We, people, are day creatures, our lives being governed by the sun since we started to develop as a species. Maybe this explains why most feel uncomfortable at least for a while once they’ve reached a place that has never been touched by a sun ray. But now, thanks to numerous brave explorers and to the development of technology, it is possible to enjoy a cave’s wonder with little or no risk. So, why not try such an experience? It will definitely change you view on the world.
It is probably the most famous cave system in the world, and for a good reason as it is the longest system of its kind known so far. The cave is part of a U.S. National Park in Edmonson County, Kentucky. The place was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981 and a Biosphere Reserve in 1990 as protection is definitely needed. Contrary to a popular myth, the cave didn’t get its name because of the mammoth fossils found here, but because of its enormous size as it has at least 530 km of tunnels on 5 levels. Scientists claim that here is a lot more to discover, while some enthusiasts said that it spreads beyond the state’s borders, a hypothesis which is probably far-fetched. In the past, the caves were used to treat tuberculosis because of their dry climate, but soon their potential as a tourist attraction was discovered and this is how it all began.
The Indian tribes have known the majestic insides of the cave for about 4000 years as arrow tips made of stone and human remains were discovered here by explorers. It seems that the cave’s first visitors used reed torches to find their way; however, now tourists can benefit from electrical light, which allows them to explore a part of the cave. And yes, there is a lot to see, from huge halls such as the Rotonda (as large as The Grand Central train station in New York) or narrow corridors like The Fat Man’s Misery (the irony…), which only reaches about 46 cm in width. Moreover, visitors can enjoy a boat trip on the Echo river, where they can test a perfect echo, or they can get to see the Frozen Niagara, a system of stalactites and stalagmites that look like a waterfall.
The Mulu Caves
The story of the biggest cave in the world began in a rather dull way when a geologist looking for guano (bird excrement used in agriculture) came across it in Mulu. However, he was not aware of the magnitude of the discovery and it took a long time before the cave was finally explored the way it should be. So, after the Sarawak region in Borneo was turned into a national park, a British team was asked to take a look; the heavy torrential rains had eroded the limestone for a long time, so the view had to worth the effort, as the access to the cave is very difficult. In order to find the cave, the team had to cross the jungle, which was mostly a swamp and suffer the bits made by the ticks.
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An entrance was finally discovered and, after crossing an 1,6 kilometer-long tunnel, they entered the Sarawak Chamber. This chamber is six times bigger than the Carlsbad cave in New Mexico, considered to be the biggest in the world at the time. Its lowest height is of 70 meters, which is half of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome; on the other hand, the cave is twice as wide and three times longer. Since then, numerous expeditions have taken place, but unfortunately, it’s quite hard to get there, the accommodation provided by the park also being limited. The best choice is a 30-minute flight from the Miri Airport, as going by boat would take about 12 hours. Inside the cave itself, you will also get to see swarms of bats searching for food, blind spiders, venomous centipedes and white snakes, while outside you might get to meet world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia.
Europe has its hidden beauties as well, and one of them is located in the Austrian Alps. It is the world of the Ice Giants, considered to be the biggest system of ice caves in Europe. I stretches for at least 40 km the Hochkogel mountain, south of Salzburg. As soon as you enter you face a 30-meter high ice wall, from here a real labyrinth of unusual shapes beginning. The unique formations were given names according to their similarity to objects from the outer world: “the frozen chapel” or “the ice organ”. Besides the special equipment you should get very warm clothes as there are cold currents created by the movement of the air masses between the cave’s entrances.
The story of the Eisriesenwelt began long time ago, when water infiltrated in the limestone caves that had been formed 2 million years ago. As the cave is 1500 meters above the sea level, the temperature in the caves drops significantly during the winter. The rain and the water resulted from the melted snow infiltrate and freeze instantly, thus giving birth to the unusual ice giants. Now the cave receives an estimated 200 000 tourists every year, being open between the 1st of may and the 26th of October. Photography is not allowed once you’ve entered the cave.
The Lechuguilla Cave
This cave is, unfortunately one where access is forbidden, except for some scientists. This happens because, even though amazing in every aspect, the cave formations are extremely delicate, every movement being capable to destroy something that might have needed thousands of years to get to this shape. The cave, located in New Mexico, was explored on about 100 kilometers, but there might still be a lot to discover. What made this cave so famous were the splendid “decorations”, from straw-like 4,5 meter-long stalactites to pearl-like formations, “balloons” or little “Christmas trees”. The cave was discovered in 1914, and maybe this was for the best as even the air currents are enough to destroy the gypsum delicate figures.
The few visitors have to walk barefoot, they are not allowed to wash in the lakes and all rock fragments are placed in plastic bags and taken out. Unlike most caves, the Lechuguilla was formed from the bottom to the surface by gases which, combined with water and oxygen gave birth to sulfuric acid; the acid created the landscape we can see now. The most famous is the Chandelier Ball Room, where crystals can be admired like in no other place. Maybe this is the real Aladdin cave.