What is a Cave

What is a cave?

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A precipice in Carlsbad Cavern.

A cave is a deep, dark hole in the ground, a hole with a lid, so that only a special few can get in or out. A cave is a dare, calling to you, saying, come explore me if you can muster up the courage to do so. Most proper caves, you see, go miles under the ground and get dark, very dark, so, one hundred percent pitch black that you would forget you have eyes if you went down without a light.

A proper cave also has precarious precipices, that, if not careful you could stumble off and plummet out of existence. Most caves traditionally have bats living within the topmost chamber, so that when you’re on your toes on the edge of a particularly precarious precipice you can worry about getting pushed off the plummeting peak to your imminent destruction.

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The “Natural Entrance” in Carlsbad Cavern.

There are, however more non-traditional caves, caves that have been turned into convenience stores, night clubs, and even lavish mansions. These cave are sellouts. They go from a dark hole with a lid, itching to be explored, to a place where you can buy crappy snacks and energy drinks. There are more un-traditional caves that have not sold out to mountain dew kickstart and redbull. The ice cave near the Mutnovsky volcano in russia is, well, made of ice. The cave looks kinda like being in giant meringue, the light shines off the glistening snow and looks like a christmas display, but underground. Another majestic, yet non-conforming cavern is the Batu cave in Malaysia, the home of an indian temple, built inside of the cave in the 1880s. Festivals are still celebrated in the cave. The kyaut Sae cave in Myanmar has a buddhist temple inside it, but we know little about the place as almost no one goes there.

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No caption needed.

There is one thing, however, that a cave can never do; a cave can never lose it’s mystique, it’s magic. I will always have an awestruck spell on my face when I enter one of these deep, dark, magical places. A cave, no matter what people are selling out of it, no matter who lives in it, will always be more than a mere novelty. A cave is something that sends prickly chills down your spine and forces you to adventure, to romanticize, to make your exploit bigger and more dangerous than it really is. And that, is exactly what a cave cannot do.

What is a Spelunker?

I am not here to give a dictionary definition, nor am I attempting to make you understand a word. What I am trying to inspire in you is a thought, an idea, of the human nature of a spelunker: a cave explorer. A spelunker is one who is always interested in what lies beyond the average comfort zone, one who defies the ordinary. There is as much diversity in spelunkers as in plumbers, bankers, or blacksmiths, but there is one thing that holds them together more than anything else: a love of discovery.


A spelunker is like a pirate. The adventurous spirit, the willingness to take risks, the excitement, of course, of finding treasure (or even a skull). But rather than being like a pirate in general, I would much sooner proclaim them to share in the persona of one pirate in particular: the endearing Captain Jack Sparrow. One Captain Jack quote in particular drives this idea into my head, the fatal words being:

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” It’s all about the point of view. I have seen quotes with the same meaning in famous spelunker’s works.

Columns
Columns

Another way that Jack Sparrow and a good many spelunkers are nearly the same is their bravery, especially around bones. A quote from Jim White, discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns, may give you a good example.

“I picked up the skull and noticed that the Kid Shrank from it.
‘We’ll take it back to camp with us,’ I suggested, ‘or else we’ll never make the boys believe we found a skeleton down here.’
‘How’ll we get it there?’ the Kid asked, hesitantly.
‘Oh, we’ll put it in the bag with the groceries and carry it out.'”

That's an excerpt from Jim's book.
That’s an excerpt from Jim’s book.

A spelunker has a good many qualities, and quite the good job, but there is one big reason making people hesitant to have this occupation. It is the very thing which makes cave exploring desirable for some. This is the fact of the unknown. With no idea of what waits for them on the other end, the spelunkers trudge on. They may be rewarded with glorious views, but they may also fail, and become an interesting memento for for the next daring cave explorer.
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For our few closing lines I would like to bring up a few Captain Jack Sparrow quotes that I’m sure some spelunker has said at some point or other.

