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Cherney Maribel Caves County Park walking tour 2020

posted Nov 14, 2020, 10:25 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Nov 14, 2020, 10:36 AM ]

Great film showcasing the natural wonders at Cherney Maribel Caves County Park by the Coolest Coast-Manitowoc County

Cherney Maribel Caves County Park walking tour 2020



Worlds Largest Cave Fish Discovered in India

posted Feb 14, 2020, 9:46 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Feb 14, 2020, 9:53 AM ]

Biologist Daniel Harries holds one of the newfound cave fish, the world’s largest, in Um Ladaw Cave, in the Meghalaya state of northeast India.   PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE



BY DOUGLAS MAIN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBBIE SHONE

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 12, 2020 by National Geographic



ABOUT 250 SPECIES of subterranean fish are known on Earth, eking out a living in a world of permanent dark and scant food. They are usually small, generally a few inches long, since there’s usually little food or prey to eat.

But in an underground chamber in northeastern India, researchers have discovered a cave fish that is much bigger—growing to nearly a foot and half in length and weighing about 10 times more than any known species.


Locals have reported occasionally seeing the newfound cave fish in Chympe cave, seen here, where waterfalls
cascade into a subterranean pool.      PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE

When biologist Daniel Harries first saw the fish during a 2019 expedition, he was amazed. And perplexed.

“My first reaction upon seeing the fish myself was, I’m going to need a bigger net.”

The fish, described recently in the journal Cave and Karst Science, may still be in the process of evolving to be a separate new species, says Harries, a study co-author—and could present scientists with a unique opportunity to understand this evolutionary process.

The finding raises many questions, such as how the fish maintain their body size, what they feed on, and how they’ve adapted to live in these caves, which are extremely extensive and deep, many of which haven’t yet been explored. Like most other troglobites, the creature is basically blind and eyeless, though it apparently has some ability to sense light.





Um Ladaw Cave consists of three vertical pitches, one of them seen here, a perfectly sculpted circular shaft of rock. Here, British cave explorer Nicky Bayley climbs up the rope towards the top. During the rainy monsoon months, this cave fills with water, making it impassable.            PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE




Into the caves

Harries encountered the fish on an expedition led by Thomas Arbenz, a professional cave explorer, in India’s hilly Meghalaya state. There are many caves in the region due to the abundant karst and limestone, which can be carved by rainwater. And there’s a lot of it—the state is one of the rainiest places on Earth.

The team had seen a photograph of the fish from a fellow explorer, and suspected it was a new species. But they still couldn’t believe what they found in a small underground cavity, called the Um Ladaw Cave, over 300 feet below the surface.

There, the team found dozens and dozens of the large creatures, swimming in a pool. “I had this little net, the sort that you use to catch tropical fish in your tank, and I was standing [there], looking down,” Harries says. Realizing he needed another method to catch them, he eventually put biscuits in an underwater bag, a ploy that proved successful.



British caver Nicky Bayley catches the blind cave fish inside a net in Ladaw Cave, as Harries (center) looks on. The team didn’t initially know how big they were—or how big their nets would need to be.
 
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE



The fish likely feed on vegetation washed underground by rain, but none could be seen at the time of the visit, says Harries, a hobbyist cave explorer and marine biologist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The cave can only be visited in the winter dry season; during the monsoons, the whole area is flooded and impossible to access.

How they get so large, and what they feed on remains a mystery, Harries says. The team didn’t weigh them yet, because it would’ve been difficult to take a scale down into the cave, but he estimates they are a little over two pounds.

“There’s certainly something rather odd going on to have quite so many large fish in that kind of environment.”

Left: Harries holds and examines the fins of the newfound fish, which appear quite similar in anatomy to surface-dwelling golden mahseers—although they lack developed eyes and pigmentation.

Right: Researchers clipped a small piece from one of the fish's fins for DNA analysis before returning it to the water.

  PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE




Patricia Ornelas, a researcher with National Autonomous University of Mexico, who wasn’t involved in this discovery, concurs. “It’s very interesting that... this cave could support not only a fish with a considerably large body size, but also a relatively large population.”

Before this discovery, the two longest known subterranean fish species, both narrow and ribbon-like, are the blind swamp eel (Ophisternon infernale—meaning “chest-serpent from hell”), native to Mexico’s Yucátan, and the blind cave eel (Ophisternon candidum), from western Australia. These endangered fish are much thinner than the newfound creature, which “is considerably more bulky, with a body mass likely to exceed that of the next largest cave fish by at least an order of magnitude,” the researchers write.

Their biological identity also remains enigmatic, for now. The team is working with collaborating scientists in India, Neelesh Dahanukar and Rajeev Raghavan, to sequence its genetics and determine if it is indeed a new species. On a return visit to the cave in January 2020 with photographer Robbie Shone, Harries and colleagues the team collected a few live fish, as well as tiny bits of their fin, for the lab analysis.

“I’ve photographed wildlife in caves over the last 20 years but never seen anything so big,” Shone says. “I was amazed how big they were.”





YouTube Video





Evolution in action?


The newfound fish is undoubtedly closely related to a surface-dwelling fish known as the golden mahseer (Tor putitora), Harries says.


The only observable differences between the two animals, he explains, are that the cave fish lack pigmentation—appearing a white, almost translucent color—and their eyes are poorly developed or even non-existent.


The cave creatures are also smaller than golden mahseers, an endangered fish that can grow to many feet in length. (Learn more: How this rare, good-luck fish is thriving in Bhutan.)

