beyond your toes!

I was hired as a boat tour guide at Lost River Cave at the age of 19 in the spring of 2007.  My cousin recommended the cave as a casual job, great for people who like working outside. I’d been to Carlsbad Caverns as a child, as well as Mammoth Cave. From what I could remember, those caves were cool, so yeah, a boat tour guide sounded like a way better profession than flipping flippin’ burgers.

Kudos to Kara Williams-Glen, who took this photo and made me pretty.
Note the gorgeous blue hole behind me.

I was interviewed and then hired before I even got to see the inside of Lost River Cave. My opinion on caves took a drastic turn for the awesome on my first boat tour training day. A sweet tour guide named Becky helped me and some other tourists board the boat on the Lost River, and we all leaned in to get under the low rock. We got as low as possible as the cool limestone almost grazed our heads, and then we lifted our heads up inside Lost River Cave. I stretched my neck in amazement, looking at an enormous room (the Breakdown Room) that forever altered my perception of earth as I knew it.

 A huge cavern with shallow water flowing through it, it was lined with massive slabs of limestone, some rocks as long as I was tall, framing either side of the river. The Breakdown Room is a dimly lit room, and the shadows along with the sound of the river made me feel like we were in a sacred place. Perhaps Becky’s story before we entered, about the Native Americans that once lived in around the cave, added an element of reverence to my feeling. We were on a boat underground, drifting down a river, while cars, houses and fast food restaurants proliferated 100 feet above our heads.

In the years to follow in the profession, I realized there is more to the earth, the ground, our surroundings than what meets the eye. I’ve tried to instill my excitement about this in the visitors who take my tour, especially those who are visiting a cave for the very first time. I have never held a huge interest in outer space, black holes, or solar systems, but perhaps I just haven’t been taught in the right way about them. Everything in this world is fascinating, As humans, we simply need to be exposed in the right light.  Or darkness, as Lost River Cave is fairly dimly lit.

When I gave tours, I talked on a variety of topics: how Lost River Cave formed (an enormous collapse hundreds of thousands of years ago), the definition of Karstland (caveland/holey land), and the more recent history of the cave with Native Americans and early European settlers. While the history of the past 500 years is indeed interesting, what still gets to me about caves is that they are one of the few places on the planet that humans have not exploited, at least up until recently. (Some will argue that we exploit caves every time we open one up for tourists, but I’m not even going down that hole.)

Caves are incredible. Like the ocean and space, caves stay unoccupied by humans on a regular basis. There have been cave dwellers  in history, and some people still live in caves to this day, but they are few and far between. Even when caves were used for shelter, cave people left hardly a trace besides the occasional cooking tool, or sketch on the wall. There was no plastic nor Laundromat chemicals. Back then, no beer cans nor meth-lab leftovers were strewn for God-knows-how-long to breakdown, like many caves are burdened with today. Fortunately, polluted caves can be turned around, as was the case with ours. Less than 50 years ago, our cave was a place for the people of Bowling Green to dump their trash. Thankfully, sometimes, people can undo their own damage.

Lost River Cave from the inside looking out:
a cave that has seen it all!

We don’t take visitors too far into our cave, and I think, ultimately, that’s a good thing. Mammoth cave and many other caves have tours along with the standard walking tour that take people deeper. They are reserved for those who are curious to see more of the cave on a more primal level.  Leave the wild cave tours for those SO into caves that they are willing to crawl on their bellies through guano, claustrophobia-inducing passageways, and a complete lack of natural light.

One of the few times I’ve gone braving into the depths of Lost River Cave. Pictured here with my friends Steven and Katie who are much more experienced and passionate cavers than myself.  It was a muddy, lovely experience that I’m glad I had!

I love that there are a select group of adventurers that are willing to see a more awesome side of the cave, but if we over-encourage this in the general public, I do have a bit of concern there could be environmental repercussions. This sentiment is similar for all natural, outdoor tourism activities. How do we encourage a love of our natural surroundings without destroying it completely? Tourists are destroying natural beauty, for their own sheer desire to see the beauty. I am guiltily included in this category. This an ever increasing problem world wide.

There are passages of caves that have NEVER been explored by any human being due to their difficult access etc.. There are places in caves human eyes will never see. And I’m okay with this. I kind of like it actually.  If the underbelly of the earth was an immortal being, he or she must be amused at all the sprawl that measly mortals have temporary slathered across their crust. Beneath these structured, ultimately short-term McDonalds, Wal-Marts, houses, roads and malls, huge cavities, space sometimes bigger than hotels or highways, extend for miles and miles under our feet, all naturally occurring, typically from limestone, but from other rock as well.

I’ll never be a scientist, but you don’t have to be one to realize that the earth we live on, walk on, drive our kids to school on, it’s so much more than a place to put our feet.

2 Comments

  • I love this so far! I would love to see elaborations of your cave explorations and our summer misadventures…haha maybe in a fiction series…I know you have tons of travel knowledge and adventures to include. Looking forward to reading more!

    <3 Laura

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. I learnt about this at College… tourism is important from an economic perspective but we must be mindful where we tread to keep our environment beautiful!