would be one formation, near the end of the tour, that we would all be able to touch.

Watch Your Head

Watch Your Head

Tall

Standing Tall

Pathway Leading Onward

Pathway Leading Onward

One of my biggest worries was the amount of lighting once we were underground. I had read that it was very dark, and that the tour guides actually turned off the lights when going from one section to the next. I’m happy to report that it isn’t nearly as dark as some people make it out to be, and the guides only turn off the lights in sections you’ve crossed though after they do a headcount and everyone has arrived in the next room. But, it is very dim, and I wouldn’t recommend it for people who have severe fear of the dark. It is also steep and slippery in some sections and downright cramped in some of the passageways. If you have a bad back or aren’t limber enough to bend over and walk 20+ feet or so, this tour isn’t for you.

   

At one point, when we were in a pretty giant room, Amanda explained that the folks who found the caverns pretty much had to dig and discover in the dark. Then she told us she would recreate that for us by turning off all the lights. I was prepared for this, as I had read it in the reviews. No big deal, right? 3, 2, 1, lights out. Holy crap, that’s dark. She asked us to listen to the sounds of the cave. Basically the drip, drip, drip of the cavern shaping water. She told us to wave our hands in from of our faces. Yeah, I couldn’t even see a flicker of my hand. It was so dark that my eyes were seeing things that weren’t there. After about 45 seconds or so, enough to make me start to sweat, she flicked the lights back on, and I could breathe again.

   

We finally wound our way to the exit, which was a different area than the one we had come in. Amanda explained that after exiting the cavern there were a few trails that went around the exterior and at the end was a cave tunnel that you could walk through. We thanked her for the amazing adventure and headed off to check out the surrounding area.

Helloooo!

Helloooo!

Hiding Spot

Hiding Spot

   

I have to say that, despite my fears and anxieties leading up to the adventure, touring the caverns was one of our best stops to date. It was everything I had hoped for when I was a child and met my expectations as an adult. If you are planning a visit to the caverns, but are nervous about the tour, stop by the visitor center and head upstairs to the museum. There is a lot of great of information along with a video of what you will see and experience if you decide to participate.

Our HUGE site

Our HUGE site

After we finished up at the caverns, we headed back to our campsite. While the campground is small, with just under 40 spots, each site is roomy with electric, water, and sewer…a rarity in most state parks. We had a quick lunch then took the dogs out for some hiking and geocaching. What’s geocaching you ask? Well, basically it’s a modern day scavenger hunt, using a GPS to find a hidden cache (container). Inside you will find treasure that the hider and finders have left behind. You log your find in the book and leave a treasure if you take one. Some caches have trackables, which are unique items that should be taken and moved to another cache. While this may sound confusing, the magic of the internet makes it super easy to find, log, and track. Fran is awesome at the actual finding of the cache, while I’m the navigator to the area…go figure. It’s actually a really fun game that we both enjoy. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of adventure, especially those with kids. Check out geocaching.com for more info and make sure to download the app on your phone before heading out the door for your first find!

Geocache Logbook Found Inside

Harry Helps Find the Cache

Hiking, hiking, hiking!

Luke was Done with Hiking

Naps All Around

Naps All Around

  

Fire Time

Fire Time

Florida Caverns is a great park to visit/stay in and whether you actually take the tour or not, there is still plenty to keep you busy. Not to mention it’s massive and gorgeous! We will definitely be back one day.

After a few day of relaxation, we packed up and hit the road, moving on to the next spot on our list. Saint Andrews State Park. More to come on that soon!

Fran always finds ‘surprises’ when she opens the electrical box to plug in. I snapped some pics of this one…

Frog Friend

   

4 thoughts on “Cave Exploration: The Quest to Appease My Inner Child

  1. Frances and Deb all I say is WOW!!!!, that trip looked like a great adventure. Proud of ya Deb for taking a deep breath and go’in under. Enjoy NO. Love ya xo xo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s