Though they look very alike in body shape and structure, the scientists think that the cave fish may be different enough from surface-dwelling golden mahseer to qualify as a unique species.

A seemingly analogous situation is occurring right now with the Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus), a cave fish that’s very similar to tetras that live at the surface, albeit lacking eyes and pigment. The theory goes that some surface fish were isolated underground long ago, and then began to develop traits to better suit their new, lightless home.

There are multiple studies aimed at understanding the genetic process by which the Mexican tetra loses its color and eyesight, and similar research on this Indian species could provide “opportunities to explore the genetic basis of these adaptations,” Ornelas says. A thorough understanding of pigmentation and vision could have wide and perhaps unexpected applications.

The Mexican tetra, and perhaps the newfound Indian fish, could be an example of “speciation and evolution in progress,” Harries says. (Read on: How this cave-dwelling fish lost its eyes to evolution.)




Chympe Cave—in which locals have reported seeing the eyeless cave fish, albeit rarely—has roosting bats, which produce guano that feeds cave creatures. In Ladaw Cave's pools, where bats are not found, the newfound cave fish survive on an as yet unknown food source—perhaps vegetation and detritus washed down from the surface.      

 PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBBIE SHONE




Many people imagine evolution to be a very slow and irreversible process, Harries says. But that’s not so. “Studies of these systems seem to indicate that very different animal forms might be able to evolve relatively rapidly,” he adds.

Furthermore, this discovery shows that caves harbor unique animals, and need to be protected, Harries says. Caves, usually formed in karst and limestone, are under threat worldwide from cement production, coal mining, and water pollution, which could “cause extinction of cave species before they have even been documented.”

So much to find

Despite living in total darkness, the fish move and swim around quickly, clearly able to sense the confines of their watery home, Shone says. They were also quite curious, at least at first—and hungry.

“If you place a boot or a finger in the water, they’ll come and chew it,” Harries says.

At first, it didn’t seem like the fish could sense the light. However, after a few encounters, the creatures would flee when the team turned on artificial lights.

Light was necessary, of course, for getting around—and taking pictures. Cave photography is indeed tricky, Shone adds, in part because you must provide all your own lighting.

“It’s something that took me years and years to get a base level of competence,” he says, “and today I’m still learning.”

But new findings like this propel him onward, exploring that which is hidden from most.


“There’s just so much to discover,” he says.





Doug Main is a senior writer and editor at National Geographic focusing on animals and wildlife.


Announcing the 55th Annual WSS Hodag Hunt Festival August 9-11, 2019

posted Jul 18, 2019, 7:47 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Jul 29, 2019, 7:28 AM ]

 

Announcing the 55th Annual WSS Hodag Hunt Festival

August 9-11, 2019

 

   We are happy to announce the 55th annual Wisconsin Speleological Society (WSS) Hodag

Hunt Festival is scheduled and we are set for yet another fun and adventurous caving celebration weekend. This year’s event will be held near Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa. We will be based at Riverview Ridge Campground, in Cascade, Iowa, about 25 minutes northwest of the State Park. 

   Maquoketa Caves State Park is located 7 miles northwest of the Iowa city of Maquoketa. The park is in the driftless area of Iowa. This region escaped being glaciated in the last ice age, while regions to the east and west of the park were not spared. The park has been subjected to hundreds of thousands of years of natural non-glacial erosion. Maquoketa Caves is probably Iowa's most unique state park. Its caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs provide visitors a chance to "step back" into geological time thousands of years into the past. Keeping with the tradition of trying something new, this is the first time a WSS Hodag Hunt Festival has ever been held at Maquoketa Cave State Park.

   Maquoketa Cave State Park covers 370 acres nestled among hardwood trees and high bluffs. The park contains more caves than any other state park in Iowa. A beautiful trail system links the caves, formations, and overlooks while providing an exciting hiking experience. The Park features approximately thirteen public caves to visit and a combined 6 miles of hiking trails. Most of the caves may be entered by persons of average physical ability, but some are more advanced and will require lights and full caving gear. Caves vary from the 1,100' Dancehall Cave with walkways and lighting system to Dugout Cave an advanced caving opportunity. The remaining caves are all different sizes and shapes. Some can be explored by walking while others can best be seen by crawling. A great experience awaits everyone at this unique state park!

   The Maquoketa Cave State Park was chosen as this year’s 2019 Hodag Hunt Festival destination, because of last year’s site visit during the 2018 Hodag Hunt Festival that was at Yellowstone Lake State Park in Wisconsin. Many WSS Board members and Hodag attendees made the hour and a half trip from Yellowstone Lake State Park to Maquoketa Cave State Park, after hearing nothing but praise for the park from many WSS members who have visited the park in the past and had suggested that it would make a great Hodag Hunt Festival location. The WSS Board members and other cavers on the 2018 Hodag trip were blown away on what they saw and fell in love with the park.  The only drawback from that trip was the lack of time to see everything and explore all the caves and other unique offerings in the park.  With an enthusiastic vote of approval, the following morning after the site visit trip and during WSS September monthly meeting, the WSS Board approved the 2019 Hodag Hunt Festival location to be at Maquoketa Cave State Park. Note, no park sticker or fee is required in any Iowa State Parks, so entry and visitation to Maquoketa Caves State Park is free.  More information can be found about Maquoketa Cave State Park at their official website (https://www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Iowa-State-Parks/ParkDetails/parkid/610127).

