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Minnetonka Cave—a cool summer hike in the dark

August 22nd, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

By Caresa Alexander

ST. CHARLES, Idaho—The air surrounding the entrance to the cave was in stark contrast to the rest of the vacation spot. It was a warm, summer day at Bear Lake, but as we stood in front of the cave, we were encircled with mosquitoes and cold air. We pulled on our jackets, as was recommended, and followed our guide into the darkness.

Minnetonka Cave, a limestone rock cave, was discovered in the summer of 1906 or 1907. Our guide, who noted with pride that his ancestor had discovered the cave, told instructed us to watch our heads as we began our hike, which included about 896 stairs (roundtrip) through the cave. We were led through the bat-friendly door entrance and the air became chillier, as he explained that the cave temperature was a constant 40 degrees.

Along the trail, our guide shined the light on many formations. Kermit the Frog’s Castle, Miss Piggy’s Tail, and The Seven Dwarfs were just some of the shapes. The light was directed to the wall above our heads. We turned and gazed upward at the small black mark hanging on the wall. A bat! Fortunately, it was asleep.

The guide pointed to a small hole, and we crouched to look in. A faint red light emitted from inside the “Devil’s Office.” Leading up from the “Devil’s Office” was the “Stairway to Heaven.” This was the most strenuous climb according to our guide.

As we reached the end, the guide had a one more lesson. He switched off the lights that dimly lit the cave, and the air seemed to become colder in the darkness. He asked us to hold our hands in front of our faces and tell him what we saw. Nothing. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. He then asked us to point in the direction we thought north was. When he finally turned on the lights we were pointing in the same direction. But it wasn’t north—we had completely lost our sense of direction while underground.

We started our way back up the long staircase. About halfway out, we heard a rustle behind us. We were the last tour, so there couldn’t be anyone behind us. Pointing his flashlight toward the movement, the guide lit up a pack rat. One had once stolen a woman’s cell phone, he said.

Closer to the end of the tour, our guide pointed the light on a stalagmite. It was darker, and looked different from the others. The guide explained that early visitors had vandalized the cave had touched the formations. In doing this, the oils from their hands had caused the limestone to decay. This cold, shiny, wet, stalagmite was kept as an example of the importance of caring for the land.

For more information visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/caribou-targhee/about/minnetonka_cave.shtml

TP

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