Friday, May 30th - Big Gyp Cave, Comanche County, Kansas
With no interesting storms forecast until Saturday, we decided it was time for Beth to experience the joys of spelunking (cave exploring). As a Lawrence, Kansas High School biology student, I had gone on many memorable Stan Roth caving expeditions to the limestone solution caves in the Missouri Ozarks, and the unusual gypsum caves of south central Kansas.
We got directions and permission (thanks, Stan Roth) to visit Big Gyp Cave, a gypsum cave with Native American art. I calculated the GPS coordinates from Stan's maps [no, I can't give them out] and got detailed directions. Somehow, in spite of this, we missed the official parking place by about 100 yards and missed an obvious landmark. I was looking too much at the Delorme Map and GPS and not enough out the window (you can see how I ended up an engineer and not a biologist)! We were supposed to park right on top of the cave, but instead ended up down below at the level where the stream flows out of it. I found the *extremely obvious* landmark and parking place on the way out.
On the other hand, parking down below meant that we wouldn't have to climb down to the cave difference. We'd just go through the woods by the stream and walk right into it. Easy! Right :-)
The woods were dense. It was bushwhacking rather than a simple stroll. In fact, on the way out we took the conventional path to the top of the hill and then walked down to the car, rather than facing the woods again. But this diversion did result in very good luck: we came across a pair of small armadillos (armadilli?). It was hours before sunset, and they are nocturnal animals, so this was a real surprise! They were extremely cute, by the way - Beth was thrilled! Even though we were only 10 feet away, they ignored us as we watched them digging around on the forest floor. Of course as soon as I got the camera out, they vanished into a hole. Sigh.
Another 50 yards and we came across the lower cave entrance (it has at least 3 entrances). It was fun going through the cave (or in my case, just into it), getting muddy and a bit cut up. I had forgotten a few basics: caves have lots of sharp edges; they are full of mud; it is easy to fall down; it is easy to clonk your head on the sharp ceiling (my straw hat saved me there); you will get wet; you will get muddy. I did remember the most important rules though: don't deface anything; don't break anything; don't leave anything (except our sign-in in the cave log); don't tell people how to find the cave.
As a side note, I believe this is the cave we slept above the night of the Anchorage, Alaska earthquake (March 27, 1964).
Other than having to use a few supplies from our brand new first aid kit (Beth got a nasty puncture in her palm), we did fine. Beth crawled the whole length of the cave looking for bats, but this cave has a transitory bat population and they were elsewhere (fresh guano, however, attested to their recent presence). I went in about halfway and looked for the petroglyphs while waiting for her to return.
One disappointment was that we couldn't find the pigmented petroglyphs. They have subsequently been identified in the pictures.
Anyway, caving in an easy cave involves scrambling over a few rocks, getting wet and very muddy. This was an easy cave.
Once we got out, we did the first aid thing, scraped off a bit of mud, and departed. Along the way, we saw a surprising amount of wildlife and beautiful wildflowers. I stopped for a panoramic picture and found myself staring at a deer a few feet away. Naturally, the camera caused the deer to vanish. We found a tortoise wandering down the road and moved it to the side. Beth spotted an interesting spider web. Various other critters made appearances. It was a very nice diversion from our storm chasing trip.
The pictures can be found by clicking here.