    Hodag Fun: The WSS Hodag Hunt Festival is a yearly weekend caving jubilee for cavers from Wisconsin and the surrounding states. It is a great time to get together for exploring caves during the day, later reconnecting and relaxing with fellow cavers, and above all, having lots of social fun and camaraderie. You do not have to be a WSS member or be affiliated with any other caving grotto to attend. Everyone is welcome! We do encourage new attendees to join the WSS if they are interested. The WSS uses the Hodag Hunt Festival weekend as a caving social gathering and uses the funds raised at the Hodag auction to support its various caving activities throughout the year. Please do bring items for the auction and some extra money for the great buys and interesting finds you will see at the auction.

   Caving Requirements: Please note we do have two very important equipment requirements for everyone who is going into any caves during the Hodag Hunt: 1) Everyone needs to have clean caving equipment to protect against the spread of the devastating White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). See the WSS website information at (http://www.wisconsincaves.org/WNS) for the latest updates on WNS. The link also provides the latest decontamination protocols from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for your caving gear; and 2) Maquoketa Caves State Park now requires a permit to enter any of the park’s caves. The permit is free and requires anyone who wants to visit the caves to attend very brief White Nose Syndrome (WNS) Awareness Program.  You will be asked to disinfect your shoes and not wear gear or clothes that have been in contaminated areas. After the short presentation you will be given a green wrist band that is the proof you went through the presentation.  The green wrist band is the permit to enter the caves.

   Group Camping Site: The WSS has reserved 5 adjoining full-service water/electric sites

at Riverview Ridge Campground just a short 25-minute drive and easy driving directions from Maquoketa Caves State Park. The sites are near full-service bathrooms and a picnic shelter. Riverview Ridge is a full hook-up service campground equipped with RV and tent sites. It is ranked in the top five of the “Best Campgrounds in Iowa”.  It is located along the cliffs and lush riverbanks on the North Fork of the Maquoketa River, just a mile or so from the cozy town of Cascade, Iowa. They offer tube & kayak rentals with pick up and have 10 miles of combined hiking/walking trails through an additional 80 acres of campground terrain. Other amenities include clean bathrooms and showers, free use of board games from the clubhouse next to the picnic shelter, scheduled weekend movie nights on the big screen in the picnic shelter, a horseshoe pit area, sand volleyball court, nice new children’s playground area, picnic tables and pits at each campsite, beach areas along the river for shallow water fun, fishing, full firewood service with delivery to your site, and pets are allowed on a leash. For more information on the campground visit their web site at (https://riverviewridgecampgrounds.com). Note, Hodag registration will be at the campground and our meal and auction will be a five-minute drive to the nearby town of Cascade.

   Individual Campsites: There is an abundance of individual campsites available in at Riverview Ridge. Folks with large or small campers, or even a person with a tent that wants more privacy, can pick between having full, just partial hookups, or no hookups for their camp sites. Reservations for individual sites can still be obtained by contacting the campground through their website.

   Firewood: Bringing you own firewood is not allowed at Riverview Ridge Campground. They sell firewood at the campground office for a nominal fee and will deliver the firewood right to camping site.

   Meals: You will be on your own for all meals on Friday and Sunday, and also breakfast and lunch on Saturday. Cascade has a number of options in the Bar/Restaurant area. Dagwoods, The Narrow Guage, and the Corner Tap are all conveniently located in downtown Cascade while the Bent Rim is located 1 large block South of 1st Ave on the East side of town. Pizza/Italian meal options can be found at Happy Joe's, a sit-down/carry-out/delivery restaurant attached to the Cascade Bowling Center on the East end of town. There is Godfather's Pizza/Italian that is a part of McDermott Oil and Casey's Pizza Carry-Out located at Casey's Convenience Store. Cascade has some great and healthy options in the fast food/deli area. They have a Subway located downtown and a new deli located within Brother's Market for a healthier sandwich alternative. We are happy to announce this year we are once again going to have a buffet dinner before our WSS Hodag auction on Saturday evening. The dinner this year will be in the large lower level banquet room at Kalmes’ Club 528 in Cascade, just a 5-minute ride from Riverview Ridge Campground. The meal incudes beef and chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, roll and butter, coffee, and milk. A full-service bar upstairs is also available for alternative beverages. The WSS auction will follow in the same room.

   Registration and Orientation Meeting: Trips: Saturday trips will be offered from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Sign-up sheets will be available after Saturday breakfast. A 9:30 welcome and trip briefing on Saturday is required for everyone to attend, if you are participating in any planned WSS trip activities. For caving trips, everyone needs to be aware of White Nose Syndrome decontamination protocol in order to participate. Decontamination info will be provided at Registration and in the Hodag Festival Guidebook.

   Alternative Caving Activities: There will be plenty of alternative activities other than caving. While driving through Dubuque either going to the Hodag or returning home, you can check out two landmark attractions: The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is in Dubuque and the show cave of Crystal Lake Cave is just a few miles outside of Dubuque.  For baseball fans and movie buffs there is a short ride to the movie set of the 1989 movie Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. For TV “American Pickers” fans see the resale shop Antique Archeology store at LeClaire, Iowa. For a cool off in the hot weather, take in 2- to 4-hour tube or kayak trip down the North Fork of the Maquoketa River starting right at the Riverview Ridge Campground and catch a wagon ride thru the scenic bluffs right back to the campground.       

   Cost: Pre-Registration is $10 per person. On-site registration is $11 per person.

There is no registration charge for children 15 and under. Camping fees are $8 per person per night. The buffet dinner will be $11:50 per person, including tax and tip. Children 4-10 are $4.75. See separate registration form for more specific cost breakdowns.

