Tuesday, August 14

Postcards from deep underground

Hello friends!
Greetings from 50 feet under!

This weekend Hubby and I packed up the car and headed about 130 miles northeast to Florida Caverns State Park.

(Yes, folks, there are caves in Florida. Who knew?)

We arrived mid-morning. A ranger told us that we'd be able to join the 12:30 tour, so that left us with some time to explore the hiking trails in the park.

Floodplain Trail at Florida Caverns State Park
We covered ourselves liberally in DEET. (After 2 years in Florida, my beliefs about eco-friendly insect repellent have gone the way of the tyrannosaurus.)

Properly lubed up with bug-killing juice, Hubby and I hiked the Bluff Trail and Floodplain Trail near the Visitor Center.

Entrance to the Tunnel Cave
The Floodplain Trail leads hikers right through a tunnel cave. The tunnel seemed pretty innocuous - you could see the light at the end (no proverb/pun intended).

Exit (or far-side entrance) of the Tunnel Cave
But mid-tunnel was dark enough that the muddy puddle I stepped into came as a complete surprise. (Glad I was wearing my shiggy shoes!)

Mid-tunnel view back to Hubby waving at the entrance...
Back outside the cave, the trails were slippery, tree-root-riddled, ankle-twisters. Hiking required constant attention to the trail underfoot. The Bluff and Floodplain trails are definitely not trail-running trails.
Tree roots and slippery mud cover the Floodplain Trail

The Floodplain trail follows along the edge of limestone bluffs over the Chipola River floodplain. The swampy land is prehistoric-looking and fascinating. The entire hike felt like a 1,000-year step back in time, complete with giant spiders and (what we're pretty sure were) snapping alligators.
Swamp formed in the floodplain of the Chipola River, for which the trail is named
After our brief hike, we headed back to the Visitor Center to wait for our tour guide. Then we descended into the deep, dark underground.

Path to the Visitor Center and entrance to the cave tour
(Seriously, the tour guide turned off the lights for a moment while we were down there and it was - quite literally - pitch black. Not a bit of light seeps in through the solid limestone walls of the cave.)

Our tour group "oohing" and "ahhing" over the stactites and stalgmites

Word hint: Stalactites hang from the ceiling (thing "hang tite" so you don't fall)
Stalagmites - with a "g" are on the ground


Narrow passageway between chambers in the cave

I should note that we were definitely not alone in the cave. The guide explained that there are dozens of creatures that call the limestone caves home. On this tour we saw cave crickets and an Eastern Pipistrelle bat. (I am a bat-lover by nature. Most bats eat mosquitos and other nuisance bugs. Therefore they are my friends.)

Eastern pipistrelle bat hanging from the cave ceiling
The caves are still actively forming new features, with water dripping from the stalactites and pooling on the floor. The pace of change is glacial, but the touch of a single human fingertip can deposit oils on the stone fomations that will stop their growth forever.

Pools of water in the cave

Stalactites and stalagmites (tour group in the background for perspective)

The final chamber on the cave tour (I'm hiding in this photo - middle right.)

Coming back out of the caves an hour later, the sunlight stung my eyes, even with sunglasses on. The ranger said that after about a month in pitch-black conditions, human eyes completely cease to function. (Skeptic's note: I heartily doubt that claim. Eye muscles may atrophy, but I suspect total "cave blindness" is a myth.)

The tour took about an hour, and left us with plenty of daylight to keep exploring the park.

In the far northwest corner of Florida Caverns State Park, another 2 miles along the park road, there is a swimming area known as the "Blue Hole."

Having read the park literature before our trip, Hubby and I packed our swimsuits in anticipation of a refreshing cool-down after our hike.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the name "Blue Hole" is somebody's idea of a cruel joke. The water was so brown, so murky that images of alligator attacks flashed in my mind.
The pond, formed by a natural spring, is great for wildlife watching. We spotted turtles, birds, fish, and dragonflies... But you'll notice (photo above) that despite the equipment, no one is swimming in the water.

I didn't either.
The river that runs out from the Blue Hole is picturesque, and wide, flat multi-use (horse/bike/hike) trails fan out from this location.

We hiked part of a horse trail until I was bitten by a horse fly. (Those little bastards sting! And they apparently bite straight through DEET. Damnit!)
So, having accomplished far more than we originally planned, we decided to call it a day. (Read: I wasn't sticking around to become fodder for more horseflies.) I would, however, strongly recommend a winter trip to Florida Caverns to run the multi-use trails.

On the drive home, we realized we'd also be passing Falling Waters State Park. So we stopped to check that park out, too.

I'll tell you all about that next week...

Have you ever been spelunking?
What's the most extreme place you've ever hiked or run?


  1. Your hike looks like it was so much fun! Did they make you do any crazy sanitation steps after your cave tour? I went camping at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky last fall and they made us sanitize our shoes after our tours to make sure we didn't spread any white nose fungus between bat populations.

    1. It was the best hour I've spent in a LONG time.

      And... Yikes! There was no sanitation procedure post-tour. I presume that means there's no epidemic in the bat population here? They were very strict about other aspects of the tour.

  2. Wow! Very cool photos. I am slightly claustrophobic so I don't think I'll ever go spelunking in person - I'll just have to live vicariously through posts like this one.


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