October 11, 2015
"The cave you
fear to enter
- Joseph Campbell
On a recent trip to Silver Dollar City it was my plan to put my new HDR (High Dynamic Photography) knowledge to use. When I arrived at the park I started to think about different locations that might lend itself to this type of imaging. Almost immediately, I thought of Marvel Cave and in the next instant there was this uugggghhh. The first time I toured the cave was 49 years ago and it has been a number of years since my last descent. The cave guides do their best to get you to reconsider any notion of an afternoon jaunt with talk of bats, alligators (he said salamander's) and the assurance that no one will talk about you if you turn back NOW (at least not until after the door closes behind you). There is frank discussion about a total of 700+ stairs, walking down the equivalent of 20 stories, passing through a small opening that you need to bend down and contort to pass through, walking up 10 stories before riding the cave train for the final ascent. If you are claustrophobic, have a bad back, heart condition, weak knees, common sense or can't live without a cell phone signal for one hour, you are encouraged to turn back. And if that didn't get your attention you were put on notice that if the cave train wasn't working, there would be the need to reverse the tour, walk down 10 flights of stairs, distort through the small opening, up 20 flights of stairs, pause for a 'breathtaking' (literally) second view of the Cathedral room and the final ascent up the steel staircase. All I wanted was a picture of the Cathedral room (at the beginning of the tour). You do what you have to.
With tripod and camera in hand I set up this shot struggling in the dark with the nuisance of the camera water cover, a new remote shutter release cable that didn't want to stay plugged in and my frustrating tripod (the camera mount kept coming loose), not to mention 59 people waiting on me for this 5 shot exposure. How I got out with all my gear is a miracle. It came really close to the tour guides having to tell future tour groups "there are 80,000 bat's, one camera remote and one really nice camera that live in the cave".
Ozark humor is replete throughout the tour, right up to the end when they latch your train compartment shut (metal clank and all) and note 'you are now what my manual calls safe'. The cave train did what it has done for 58 years, taking us safely up the last 1/2 mile out of the cave. It was invigorating (no wonder I slept so soundly). For my Cave Tour 50th anniversary next year I may try the Lantern Tour.
Epilogue - May 2016
The Editor-In-Chief of this outfit and I completed the Lantern Tour for my 50th and her 52nd anniversary in the cave. The Lantern Tour is replete with stories and cave history and visits parts of the cave that you don't see on the standard (lighted) tours. The cave guide put time into perspective when he pointed out that there are phones located throughout the cave so that they can contact the main office in an emergency. His only lament was having to explain to the younger tour guides how to 'dial a number (and wait for the dialer to return before dialing the next number) and that two copper wire thing.
And as they did last year, there was an earnest whole-souled effort at the beginning of the tour to get you to turn back with a recitation of cautions, warnings, and the 'turn back now buddy' verbiage (without saying it). It was enough to make anyone reconsider (I don't know why he kept looking at me). Unswayed, I held my ground. A few seconds of silence then a resigned shrug, he picked up and carried the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) unit. I hope he didn't have to do that on my account.
I remember the first time I visited the cave at 14 years of age; I looked down from atop the staircase into the Cathedral room, and my knees shook. The nice thing about visiting the cave when you are older is that you don't have any knees left to rattle about. You just go on the tour.
More Epilogue - October 2016
I was fairly certain the lantern tour with my wife would be my last time down in the cave. It is an arduous trek. But when my son decided to join me at SDC and asked if I wanted to go down into the cave (it had been a number of years since his last trip down), I did not want to turn down that opportunity to do that with him. So I hauled my carcass through the cave, huffing and puffing more than I usually do on the elevator ride up to the 3rd floor at work. It was a fun trip. We were two kids loose in the park enjoying those things we use to do when he was younger.