   Driving Directions: To get to the Riverview Ridge Campground in Cascade Iowa from Dubuque, take a 25-mile ride on U.S. Highway 151 South all the way to the Cascade Iowa’s first exit onto Industrial Park Road and drive into town. Take a right on 1st Avenue all the way through town and over the only bridge across the North Fork of the Maquoketa River.  Go two blocks and turn left on Buchanan Street. Take Buchanan Street for six blocks and take a left on Riverview Road. Stay on Riverview Road following blue campground signs on the paved road all the way to the campground.  

 

   Schedule at a glance:  

Ø  Friday Main Arrival/Setup: Feel free to arrive any time after 1:00 pm on Friday to set up your campsite for the weekend and take in the great amenities of River View Ridge Campground and the surrounding area.

Ø  Friday Registration: Registration starts at 7:00 in evening in the River View Ridge Campground at our campsite.

Ø  Friday Lunch & Dinner: Cavers are on their own for Friday meals.

Ø  Saturday Registration/Breakfast: Registration continues. Cavers are on their own for breakfast. Great breakfast selections can be had at nearby Cascade, Iowa. Most restaurants in town open at 7:00 am.

Ø  WSS Welcome and Activity Briefing: Quick orientation and information meeting at 9:30 is mandatory for all day-trip participants. Maps for local attractions will be available and signup sheets for caving.

Ø  Saturday Caving: Hodag trip activities start at 10:00. Everyone should be back from their daily trips no later than 5:00 to get ready for the Saturday evening activities.

Ø  Saturday Lunch: Cavers are on their own for lunch on Saturday.

Ø  Saturday Meal: The Saturday supper will be a 6:00 pm buffet dinner at Kalmes’ Club 528 in Cascade, just 5 minutes from the campground.

Ø  Saturday WSS Auction: The WSS auction fund raiser will start around 7:00 in the dining hall at Kalmes’ Club 528, after the Saturday meal. Door prizes will also be given out during the auction.

Ø  Sunday Breakfast: Cavers are on their own for breakfast. Great breakfast selections can be had at nearby Cascade. Most restaurants in town open at 7:00 am.

Ø  Sunday WSS Board/General Meeting:  A combined WSS General and Board Meeting will be held from 9:00 - 10:00 Sunday morning at the group campsite. All are welcome to attend.

Ø  Sunday Caving: There will be caving trips offered on Sunday. All campsites need to be vacated by 12:00 noon, ending the WSS 55th annual Hodag Hunt Festival activities.

 

For more information contact Kasey Fiske (kasey.fiske@wisc.edu) or Karen Fiske (7fiskes@gmail.com) or 608-370-4883.


WSS Special Edition HEN for 2019 Hodag

Click Here

FIRST EVER FULL CAVING TOUR WEEKEND!

posted Jul 17, 2019, 9:05 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Jul 17, 2019, 9:06 AM ]


Caving 101: A Beginner's Guide to Spelunking

posted Jun 26, 2019, 9:37 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Jun 26, 2019, 9:40 AM ]

Caving 101: A Beginner's Guide to Spelunking 

By 

Cara Gentry entering a Hudson Valley cave. - PHOTO: ERIK RICHARDS                    Photo: Erik Richards Cara Gentry entering a Hudson Valley cave.

In 1842, in Schoharie County, a farmer named Lester Howe followed his cows to a cool breeze emanating from a hole in the ground. He tunneled deeper day after day until, about 156 feet down, the tunnel opened onto a damp, winding passageway about 30 feet wide and 1.5 miles long, the main path through what is now called Howe Caverns.

The formation of Howe Caverns began some 360 million years ago, when continental collisions formed cracks in limestone that had been deposited on what was then a shallow tropical ocean floor. Water percolated down through the cracks, dissolving the rock and creating joints that widened over time. This went on for a couple hundred million years; then, during the most recent Ice Age, the glacial lake that filled the Hudson Valley flooded through the fractured limestone, causing extensive erosion and forming the series of vast natural caverns that Howe later happened upon.

Howe was an early novice spelunker (a term derived from the ancient Greek for "cave" or "grotto"), and his rediscovery of the cave system that bears his name was, eventually, a catalyst in the development of a caving tourism industry. Howe Caverns remains an excellent place for the caving-curious to get their feet wet, so to speak. The Cave House Museum of Mining and Geology, located at the original entrance to the caverns, provides equipment for its variety of tours of the largest cave in the Northeast open to the public. The other major commercial cave in New York, Secret Caverns, is just a couple miles down the road. Tours are led by the descendants of Roger Mallery, a civil engineer who discovered the cavern in 1928 after—in an incredible coincidence—following two lost cows.

Spelunkers in New York can also explore "wild" caves, which do not offer guided tours, and which the novice should not explore without guidance. Many are on private land. Those interested in subterranean exploration would do well to start by joining a caving club, or "grotto." The National Speleological Society has a list of groups, plus basic beginner tips.

"A lot of people don't realize there actually aren't that many caves in this region," says Cara Gentry, a geologist and the president of the Shawangunk-Catskill Area Grotto. At Sam's Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, there are fissure ice caves accessible via trail, and elsewhere there are abandoned mines, like Widow Jane in Rosendale, that offer the thrills of spelunking. But unlike natural caves, which are formed over millennia by slow erosion, mines are much less stable because they were blasted out by humans. "We do occasionally explore the mines," Gentry says. "But most of them are not monitored regularly."

