CRF Mammoth for Memorial Day

While Bryan stayed around home to spend time climbing with David, Mandy and I made a trip to Kentucky to go caving.

We arrived around midnight and after signing us into the expedition, I poked my head into a few bunkhouse rooms before finding one with only one bed filled. Mandy and I threw down pillows and blankets and went to sleep. It occurred to me that in most places I’d feel pretty uncomfortable putting my daughter to bed in a darkened room with an unidentified man, but at Hamilton Valley I didn’t think twice about it. When she mumbled “I’m cold” in the middle of the night, he got up to turn on the heat for her. It turned out to be Tom Brucker. Continue reading “CRF Mammoth for Memorial Day”

CRF New Years

This is Bryan’s seventh New Years at Hamilton Valley, the Cave Research Foundation’s facility at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. For Mandy and I, it’s the fifth New Years. It’s become a sort of fixture in our family schedule. Mandy makes a big deal about having just the right kind of sparkling grape juice, which she drinks right from the bottle at the New Year’s ‘party’ with our friends.

This year, for the first time, our family was asked to handle kitchen duties for one day. We got up early to cook breakfast for about 40 hungry cavers. Then Mandy and I got ready to go caving, and Bryan stayed above ground to cook garlic chicken, rice pilaf, and the best lemon pie in the world.

For the first time, this year (because of newly revised guidelines) Mandy’s old enough to cave with regular survey teams in Mammoth Cave. (She went on a trip to Roppel a couple of years ago, but that was a special one-time deal.) So in addition to her usual long visits with friends, and helping a bit in the kitchen, and hanging around the edges of conversations with people she admires, she actually got to go caving two days in a row. She was a happy, happy girl. Continue reading “CRF New Years”

CRF Annual Meeting in Missouri

Every year, the Cave Research Foundation’s annual meeting is held in an area where the organization has an ongoing project. The board has a closed meeting, which is followed over the next few days by open-to-the-public meetings and field trips and caving. This year’s annual meeting was held in Van Buren, MO, so we drove up to say hello.

We pulled into the Big Spring campground late on Friday night, right next to a familiar-looking red Cherokee. What better neighbors than Ed and Elizabeth? Mandy enjoyed riding the campground loop on her 20″ uni. It’s quicker to get to the bathroom if you have a wheel.

Saturday morning, instead of attending the poster session (with coffee and doughnuts) we decided to drive up to Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri. It was another hour of driving, but it was a pleasant road. Mandy thought it would be cool to unicycle on the platform atop the fire tower nearby, but she was disappointed to find that the trapdoor to the very top was locked shut.

A few minutes more in the car brought us to the parking area near the highpoint. There’s a kiosk and some pit toilets and a handicapped-accessible trail to a monument marking the highpoint.

Mandy felt that just being there wasn’t enough, so she jumped up and down on it for awhile.
This trail connects with another park nearby, Johnson Shut-ins. We walked and rode down it for a bit, and it was fun to watch Mandy ride around and through the roots and rocks in the trail. We didn’t have much time to explore – we needed to head back to Van Buren for the afternoon program.
The meetings were held at the National Scenic Riverways headquarters. There were presentations from cavers about projects in the area – survey/cartography stuff as well as gating projects and dye-tracing studies and restoration work. Some CRF awards were presented, too. When it was over, we got to talk to Jon, the caver who took Mandy to her first wild cave, when she was four. Joyce gave her a much-needed, almost-new cave suit. Then, after the break, we all met back at a local barbecue place for a very loud, very cheerful supper. The next morning we met up again for a tour of some of the karst features of the area. Springs are a big part of the Ozark Scenic Riverways, and Scott gave a really informative and enjoyable tour of a couple of the biggest. That’s a panorama of Big Springs in the photo above (click to see any of the photos larger).Big Spring, near┬áVan Buren, MO, is the highest-volume spring in the Ozark Plateau and the second-biggest tributary to the Current River. It’s one of the largest single-outlet springs in the world, in fact.

Despite its enormous volume, Big Spring doesn’t have a long history of use for mills or power. The area around it was swampy and brushy for so long, the people who lived in the area really weren’t aware of the existence of such a large spring.

It was an interesting way to take a tour – the guide was someone who really knew the subject and the area, and all the other ‘tourists’ were cavers and friends.

The next stop was Alley Spring. We walked along a short trail to get to the spring, and enjoyed poking our heads into the ‘pocket caves’ along the way. The spring itself is not as high-volume as Big Spring, but it was beautiful. The water in the pool was an impossible teal green color, with little bubbles rising to the surface near the edges.

The area around Alley Spring has changed a lot in the last few years. Camping’s not allowed up near the stream anymore, for example. It’s a change not everyone approves of, but the result is that the grounds around the spring and mill are really beautiful. It was a perfect weekend for a tour, with pretty weather and beautiful fall colors.

The mill at Alley Spring is usually closed to visitors this late in the year, but Scott had made arrangements for there to be someone there to open the mill for us and to answer our questions about it. The first floor was primarily the milling machinery, and the belts and conveyors used to move the grain and meal and flour around.

