Underground Wonders

We are wannabe spelunkers who enjoy exploring an occasional cave or cavern. So this past week when the topic of “Underground” popped up on #TRLT we were eager to participate.

Exploring nooks and crannies at Craters of the Moon
About to crawl under the earth at Craters of the Moon National Park

The topic immediately brought back memories of an extreme cave tour we did that was made all the more extreme because our guide seemed to be in questionable health. It was Valentine’s Day in 2015 and we decided to spend the romantic holiday being adventurous at Hurricane River cave near Harrison, AR. Hands down it has to be our most bizarre underground experience to date. Even getting there in an RV pulling a trailer was rather treacherous, as the gravel roads were steep, steep, steep. The gravel threatened to slide out from under us as we navigated the hairpin turns to the bottom, riding the brakes the whole way and just hoping we wouldn’t run into anyone (literally) trying to come up the hill.

It was just us and another couple and our guide who looked like he was a heart attack waiting to happen. This didn’t install confidence and we exchanged worried looks with the other couple; we all must have had visions of having to carry him out through tight crannies and up steep inclines to safety. We all donned rubber kitchen gloves to protect the cave formations and hard hats to protect our noggins. As the sun was getting ready to set the guide unlocked the gate to the cave and we began to descend down into the bowels of the earth. Did I mention this is a remote location?

The first portion of the tour went smoothly. We were allowed to explore crawl spaces that the guide himself opted out of. But we love the challenge, especially if it involves squeezing through tennis racket sized crevices. So that part was fun. It was when we were in hip high freezing water moving slowly as to not twist an ankle or plunge into a hole (yes, it is called Hurricane River Cave for a reason) that our guide ditched us and headed back ahead of us.

When you get put into situations like this you really get to find what you are made of, don’t you? As fear sets in and your mind races through all the scenarios of what could go wrong. I mean, who even knows we are here? We’d left our phone in the RV, not like there was any cell signal anyway. It took us another 20 minutes of wading through the water to get out of there. Bear in mind this is February in Arkansas at night – warm it wasn’t.

Turns out he headed for the hot shower of which there were 2 to share between 5 mud-caked shivering souls. And by hot shower I mean, it trickled a bit of warmth before it turned cold.

Then to top it off, he invited us to his living quarters above for warm cider and told us we were welcome to spend the night in the lot. Don’t know what we were thinking, other than we didn’t want to face climbing the sheer precipice of loose gravel at night, so we accepted his invitation to be polite. As thoughts of axe murder swarmed our heads we sipped the beverages and tried to make conversation with the hermit umm…. gentleman. In the end we survived, and honestly, we would love to explore Hurricane River Cave again. Just going to make sure we have a different guide with better communication skills and in good health, next time.

One cave we have explored several times and is dear to us, is Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal Missouri. For years we would return to Hannibal around 4th of July every year to perform at the local library and participate in the Mark Twain themed 4th of July celebration, which is unparalleled. The cave is conveniently located at the campground and they provide lantern tours so you can explore the locations that inspired Mark Twain to write about in Tom Sawyer. This is a kid-friendly tour. The scariest part of the tour is when you all turn your lanterns off to get a sense of what true and utter darkness is.

Then of course there is Carlsbad Caverns, a true marvel that we’ll cover more in depth in an upcoming video — as we are heading there right now!

But underground doesn’t always mean stalactites and stalagmites; there are underground subway systems, and modern cities like Seattle have built built themselves up over earlier levels . We took the Bill Speidel’s Seattle Underground tour a few years ago, with a congenial and entertaining guide who was a retired musician. Some people find the Seattle Underground tour a bit of a letdown (no pun intended) after the hype — maybe they are expecting a lot of artifacts and skeletons. There were none of the latter and almost none of the former except for an old cash register. But still, it’s a mole’s eye view of the city, and a fascinating glimpse into history, especially when you have a guide who can paint a vivid mental picture.

Underground snorkeling
Snorkeling at Devils Den

Recently, when we were in Florida, we visited Devils Den. Which is an underground spring that you can snorkel in along with a few fish and maybe a scuba diver or two. If you are lucky and can shrug off a bit of chilly weather you might luck out and get the whole place to yourself, like I did at the end of January. When you think, underground dark is typically the first image that pops into your mind but this place glows with the sunlight beaming in.

Looking up from inside Devils Den
Vibrant Devils Den

My most recent cave experience on the Yucatán Penisula was Rio Secreto – Underwater caving with amazing colors and light.

Heart shaped human skulls at Catacombs
Bringing it back to Valentines Day with a heart made of human skulls

And of course there are the infamous undergrounds Catacombs in Paris that we visited on our European trip in 2016. To think they dug up hundreds of thousands of buried souls just to relocate their skeletons. Who does that? And who takes the time to artfully arrange their remains? Humans are odd.

The world below is fascinating. How often do you stop to think, what is under your feet?

Cave dwelling ogre
Keep an eye out for ogres lurking below

Why not join us @activatedAdven1 and other Traveling Twitterers every Tuesday for #TRLT at 1:00 pm and #TTOT at 4:30 pm ET on Twitter? Find The Road Less Traveled on Facebook for a sneak peek at upcoming themes and questions. The group Travel Talk on Twitter also posts themes and questions ahead of time Facebook. You are invited to add your suggested questions in either group.

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