The standard caving equipment is a helmet, an extra layer of clothes, a first-aid kit, and three light sources. "Especially in a wet environment, you need a backup to your backup," says Gentry. You can buy a headlamp at most outdoor or auto parts stores, or fashion a DIY one by duct-taping a flashlight to a helmet. Hiking boots are suitable for most caves. Some people wear knee and/or elbow pads to protect joints as they scoot through tighter areas. More advanced cavers use ropes, which also require gear like carabiners, bolts, and slings.

Like Howe Caverns, most of the caves in eastern New York are formed in limestone, according to Paul Griggs, a geologist in Troy. In general, most caves are formed when an acid dissolves bedrock (usually limestone, but also marble, dolomite, and gypsum). That can be water seeping down through soluble rock and interacting with carbon dioxide to create fissures, or a compound like hydrogen sulfide rising upward and dissolving rock from below, which is how the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico were created. More exotic cave-creation methods include lava tubes, wave-cut coastal caves, and glacier caves.

More than type, the shape and path each cave takes varies based on local geology. Younger and softer rock dissolves more easily, creating large, open caves that look like bubbles on a chain. The limestone in the Hudson Valley, on the other hand, is very old, nonporous, and brittle: Water tends to flow along the surface before finding a crack that allows it to penetrate into the rock, creating patterned fractures that eventually become jagged, asymmetrical caves.

Furthermore, the local limestones have been heavily impacted by glaciation, the effects of which are still visible in the striations and sediment left behind. In Clarksville Cave, located in Clarksville, Albany County, you can see how far glacial meltwater flowed into the cavern by the rows of progressively sized pebbles left behind in the rock, a process known as imbrication. "There's a lot to see inside a cave when you know what to look for," Gentry says.

click to enlargeA bat in Howe Cave. Bats hibernate in many caves in the winter and roost in the caves during the day in the spring. - PHOTO: PAUL GRIGGS
  • Photo: Paul Griggs
  • A bat in Howe Cave. Bats hibernate in many caves in the winter and roost in the caves during the day in the spring.
And those cool breezes? Temperatures in caves are remarkably consistent, and are usually close to the average annual temperature for the region (50 to 52 degrees for the Hudson Valley). In the winter, the breeze emanating from the mouth of a cave will feel warm relative to the outside air temperature.

Many cave environments are very fragile, so like campers, cavers embrace the "leave no trace" mantra. Caving can be physically taxing, but it's a peaceful, exploratory pastime, and it attracts that type of participant. In addition to the National Speleological Society, beginners interested in exploring further can check out the Northeastern Cave Conservancy, or Bat Conservation International if they want to learn about the most (in)famous cave dwellers. The Schoharie County-based online bookstore Speleobooks has a comprehensive selection of books, gifts, and other cave-related ephemera.

Or just follow some cows. If they lead you to some yet undiscovered cavern, take it as a sign.

Above article is from https://www.chronogram.com/

Under the Shenandoah Mountains, a caving adventure

posted May 15, 2019, 7:13 PM by Al Schema   [ updated May 15, 2019, 7:14 PM ]

by John Briley, Washington Post News Service, Updated: May 10, 2019

Under the Shenandoah Mountains, a caving adventure
WEST VIRGINIA TOURISM OFFICE

In the moist, elemental rind of the Earth, the balance shifts. I am on my belly, twisting through a subterranean, mud-slicked limestone passage in West Virginia, and am for the first time legitimately trying to keep up with my 10-year-old son, Kai.

I’m here with him, his friends Curtis and Finn, and a guide in late March, exploring one of this state’s 5,000 known caves, most of which (like this one) have no parking lot, interior lighting, gift shop, or even signs.


Guide Lester Zook, center, chose this cave in Franklin, W. Va., for its kid-friendly passages.

JOHN BRILEY / WASHINGTON POST NEWS SERVICE                                                                                Guide Lester Zook, center, chose this cave in Franklin, W. Va., for its kid-friendly passages.


In fact, our guide, Lester Zook, agreed to take us in this cave on the condition that I reveal neither its name nor its precise location. So: We’re somewhere outside the one-stoplight town of Franklin, about an hour mostly west of Harrisonburg, Va., above a bucolic valley west of the Shenandoah Mountains where hills choked with oak and hickory trees rise and fall like banjo rolls.

“When you move in a cave, do so slowly,” Zook says as we stand in sunshine beneath a rock wall, pondering the pumpkin-size hole at our feet — our portal to adventure. “There’s seldom a reason to be in a hurry.”

Zook, 58, is a wiry 5-foot-6, an ideal build for crawling around underground. He wears well-worn blue coveralls with integrated knee and elbow pads, and hiking shoes. As he instructed when I phoned, we're dressed for mud and for the near-constant 52-degree Fahrenheit air of this cave.


Zook views backcountry activity as an antidote to the smother of safety and structure that children face in the modern world. "The outdoors is basically a giant gymnasium," he says. "And it's different than traditional sports. There's no coach, no screaming audience, no humiliation or bench time. The kids can just be themselves."


With, of course, a few rules.

He leads us through a safety briefing, checks our helmets and headlamps, ensures that everyone has a whistle, and asks the boys how they think people find their way through cave systems.

Yes, Zook confirms, some mark walls with spray paint, but that's bad eco-juju and, in many places, illegal. No, people don't leave trails of crumbs. As for those who rely on their memories, Zook says, "We have a word for them: lost."

He then pulls out his favored method — a map and a compass — and gives a brief primer on how to use them before dropping to hands and knees and leading us underground.

