As a wildlife artist I am interested in all of nature. I can honestly say that I don’t find one form of nature to be pleasing and another scary or creepy. They are all interesting to me. Some of the most beautiful places on the planet are rarely viewed by human eyes because of the stereotypes that have been placed upon them.
On a recent hiking trip to Arkansas, Alan and I (joined by two adventurous friends) took some time to go underground. Blanchard Springs is one of several commercial caves in the area. Much of the state of Missouri and the Ozark mountain region of Arkansas are nearly hollow underneath making it a cavers dream. I have always had a passion for nature underground. So a trip to Blanchard Springs cave with camera in hand seemed a natural fit.
Below: Tens of thousands of soda straws hang from the ceiling of this chamber. It is said that a soda straw grows about one inch every thousand years. They are indeed hollow like a straw and are created by the minerals in water as it drips down from the limestone ceiling. After enough time passes they connect to the floor creating great columns.
Amazing formations form under ground creating some of the most beautiful patterns found in nature. Below, this group of columns reflect in a perfectly still pool of water. It is like sculptural stone sitting on a mirror. It is difficult to tell where the rock ends and the water begins.
Commercial caves are often lit up in extraordinary ways, showing off the amazing depth and beauty of their formations.
It takes many thousands of years create these breathtaking places.
(Below) This photo shows magnificent stalactites hanging from the ceiling of this huge “room”. The railing at the bottom left gives a sense of scale. These were some of the largest “organ pipes” I’ve ever seen.
(Below) Some cave formations create familiar images. These minerals have formed a perfect scene of a great ocean liner among icy glaciers. Could this be the Titanic before it met it’s doom? Or perhaps it is one of the many ships that failed an attempt across the north pole and is still there, frozen in time. This photo reveals the magnificent architecture of nature only where the lights shine. Otherwise, there is complete and utter blackness.
It seemed fitting that we happened to visit this cave on Halloween day. The image below shows stalagmites reflecting in a mirror pool. They somehow appear as if to be the great glowing, jagged teeth of a frightening Halloween monster.
Massive “organ pipes” hang from the side wall of this chamber. A cave is thought to be one of the safest places to be during an earthquake. It takes many, many thousands of years to create these behemoths. They have withstood the test of time during countless geological changes throughout history including earthquake tremors.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: I was once an avid spelunker. I spent many years exploring the beautiful world under ground. The caves that I visited with my fellow cave enthusiast buddies were not beautifully lit commercial caves with paved walkways, but rather were dark, rugged and largely unexplored. We would spend many hours at a time exploring and mapping these wild caves. This photo of me was taken during one of these expeditions back when I was in my late 20’s. It takes a nimble, strong body and very adventurous spirit to endure the rugged unforgiving terrain, tight spaces and total blackness of the underworld.
Many of the caves that I explored in my 20’s and 30’s had water passages. Some were large like the one below. Some were so tight that we had to remove our helmets to get through them. Some even required swimming underwater to find a hole leading to the next passage.
Here a thin layer of water lays atop of thigh high mud. The most difficult part of traversing this passage was keeping one’s hips in their sockets! Not all caves are as muddy as this one is.
If you are ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to explore nature underground, even if it is done the commercial way, be sure to do it. You will feel as if you have gone for awhile to another planet. It is the ultimate “get-away”…