When: Saturday, May 19th at 9:15 AM
Where: Cathedral Caverns at 637 Cave Road, Woodville, AL
What: Wild Cave Tour - a four-hour trip off the main path. Kids will be fitted with helmets, lights, and knee pads and will get to walk/crawl into areas the public never gets to see.
Who: Ages 12 and up
RSVP: Cathedral Caverns at (256) 728-8193.
How much - $40.00 per person.
Note: Parents of minors don't have to accompany, but they do have to be there to sign a release form for their child to be able to go.
I know what you’re thinking.
What can possibly be “wild” aboutCathedral Caverns, an artificially illuminated commercial cave discovered by young photographer Jay Gurley in mid-1952?
This traditionally two-mile-long show cave is dark, dirty and muddy, said park Manager Lamar Prendergrass, and “it has all the qualities of a wild cave.”
“The farther we go, the more spectacular it gets,” he said.
The new addition of the wild cave tour at the park was introduced not only to increase revenue, but to really show what Cathedral Caverns has to offer, Prendergrass said.
Round trip, the tour is about a mile and half. It also requires two guides, who for this particular trip was the manager himself and adventurous cave guide and avid caver Guy Wolfe.
So, have you ever wondered what’s beyond the guided tour extending nearly 4,000 feet from the entrance?
Rumor has it there’s a second stalactite forest, a rimstone dam dubbed the Great Wall of China, a colossal segment of “cave bacon” and, yes, the enigmatic Crystal Room.
Now that your curiosity is aroused, there’s only one way to know if the folklore holds true – embark upon the new Wild Cave Tour.
With eager grins and full of optimism, the group ranging in age from 12 to 79 left Cathedral’s welcome center to head toward its vast, horizontal entrance measuring 126 feet wide and 25 feet high.
In lieu of its commercialized entrance, we opted to take Gurley’s original route and hop over the metal rails. Of course, you will encounter celebrity formations like the Goliath and the frozen waterfall, but keep in mind there are many side trips.
Wolfe’s inquisitive personality coupled with his love of caves is contagious. When it comes to these geological enigmas, he literally sticks his head in any type of hole just to see what he can discover.
Take for instance the gypsum crawl next to the frozen waterfall. Five out of the 10 group members descended into a hole where it revealed tiny shards of glistening gypsum crystals attached from the ceiling to the ground. Minuscule fragments the size of sand particles to as large as a baseball can be found in this cavity.
Just remember the motto: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
The next stop was the vertical room – marking 130 feet from the floor to the ceiling. According to my notes, we then crawled into a hole where there was no head space, so beware if you are claustrophobic.
Peering into some obscure places can expose interesting cave features such as cave bacon, a thin calcite formation with brownish and whitish hues resembling strips of bacon. This formation is commonly found hanging from walls and ceilings in the form of delicate draperies.
Here’s a tip. Ask your guide to shine a flashlight behind the cave bacon to illuminate the stripes caused by minerals like iron oxide.
As you trek deeper into the cave, the mud quickly acts as quick sand, so to speak. It’s important to not stop moving, otherwise your boots will get stuck. A perfect example of this happened to a fellow caver during the tour. When he yanked his foot from the “gumbo mud,” it nearly ripped the entire sole off of his boot.
Second stalagmite forest:
Beyond the commercial trail lies the grand second stalactite forest. Once you see this trail marker, you have to hike only about 180 feet before that’s interrupted by a large wall.
Don’t think about it too much. If you do, you will become overwhelmed by its height. Just remember the guides know what they are doing and they have done this most likely a million times.
Hanging from the top of the wall is a rope. Utilizing the equipment plus a few formations for a sturdy grip, you will have to climb the wall. The guides will be right by your side helping you up.
Once you have reached the top of the wall, you will notice a cross. Just beyond that marker you will see for yourself if the legend of a room full of crystals is true. There are only a few more obstacles to overcome, so be patient.
Now you are facing a vertical hole that has the circumference of a 5-gallon bucket and is about 5 to 6 feet in length. This is the crawlway to the Crystal Room. You heard correctly, the Crystal Room.
Only a few people can go in at a time due to the delicacy of the room. With your arms outstretched by your ears, start crawling. Small, rigid formations inside this crawlway also contribute to its tight space. You will be poked and prodded by them, leaving you with bruises. But, wear them with pride.
The Crystal Room:
The Crystal Room is actually two rooms connected by an even tighter crawl. Fragile formations are everywhere. It’s crucial that you be cognizant of all of your surroundings. One sudden move can result in the death of a thousand-year-old formation like soda straws.
Look for shield formations – horizontal, flat, pancakelike semi-discs protruding from the wall. According to the book “Cathedral Caverns” by W. (Bill) W. Varnedoe Jr., these shields are “relatively rare and their speleogenesis is a subject for study by speleologists.”
The Great Wall of China:
Watch your step when walking in the Crystal Room. The so-called Great Wall of China is a 2-foot-high rimstone dam that’s extremely thin. Just so you know, rimstone is a calcareous deposit precipitated from water flowing over the rim of a pool. Rimstone dams are barriers of the deposit – calcium carbonate – that are commonly curved and obstruct either a stream or pool. Then a rimstone pool is simply a cave pool lined with a rimstone dam.
End of the tour:
Now this is where the tour ends before heading back to the entrance. Other features like the Ear Dipper and the Lifeboat Room are tucked toward the back of the cave, but chances of seeing either are slim.