The hole opens to a descending crevice and we climb down 15 feet of puddle-laden ledges until we reach a relatively level path where we can touch the walls on both sides.

After a few twists and turns, this alleyway opens to a dome the size of a large dining room. We’re in a rock world. On one side, the ages have stacked multi-ton slabs of limestone like hastily shuffled playing cards. Shadows dance across the walls, ceiling, floors, and geologic clutter, which runs the gamut of brown — russet, sand, walnut, tan, chocolate, khaki.

Water drips from stalactites that finger down from the ceiling, the smallest of which are known as soda straws, with each drop leaving behind a residue of calcite that further extends the formation. In many places, the calcite is fashioning stalagmites on the floor, glossy nubs that appear translucent white in the center. Some of these have bubbled together into flowstones, alluringly smooth formations that resemble miniature caramel mountain ranges.

We sit and switch off our lights. Total darkness. As in, can’t-see-your-hand-an-inch-from-your-face dark. “I can’t see anything!” Finn says in what I hope is more amazement than terror.

Total darkness is one of the factors that makes a cave a cave, versus, say, a hole; to earn the label, caves (or caverns; there's no difference) must also have formed naturally and be big enough to hold a person.

I’m enjoying the complete shutdown of one of my senses and wondering what it would be like to try to find my way out of here blind when Zook turns his headlamp back on.

He assigns Kai and Curtis to Navigation Team A and helps them orient to generate a hypothesis. "We think there's a passage around that corner," Curtis says, pointing toward a shadow. Sure enough, the route squeezes through a notch before widening into a room decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, including some in an upper corner that have grown together in three-foot floor-to-ceiling columns.

Around the next bend, Zook points out a hibernating brown bat, about the size and cuteness of a mouse, dangling as though its feet were super-glued to the underside of a ledge. We see few other signs of animal life, just three spiders and a small pile of bones, including what appear to be the vertebrae of a sizable mammal.

"No clue," Zook says when I ask the species. "Maybe some bear fell in here and couldn't find his way out."

Of all the emergencies I imagined — claustrophobia, ankle sprain, boys sprinting off with compass and map — I never considered that we might stumble upon a predator. But Zook says such a confrontation is highly unlikely. “Mammals don’t wander too far underground,” he says, although he’s heard of cavers encountering groundhogs and coyotes.

Zook appoints Finn and Kai to Navigation Team B and, in what an astute student would take as a harbinger, counsels us on how to negotiate extremely tight spaces.

“If you feel like you’re getting stuck or claustrophobic, focus on breathing. Next, work on micro-movements; often, you’ll find you can move one body part a little, then another. Don’t fight the cave: You’ll only make things worse.” Never pull or push people in a tight spot, he says, which might get them entrapped.

We face two crawls where I have to back out a few times and reorient my helmet-shoulder-torso alignment to shimmy through. But none is what cavers call chest compressors — spaces so tight one must fully exhale to make it through — and they all open to larger spaces quickly enough that I don’t freak out.

Our last stop is the Art Museum, a loftlike nook where visitors have plastered the walls with mud sculptures — a cartoonish skull, an impressive rendition of the James Madison University “Duke Dog” mascot, and other 21st-century references that detract, ever so slightly, from the ancient vibe down here.

Kai and I get the final Nav Team assignment — steering us back to daylight. After we plot out the necessary turns, I promptly lead us into a cul-de-sac, proving that, left to my own skills in a more labyrinthine cavern, I’d be dead.

My son jumps past me. “Dad, let me go in front.” He darts around one last corner and climbs toward a keyhole of sunlight without looking back.



Wild Guyde Adventures, Harrisonburg, Va., offers half- to full-day trips near Harrisonburg and in West Virginia to Franklin and Seneca Rocks, ranging from mostly horizontal beginner routes to ones that require climbing. Information: 540-433-1637 or wildguyde.com


General Information: wvtourism.com


Posted: May 10, 2019 - 12:01 AM
John Briley, Washington Post News Service

Announcing the 54th Annual WSS Hodag Hunt Festival September 7-9, 2018

posted Aug 27, 2018, 8:10 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Aug 27, 2018, 8:16 AM ]

Announcing the 54th Annual WSS Hodag Hunt Festival

September 7-9, 2018

 

   We are happy to announce the 54th annual Wisconsin Speleological Society (WSS) Hodag Hunt Festival is scheduled and we are set for yet another fun and adventurous caving celebration weekend. This year’s event will be held at Yellowstone Lake State Park in southwest Wisconsin. This area of the state is in the glacial driftless area, so hills and valleys abound with scenic driving views around every corner. Keeping with the tradition of trying something new, this is the first time a WSS Hodag Hunt Festival has ever been held at Yellowstone Lake State Park.

   Yellowstone Lake State Park is a 1,000-acre park, and has a 455-acre lake, which offers visitors ample space to enjoy camping, swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, biking and picnicking. More information can be found about Yellowstone Lake State Park at their official website (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/yellowstone/).

   The Yellowstone Lake State Park site was chosen because of its proximity to Cave of the Mounds and other local attractions. Cave of the Mounds happens to be one of the most spectacular Show Caves in the Midwest and is also officially and appropriately recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Government. We are happy to announce we have arranged for a large discount tour rate ($10 cash per person) for registered Hodag attendees at Cave of the Mounds and our picnic supper and WSS auction will be in the historic Brigham Barn on the Cave of the Mounds property. More information and driving directions to Cave of the Mounds can be found on their official website at (http://www.caveofthemounds.com).

