Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spelunking

A view from the inside of Horned Bear Cave looking back down into Golden.

I'm fortunate to have a job that allows me to be outside almost 80% of the time I'm working. Most of my days begin and end walking back into the office after hiking around greater Jefferson County, seeing and doing things most people must wait 'till the weekend to see and do. And I don't complain.



But some days work compels us to do things that we'd really like to do on our own free time, like find caves. Yesterday was one of those days, and as we set forth in the cool morning air, I had to remind myself that yes, I was still getting paid. We were in search of a cave near highway 6 in Clear Creek Canyon. Our sources told us it was nearly 50' deep, dark as night and doubled as a wintering home for rattlesnakes (still dormant from the cold nights). We spotted the cave on our way up the gulch and slowly approached from below, wary of cats of bears that may be using the cave for shelter. When we got to the mouth, we were disappointed (much as I am with my NCAA bracket). The "cave" was about 8' tall x 18' wide x 12' deep. It was more of a whole in the rock. We took pictures, recorded the location and hiked back to the truck.

Pools of water are home to green moss thriving in direct sunlight in Indian Gultch.

After lunch, we went in search of Quandary Cave, also along the Clear Creek Canyon. Following a written description and photos adapted from Google Earth, we quickly found the "cave" while listening to the riveting Drake - Western Kentucky basketball game. What the second hole-in-the-wall "cave" lacked, the basketball game more than made up for with a thrilling three-point shot to end overtime and give the #12 seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers the victory.



A bit let down by our caving experiences, we decided to end the day with a proven winner (no, not North Carolina's pounding of Mount Saint Mary's). There are little known geologic features along the fault running through Clear Creek Canyon - a series of caves created by the moving earth - fault caves. Most of these are smaller and pretty tight. Some of them (and most of them are unknown) combine with geothermal factors to produce larger chambers with active caves features, such as heated pools, "curtains," "fountains," "stalactites," "stalagmites," "flowstone," "cave popcorn," "frostwork," and other "speleothem." Clear Creek Canyon's Crystal Cave has all of these. The cave itself is nearly 150' long/deep, descending from the mouth to a low point and then ascending steeply again toward the back of the cave. At it's widest, I'd guess it to be 30' wide, with a ceiling at times more than 35' tall.

Looking toward the entrance - this is much steeper than it appears. The lower ladder is - in reality - nearly vertical.

The cave was discovered as a developer was cutting a road with his bulldozer to reach his quarry. The results of the bulldozer striking the edge of the cave caused a massive cave in (sorry), covering the floor of the cave with rubble nearly 6' deep and coating much of the inside with dust. Before JeffCo purchased the property, it was frequently vandalized and many of the formations were either touched (which can stop cave feature growth) or simply broken off and stolen. This is disappointing. But since JeffCo's acquisition and closure of the cave, the natural humidity has been restored and many of the features have begun regrowing.

Calcite curtains inside of Crystal Cave.

Unfortunately, I don't have a key for this cave. But if anyone is interested in going to see some other fault caves up Clear Creek Canyon, we can do that. It'd be a good way to get everyone together in April and get outside for a morning (and afternoon?). Remember to bring your headlamps and leave your claustrophobia at home.

Happy Easter.

Ice formed around the branches of this bush overnight at the base of a small waterfall.

2 comments:

Brett Swanson said...

Pretty pictures, jealous of the caving experience, and I dig the paralellity (I can make up words) of how you unraveled the caving and NCAAB stories.

Speaking of which, my bracket is ugly. Real ugly. As in, my champion's-already-been-beaten ugly.

youchers.

Anyway, spelunking, like canyoneering, has always been one of those activities I feel like I should do more often. So if you need a spelunk-buddy (yes, that Does sound Way too dirty) come May (ouch), be in touch (the hits keep comin').

brett Swanson said...

oh, and I meant parallelity ...paralellity doesn't make any sense.