1. Someone else: “You were actually telling the truth!”
Jack: “I do that quite a lot, but people are always surprised.”

2. “Did everybody see that, because I will not be doing it again!”

3. “When you marooned me on that desolate spit of land*, you forgot one thing, mate. I’m Captain Jack Sparrow.”
*or, in our case, cave.

4. “You know that feeling you get when you’re in a high place… sudden urge to jump…? I don’t have it.”

5. “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”

From The Day of The Dead to The White Sand Dunes

In the last week or so we’ve been from the Messilla Dia de Los Muertos Celebration to the white sand dunes to the Mexican/American border in El Paso, Texas. First I’ll talk about Dia de Los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that celebrates deceased loved ones. Participating families set up ofrendas, a kind of shrine to the loved one, with their favorite drinks and foods and games. People paint their faces like skulls and wear formal clothes like long dresses and tuxedos, as if they died at a classy party.

Another highlight of the last week is the White Sands National Monument. There are ten acres of pure white sand dunes to sled down and run up again. Some super nice old people gave us their sled (shoutout to them!) and we went down the dunes on it endlessly. It’s like sledding except the snow is warm! Lil and I also played football on top of the dunes for hours. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had at a National Monument.

Last but not least, we saw the Mexican border in El Paso. There really wasn’t a lot to see considering that they don’t want you to get too close to the other side. We did, however, drive along the border fence and look through to the other side.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a city full of life and culture. As you walk down the street in Old Town, you smell roasting chilies from New Mexican restaurants, and admire art made by the na`tive Indians, you notice that Santa Fe is different, special. Santa Fe is a capital city, much smaller than it’s neighbor, Albuquerque.

I recall an October evening in Santa Fe, driving down the canyon from our campground in the mountains, looking at the pueblo-style houses scattered across the hills, surrounded by sagebrush, appearing  like they had been there since Santa Fe began in 1607. This view reminds me of all the quirkiness in Santa Fe. It’s like seeing an old Pueblo village, but knowing, in the back of your mind that this is a modern city. Knowing that the people in those houses are cooking with microwaves, playing Xbox, and scrolling through Instagram on their phones. image

The houses here are something quite special, because the building code requires all buildings to be built in pueblo, mission or territorial styles. Even the Target is a big pueblo on the outside, with logs (vigas) sticking out near the top. The logo on the front looking as if it were exactly the same as any other Target in the country. This display of how history has survived through the centuries is a mystery that, it seems, no one can really explain.

Food is another part of this town’s eccentric personality. As you walk through Old Town you will see New Mexican restaurants, Mexican restaurants, American, and even French places. We ate at an amazing Creperie that was in an adobe building, as if this town forgot its old Indian-Mexican motif. I want to take a moment now to mention that some people insist that there is a difference between Mexican and New Mexican food. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to New Mexican fare, but in New Mexico they go crazy with the chilies. Green chile stew, chile rellenos, green chiles in stuffed sopapillas and enchiladas. They LOVE the chilies. Something else that sets New Mexican cuisine apart is the inclusion of Pueblo Indian foods, like Navajo tacos.image

Another insane thing that happened here in Santa Fe is the Manhattan Project, the A-Bomb project. In the 1940s a group of scientists were hired by the government to work on the atomic bomb. They were sent to the town of Los Alamos to work and live for the experiment. They had a ski slope, a community center, a whole town. Once they started work on the project they pretty much went off the grid. If a baby was born to one of the workers, the baby’s birth certificate address was that of the post office. The project was so secret that when workers went to the bar in Santa Fe there were guards making sure no one got too loose and let the secret slip. There were even scientists who were paid by Oppenheimer, the man in charge of the project, to pass around a rumor that they were working on building an electric rocket. The project ended in 1946.

Santa Fe is a town different than any other, the best way to describe it is to say: “This town is quirky.” Anyone who visits will agree, This town is quirky.