Friday, November 7, 2014

Where tired bats hang their hats, unusual beauty awaits you

With the switch back to standard time and the forward march into a gray and drizzly November, it seems like fall is already gone - or close to it - and winter stares us in the face.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I was enjoying the warm weather of the autumnal equinox weekend? Oops...a check of the calendar tells me it was actually closer to two months ago.

At the time and in the place I spent two days visiting - northeastern Alabama - the leaves had not even started to turn colour, yet. 

To the batcave!
No matter. I spent a good portion of the first day in a place where no leaves could be seen.

I went down into the bowels of the earth, at Cathedral Cavern State Park.

And as we followed our guide into the huge maw of the cave entrance (you can only enter as part of a guided tour), I completely forgot to say, "To the Batcave, Robin!"

That's okay. Adam West and Burt Ward probably would have been intimidated going into this cave. And I don't recall Christian Bale ever repeating that three-word phrase.

The cave is huge.

And it's full of all kinds of chambers, an underground river running far below the walkway, indications of previous use by both Native Americans and white settlers - and a plethora of cool rock formations. Stalactites. Stalagmites. Waterfalls flowing down rock faces. Rocks that look like an evil monkey head - or Marlon Brando's head in the movie Apocalypse, Now!

Wandering along the parks-built (very safe) pathway through the cavern reminded me of images I'd seen in the original album jacket of Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth

The variety was endless. And every time you'd look back at a formation you'd seen a minute ago, it seemed to minute it would remind you of the inside of some horrible demonic monster's maw - the next, some alien planet's landscape. But as grotesque and odd as they may look, there are also incredibly, uniquely beautiful.

Your call: evil monkey skull -
or Marlon Brando head?
I certainly understood why the park's haunted cave tours are so popular in late October.

While walking the mile or so back into the cave, we could see where a former owner of the cave, Jay Gurley had built paths along ledges to access the cave. He owned it and ran it as a tourist attraction from 1959 until 1974. The state eventually bought it in 1987 and turned into a safer natural wonder for visitors to enjoy by redoing the man-made infrastructure.

We also spotted a cave salamander, although he was so tiny, it was difficult to get a good shot of him in less-than-ideal light conditions.

Shortly after that, my ears picked up a squeaking sound up toward the ceiling high above us - and sure enough, there was a bat. (No robin, though).

I could have wandered around looking at the formations all day, looking for more bats (we spotted a few more on our way back to the entrance), but other attractions beckoned. 

At least, that's our has nothing to with the symbol featuring a certain flying quadruped of the order Chiroptera that blazed across the sky as we emerged from the cave...

A brief view of the cavern and its formations.

For more cave photos, visit my Facebook album, "Caverns, Cascades and Canyons"

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