    The WSS Hodag Hunt Festival is a yearly weekend caving jubilee for cavers from Wisconsin and the surrounding states. It is a great time to get together for exploring caves during the day, later reconnecting and relaxing with fellow cavers, and above all, having lots of social fun and camaraderie. You do not have to be a WSS member or be affiliated with any other caving grotto to attend. Everyone is welcome! We do encourage new attendees to join the WSS if they are interested.

   At a minimum for caving equipment needs, a protective hard helmet and hands-free lights of some sort are a must. Hiking boots, protective clothing, and knee pads are highly recommended for any of the Hodag caving trips. You will want to bring a camera, too, as there will be spectacular photo opportunities and memorable moments that you will want to capture for a lifetime during the whole weekend of the 54th Hodag Hunt Festival celebration.

   Please note we do have two very important equipment requirements for everyone who is going into the caves during the Hodag Hunt: 1) Everyone needs to have clean caving equipment to protect against the spread of the devastating White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). See the WSS website information at (http://www.wisconsincaves.org/WNS) for the latest updates on WNS. The link also provides the latest decontamination protocols from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for your caving gear; and 2) No one may use caving equipment and clothing in Wisconsin caves that has been in caves outside of Wisconsin per Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulations. A decontamination station will be provided by the WSS for the outing to keep your equipment clean.

   Hodag Fun: The WSS uses the Hodag Hunt Festival weekend as a caving social gathering and uses the funds raised at the Hodag auction to support its various caving activities throughout the year. Please do bring items for the auction and some extra money for the great buys and interesting finds you will see at the auction. The weekend will be full of great wild caving trips to some of the more popular undeveloped caves in the area. Cave of the Mounds is just one of the commercial caves you could take in for the weekend. Other Show Caves in Iowa are also an easy driving distance away.

   Camping: Camping this year for the WSS Hodag Festival is at Yellowstone Lake State Park. The park provides a panoramic view of 455-acre Yellowstone Lake. Park features include 112 camping sites that vary from single tent, group, to large camper with electric and water individual sites. Park amenities include full shower facilities, toilet bathrooms, a playground area, beach swimming access, hiking trails, and a comfort station. Yellowstone Lake State Park is a Wisconsin State Park, so Wisconsin Park admission stickers are REQUIRED on all vehicles using the park and must be properly attached. Information on State Park stickers and their costs can be found at (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/admission.html). Park stickers can be purchased upon your arrival at the park.

   Group Site Camping: The WSS has reserved a large group site for tent camping at Yellowstone Lake State Park, site #201, for those who will be camping in tents. Site #201 does have electricity and a fire pit for nightly get togethers. A bathroom facility is right next door. The shower building and a large playground area are a short walking distance from the site. There is also an ample supply of parking next to group site #201 for all vehicles. Parking or driving on the grass is prohibited. This year there is not a separate fee for camping in the group site #201 for Hodag registered attendees. Camping fees are covered by your Hodag registration. Folks arriving to Yellowstone Lake State Park, who plan on staying at group site #201, need to check in at the Ranger Station to announce where they will be staying to get a camping pass for their vehicle. With a Wisconsin State Park sticker for your vehicle, you are then free to enter the park for your weekend stay.

   Individual Campsites: There is an abundance of individual campsites available in the park. Folks with large or small campers, or even a person with a tent that wants more privacy, can pick between having full, just partial hookups, or no hookups for their camp sites. Expenditures for individual sites are not covered by your Hodag registration. Reservations for sites can be made in advance by visiting the Park’s official website (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/yellowstone/).

   Firewood: Bringing you own firewood is not allowed at Wisconsin State Parks from more than 10 miles away from the destination campground, unless it is certified by WI DATCP. The Friends of Yellowstone Lake State Park sell firewood at the park office for $5 a bundle. The proceeds go right back into the park to provide educational programs for visitors.

   Meals: You are on your own for breakfast, lunch, and Friday night dinner. A short 10-minute drive from the Park will get you to historic Blanchardville. Five restaurants in town give a large selection on breakfast, lunch, and dinner possibilities. Great food selections can be found at: Lady Dawn’s, Viking Cafe, The Pecatonica Grapevine, Dawn’s Place, and the Gnarly Oak Restaurant and Bar. The Viking Café is locally known for its great Viking breakfast skillets, so don’t miss out on a great breakfast. The WSS Hodag supper will be served Saturday evening. It is an all-you-can-eat picnic-style meal of brats, hotdogs, burgers, coleslaw, potato salad, and other typical picnic favorites and will be served in the renovated Brigham Barn right at the Cave of the Mounds.

   Hodag Wild Caving Trips: Saturday trips will be offered from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Sign-up sheets will be available after Saturday breakfast. A 9:30 welcome and trip briefing on Saturday is required for everyone to attend, if you are participating in any planned WSS trip activities. For caving trips, everyone needs to be aware of White Nose Syndrome decontamination protocol in order to participate. Decontamination info will be provided at Registration and in the Hodag Festival Guidebook.

   Alternative Caving Activities: There will be plenty of alternative activities other than caving. A 50-minute drive to Madison will give you access to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, the Wisconsin State Capital, Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin, the Henry Vilas Zoo and countless museums, restaurants, parks, and lakes. A 30-minute drive will take you to scenic and historic Mount Horeb. Their attractions include Little Norway, Bothan Vineyards, Fisher King Winery, Deer Valley Lodge & Golf Couse, the Grumpy Troll Microbrewery Pub, Havens Petting Farm, and so much more. An even shorter 10-minute drive from the Park will get you to Squeaky Wheel Saloon - Hollandale, Nick Engelbert’s Grandview - Hollandale, Pec Time River Rafting and Tubing Inc - Argyle, New Glarus Brewing Company - New Glarus, (home of the Spotted Cow), Toy Train Barn - Argyle, and the Swiss Historical Village - New Glarus.