Stairs led to the second floor, with some more milling equipment and some museum-style displays discussing the people who lived in the area around the time Alley Roller Mill was in use.
When our tour was over, we ate lunch at a cafe with Joyce and some other friends, and then headed home.
On the way home, we followed Scott’s advice to take a detour to see Grand Gulf State Park. It’s the ‘Grand Canyon of the Ozarks’ but it’s not a canyon at all. It’s an enormous cave trunk passage that’s collapsed in a couple of places. The ‘natural bridge’ visitors cross on the trail, far above, isn’t a bridge. It’s just part of the ceiling that hasn’t collapsed yet. It’s a set of enormous holes in the ground, and we were really fascinated by the fact that we were staring down through a sort of window into what used to be a cave.

Water that falls at Grand Gulf doesn’t come up again until Mammoth Spring State Park, across the Arkansas line.

So we stopped there, too. After seeing the huge springs near Van Buren, this one wasn’t as impressive. In fact, it felt sort of silly and touristy. But we wandered along the walking path with all the old people and their little dogs, and we dutifully discussed the ducks on the pond fed by the spring, and we looked at the logo items in the gift shop. We enjoyed poking around the old railroad caboose near the train station museum. And then it was time to head home.

Lynn Rides Again

Lynn Brucker rides a unicycle at CRF Hamilton Valley.
Lynn Brucker rides a unicycle at CRF Hamilton Valley. Also in the photo (l-r) are unknown, Lynn Brucker, Mandy Harris, Matt Goska, Joyce Hoffmaster, and Mike Carter (the one from Arkansas).

Mandy brought our unicycle to Hamilton Valley at New Years to show off her new found unicycling skills and in conversation with the Bruckers, Mandy found out that Lynn used to be able to ride a unicycle.

So on the last morning of the Expedition, Lynn tried out Mandy’s uni on the sidewalk in front of the bunkhouses. I was loading up the car when Aly tapped me on the shoulder and told me to grab my camera so as to document the moment.

I shot the scene with my Pentax K10D shooting away at 3fps, hoping to catch something but not knowing if it would be success or failure. Lynn made two short but successful rides and the image shown above is a composite from this second ride. Remember to click on the image to see it larger.

If anyone can identify the guy on the left, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Crocheting 101, with Shirley Fox

Mandy decided, more or less out of the blue, that she wanted to learn to crochet. I showed her a chain stitch.

She had a scarf half-finished by the time she arrived at Hamilton Valley. Shirley Fox helped her along with advice and encouragement, and she declared the scarf finished. I think “finished” means “I’m tired of this” and I think that point arrived somewhat before the scarf was actually the width that it should be. No matter. She was taught a better stitch and started on a hat.

Shirley’s been sending Mandy encouraging emails and links to patterns for spiffy slippers, too. We’ll see if we can figure out those patterns on our own. And after that, stay tuned for macrame. Or tatting. Or, hell, auto mechanics, for all I know.

New Years at Mammoth Cave

On Thursday morning, we left for Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It’s Mandy’s and my fourth straight New Years at Mammoth. Bryan’s spent six of the last seven New Years in Kentucky. We enjoy the company there as much as we like the caving.

As usual, the New Years’ party was, well, subdued. There was beer and wine and orange Koolaid. I had made several kinds of crunchy breadsticks to share, and they were set out on the table in clear glass jars along with the things others had brought. But as the evening wore on, more and more cavers filtered off to bed. By midnight there were only a half dozen of us on the Watsons’ old yellow couches in front of the fire, to share Mandy’s bottle of sparkling juice and toast the new year.

Bryan caved on Friday, with Lynn Brucker, Joyce Hoffmaster, and Jeremy Reedy. They went up Snail Trail to survey in a crawl. He’d just gone to the Goodwill store for expendable clothing, and so was caving in a purple dress shirt and a pair of houndstooth plaid pants. He was sad to find that his cuffed pants had to be tucked into his rubber boots. And he also learned that Snail Trail’s not a great place to wear a button-front shirt. It’s too bad he’s worn out his yellow Meander suit.

After the cavers were out of camp, Mandy and I hiked with Charles to the Salts entrance. The park has changed all the cores in the locks, and asked CRF to try out the new keys to confirm that everything’s working. It was cold, in the mid-twenties, and Mandy broke the ice in all the puddles along the road. Below the trickling waterfall the big cage of a gate was breathing out a great cloud of warm steam. We walked back to camp and then spent the rest of the day on our usual minor aboveground projects (lunch, the visitors’ center, the gift shop, and Floyd Collins’ grave) before heading back to Hamilton Valley for a nap and to help in the kitchen.

On Saturday, it was my turn to cave. I went with Ed Klausner’s group to work on a survey in Belfry Avenue. We entered through the arched doors of the Carmichael entrance and hiked down past the Snowball Dining Room, down El Ghor, down Silliman Avenue, then to Cascade Hall (where we got to see the “tourist trail handrail” from the connection between Flint Ridge and Mammoth!)

From there we continued on to Stephenson Avenue to Opossum Avenue (where there is a set of directional arrows in the ceiling carved by Max Kaemper) and then to Belfry. The passage we surveyed was a close fit, but dry and sandy: curving question marks cut by water into the cool stone.

And then we walked, for miles and miles, in the longest cave in the world, past our own history. And then we were back out in the cold night, where it was starting to snow.

(The caving photos in this post were taken by Nicole Bull.)

Happy New Year!

Once again our family spent the New Year holiday at Hamilton Valley with CRF/Mammoth and good times were had by all. Mandy got to run through the compass course before heading over to Adwell Cave to survey Roger & Lynn Bruckers new surveying course. Aly and I helped in varying degrees and our closure wound up being 1.2 feet horizontal and 0.5 feet vertical over the course of a 511 foot loop.