Visita Interiora Terrae

Yes, there were a couple of caches this weekend, but I had other things to consider, namely (a) the girls are visiting from L-Town and (b) the temperatures have been over 100 in Austin. I mess with and mock my children from time to time because it’s written in my paternal contract to do so, but I also don’t want them to die of heat exhaustion outdoors or burst into flame, either. And yet, what do you do when you want to do something outdoors but not receive heat stroke from the spear of Apollo? I got inspired after returning from my recent evening in Georgetown. There’s an Earthcache that I’d been thinking about for years but had somehow never visited. So yesterday, we took a morning jaunt before it got too hot up to Inner Space Caverns.

Texas, especially the Hill Country, is riddled with such caves, so much so that TxDOT has standing relationships with spelunking groups across the region to explore any caves found in the process of building and expanding the roads. In 1963, while doing preparations to build part of I-35, engineers discovered a vast cave network filled with geological wonders and fossils. Tours were opened to the public in 1966, and school group visits have been a staple ever since. Heck, the last time I visited, I was probably younger than my youngest. Even better, though, the caves were a lovely seventy-two degrees on a day projected to get up to 106. Almost from the moment we went down the great ramp, we could feel the wall of coolness rooted in the chambers below. And into the darkness we descended.

Well, for certain values of “darkness.” There are light fixtures mounted around, along with guard rails and mats to prevent falls. In several places, we saw the efforts of man: boreholes from the original discovery, retaining walls built to prevent the cave from growing or leaking water, and dig sites paleontologists left for future generations. In other places, we could see the natural work of tens or hundreds of thousands of years: stalactites and stalagmites formed by droplets making their way to the Edwards Aquifer, fossilized sea creatures from the times when Texas was underwater, and flowing walls of calcium and other minerals. Personally, I spent the entire time sweating, not because of the temperature or the exertion (it was about a mile walk round trip), but because of the 98% humidity.

In the end, we came to the final room, seventy feet below the surface, and the tour group was exposed to true total subterranean darkness for a few moments. I’ve experienced it before, but it was a first for most. Then, with the help of a UV flashlight (what a clever idea!), we witnessed luminescence in the rocks. With that, we began the upward trek out of the depths, back into the sunlit realms of the world above. Fossils were discarded for ice cream sandwiches.

And then, answers were sent, and the cache was logged. We retreated to the car, blessedly parked under a shady tree, and began the trip back to home and lunch. My point here (and I do have one) is that if you don’t live in the desert, now might be a good time to go get that Earthcache you’ve been waiting on. It may be a great way to beat the heat or a good excuse to hang with the family. Or some kind of crap like that.

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