Updated: Mar 6, 2019
"Don’t touch the walls; we have oils that discolor the rock!" said sternly our elderly tour guide as our sizable group slowly and very quietly made our way through the largest part of the famous cave. I did the Grand Avenue tour which is about 4 hours and 4 miles long through the main passage of the cave that doesn’t really resemble a cave; rather it resembles an old mine shaft. Basically the tour started in one of the 24 man made entrances and led our annoyingly large group through 2 miles of tubular passages, with a cleared dirt pathway about 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. After a while it all looked very similar, not to say that it wasn’t interesting but let’s just say that when you tell yourself you are about to enter one of the deepest, most expansive, and still to be completely mapped cave system in the world, there is an inevitable expectation of adventure that simply put wasn’t satisfied.... for me in any case. Perhaps it was a wrong tour for me but at $24 and no student discount, which by the way considering it is a National Park I find absurd, it seemed adequate at the time.
So somewhere deep under ground in the cave cafeteria we ate the bad, expensive boxed lunch and the whole idea of there being a cafeteria into a damn cave just made me think how commercialized everything that shouldn’t be has become these days. Can we Americans not go for an educational hike without having to stop and eat dry sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and boxed up in Styrofoam?
Then we continued through as the walls suddenly came closer together and the cave transformed into a taller but narrower, uneven but still bone dry cavern. Our tour guide, whom I will not mention here for reasons explained bellow was knowledgeable but not overly excited for questions which is why initially I was the first individual behind him. I was disappointment by the answer to my question of why have they not explored beyond the current 400 mile mark?
“ He answered: if you had 400 Cadillacs in your garage, would you care to own one more? There simply isn’t much interest”. WHAT!? I though to myself trying not to show my eagerness for further interrogation. I would be interested; where do I sign up?
The temperature is a constant 54 degrees and the humidity still reaches 90% so it gets cold once you stop walking, but other than that the “hike” is easy and rather pleasant. Especially when the guide turns off the lights to show us how dark it is, i.e., how uncomfortable human beings are without any visual sensory input. It offers a few golden seconds of imagination that get the heart going (especially if you've seen the move "The Descent".
TIP: A few photography tips; Stay behind the group because this gives you the necessary exposure time to capture the cave in it’s true colors without people mucking it up and walking through your photograph. There are two tour guides and one stays behind making sure everyone is staying with the group. He also shuts the light off periodically and checks the emergency lockers which offers you the golden few seconds to capture some good images. My pictures above are 30 sec at F4. Also bring a lunch, in a clear plastic bag, something warmer to wear and a flashlight of some kind if you are eager to peek into the nooks and crannies.
BUT, be warned! Being the last behind the group could also inadvertently put you in the position of accidental catching the tour guide taking a leak directly onto the delicate walls you are not supposed to touch!