   Cost: Pre-Registration is $10 per person. On-site registration is $11 per person. There is no registration charge for children 15 and under. Brats, hotdogs, burgers, and all-you-can-eat picnic style fixin’s is $6 for adults, $3 for children 2-12, no charge for children under 2. See separate registration form for more specific cost breakdowns.

   Driving Directions: To get there from Madison, head west on U.S. Highway 18/151 toward Dodgeville. Take the State Highway 78 South exit at Mount Horeb and head south on 78 to Blanchardville (Highway 78 will also become County Highway F). After passing through downtown Blanchardville on 78/F, turn right on County Highway F at the T-intersection where County F and Highway 78 split - there will be a road sign directing you toward the park (don't turn right at your first opportunity to take county F on the north side of Blanchardville prior to the downtown area). Continue following F for about 8 miles to Lake Road. Turn left (east) onto Lake Road (look for the large unlit park sign). The park office is about 1 mile east of County F on Lake Road on the right side. GPS coordinates to the park: (Latitude) 42.76944, -89.97083 (Longitude) 42°46'10"N, 89°58'15"W.

 

   Schedule at a glance:  

Ø  Friday Main Arrival/Setup: Feel free to arrive any time after 3:00 pm on Friday to set up your campsite for the weekend and take in the great amenities of Yellowstone Lake State Park and the surrounding area.

Ø  Friday Registration: Registration starts at 7:00 in evening in the Yellowstone Lake State Park at the group campsite.

Ø  Friday Lunch & Dinner: Cavers are on their own for Friday meals.

Ø  Saturday Breakfast: Cavers are on their own for breakfast. Great breakfast selections can be had at nearby Blanchardville WI. Most restaurants in town open at 7:00 am.

Ø  WSS Welcome and Activity Briefing: Quick orientation and information meeting at 9:30 is mandatory for all day-trip participants. Maps for local attractions will be available and signup sheets for caving.

Ø  Saturday Caving: Hodag trip activities start at 10:00. Everyone should be back from their daily trips no later than 4:30 to get ready for the Saturday evening activities.

Ø  Saturday Lunch: Cavers are on their own for lunch on Saturday.

Ø  Saturday Tour of Cave of the Mounds: 5:30 - 6:30. Interested persons register for tour at the Gift Shop.

Fee: $10 cash. Credit card users will be charged full tour rates of $18.95.

Ø  Saturday Meal: The Saturday supper will be all you can eat brats, hotdogs, hamburgers, potato salad, coleslaw, chips, and beverages. Serving time is from 6:30 - 7:30 in the renovated Brigham Barn on the Cave of the Mounds grounds.

Ø  Saturday WSS Auction: The WSS auction fund raiser will start around 8:00 in the Brigham Barn, after the Saturday meal. Door prizes will also be given out during the auction.

Ø  Sunday Breakfast: Cavers are on their own for breakfast. Great breakfast selections can be had at nearby Blanchardville. Most restaurants in town open at 7:00 am.

Ø  Sunday WSS Board/General Meeting:  A combined WSS General and Board Meeting will be held from 9:00 - 10:00 Sunday morning at the group campsite. All are welcome to attend.

Ø  Sunday Caving: There will be limited trips offered on Sunday. Caving activities start at 10:00 and should have everyone back to Yellowstone Lake State Park no later than 2:30. All campsites need to be vacated by 3:00,ending the WSS 54th annual Hodag Hunt Festival activities.

 

For more information contact Kasey Fiske (kasey.fiske@wisc.edu) or Karen Fiske (7fiskes@gmail.com) or 608-370-4883.

NSS calls on U.S. Government to Change Cave Closure Policies on WNS

posted Apr 26, 2018, 6:47 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Apr 26, 2018, 6:53 AM ]

Recommendations from NSS Chair of the Directorate Peter Youngbaer

The NSS' letter to Secretaries Zinke and Perdue will have more impact if the Secretaries also hear from Senators and Representatives that they would like to see them address the WNS cave closure policies. If you, as NSS members, contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to contact the Secretaries and support the NSS' letter, that will help greatly. Cabinet officials prioritize responses to those politicians currently in office, so your asking your congressional delegation to support the NSS' letter will make this effort stronger. Thank you.


How to contact your U.S. Representatives: https://www.house.gov/representatives

LETTER BELOW


Ledge View 5K Caveman Adventure Run

posted Apr 10, 2018, 6:53 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Apr 10, 2018, 6:54 AM ]


Ledge View 5K Caveman Adventure Run



Image may contain: drawing
Saturday, May 12th

Start Time:10 am


Not a "Tuff Mudder" but we have several challenges and you will get dirty! This is a one-of-a-kind course that features views from a 60ft. tower followed by entry into an underground cave system. Register by THIS THURSDAY to receive a Caveman 5K t-shirt and a hot/cold Tumbler courtesy of the Friends of Ledgeview Nature Center for only $25! https://runsignup.com/Race/WI/Chilton/Caveman5KAdventureRun

Volunteers Needed for 2018 Caving Season

posted Mar 12, 2018, 6:31 AM by Al Schema   [ updated Mar 12, 2018, 6:31 AM ]


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