Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Endless Caverns, VA - um... it's a rock.

Endless Caverns, VA - Brice making a pretty face for the camera

Luray Caverns, VA - Pluto's Ghost formation

Luray Caverns, VA - It's supposed to look like the back of a lion

Luray Caverns, VA - The world's largest, best-preserved drapery formation

Luray Caverns, VA - one of the "pedals" for the Stalacpipe Organ

Skyline Caverns, VA - looking cute outside the miniature train ride

Skyline Caverns, VA - the anthodites!

Another Bought of Pictures

Mammoth Caves, KY - The Frozen Niagara

Mammoth Caves, KY - a "standard" cave passage

Mammoth Caves, KY - the bus

Mammoth Caves, KY - friends underground

Mammoth Caves, KY - part of my geode hunting area

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Seven

We drove out to Endless Caverns, near New Market, VA, and met Brice at around 11. Virginia had some pretty scenery, of course, but Lisbit and I were mostly too excited about seeing our friend to care. She pounced on him about 3 seconds after we saw him, and pulled him in for what must have been a minute-long, massive hug. We exchanged our "Hello, whores" and "Hello, tramps," and started our tour. Dylan was blissfully silent and ill, so I didn't have to listen to inane chatter about whatever blatantly obvious topic he'd latched onto for the day and was free to break into the normal rounds of banter with my Tramp. It was a lot of fun, and the cave was pretty sweet too. It was completely different from all the caves we've seen so far, with a lot more formations and color than the caverns at Mammoth and Organ.

Our next stop -- Luray Caverns -- stole the show, though. There wasn't a dull or ugly moment on the entire tour; we saw more stalactites and stalagmites than I (or anyone else) could possibly count, along with water formations, columns, and a really massive drapery that put the one at Mammoth called "Frozen Niagara" to shame. I'll try to post some pictures later, but if any of you ever want a quick, kind of cheap day-trip from around the Messiah College area, I really recommend driving down and seeing Luray for yourselves. The Stalacpipe Organ was interesting, but not exactly what I was expecting. The keys on the organ triggered small hammers on the surrounding stalactites, cut off at the correct length to produce the desired notes. It played a quick, and beautiful rendition of "A Mighty Fortress is our God" with a quality of sound not unlike that of a xylophone. The acoustics really made the notes melt together, but the actual organ itself wasn't all that impressive.

Then we watched a bumbling attendant light an ashtray (one of the large, industrial sized ones shaped like a cone and located in public places) on fire and scramble around trying to extinguish it. It resembled a cancer-scented volcano, I suppose. Next was a quick lunch at an above average Mexican restaurant, and then we made our way to Skyline Caverns. This was yet again an entirely different sort of cave. It really resembled a canyon with a ceiling. In fact, if you ask Brice about RIVERS, CAVES, and CANYONS versus STREAMS and HOLES IN THE GROUND, you might get an entertaining response. Or he'll have forgot and not know what you're talking about. Needless to say, that was the stupid argument of the day. Twas quite fun.

While in Skyline Caverns, we saw several rooms of diaphanous, snow-white Anthodites, which I recommend googling or wikipedia searching, because the theories about their formation are interesting to say the least. Anyways, Skyline Caverns is the only place in the whole world where they have been found, and that was due to the vacuum seal created by the mud that filled the cave before exploration. I have it on good authority that they take about 7,000 years to grow an inch, so the 12 and 18 inch-long specimens were greatly appreciated.

After that, Brice and Lisbit headed back to Maryland and I drove Dylan back to Messiah. I was sorry to see them go, but I behaved myself beautifully in the car and staved off my normal levels of annoyance by talking about things that I like: Shakespeare, Calvinism, and a healthy round of "this is what I think about you" from Dylan in which I DID NOT reduce anyone to tears. You should all be proud. Very, very proud. Well, I've still got a six hour drive ahead of me and a delicious prime rib dinner (probably complete with grandparents) when I get home, so I'm off for the last leg of the journey. Thanks for reading, we all really appreciated it. I'll try to have some more photos up here in a day or two, and I'm sure an album or three will pop up on Facebook. I'll see most of you on Monday night, so toodles until then!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day Six

Today was, by far, our best day yet. We got up from our pee-scented sheets, packed our bags again, and started driving towards Organ Cave. When we got there, we signed away our souls on a waiver form, pulled on some gloves, knee pads, and hardhats, and headed underground. Our guide, a wonderful man named David, walked us through the historical parts of Organ Cave, explaining some of the cavern's history and showing us where they found the fossil of the giant sloth now on display in the Smithsonian. And then it was time to go off-trail!

As our one and only wild caving experience, we were bound and determined to make the most of it. We didn't have to try very hard. As soon as we hopped the fence and turned on our helmet lights, we were in a whole different atmosphere. We hopped over some rocks and crossed the stream flowing through the cave about fifteen times. We alternated scrambles up piles of fallen rock, balancing on some rather thin ledges over the (and you can take my word for it!) freezing cold water, and finally came to what David affectionately called "The Rock Slide". Basically, we slid down 10 feet of muddy rock and dropped about 4 feet straight down at the bottom, landing us safely in - you guessed it - more mud. We crawled through some rather tight passages, including one called the "Small Straddle," in which we - as you can imagine by the name - straddled a gap that averaged about 11 inches in width, and maxed out around two feet. Dylan had some problems with his knee pad, but David staged a rescue mission and retrieved it. We crawled, climbed and slid for about another 45 minutes after all of that, and we finally reached Sally's Waterfall.

We sort of half-rappelled the 8 or 9 feet down to the bottom of the ravine, and played around in about 3 inches of thick, red clay. Then the fun part started. Getting back out of the ravine proved nearly impossible, as the rope we were supposed to use had mysteriously disappeared. Our guide managed to wriggle his way up through a secondary passage, but when we tried to do the same it ended in a spectacular failure. I got stuck, Lisbit couldn't maneuver her body high enough to get a fair chance, and Dylan had a combination of both problems, which culminated in him falling backwards and landing on his bottom. David finally had pity and pulled us up in place of the rope (I tipped him very well, this was no small feat!) and we started to work our way back towards the entrance, where we had more crawls, rolls, and even a few climbs, culminating in a repeat of the main passage.

We emerged almost a full 3 hours after we started, sore, breathless, covered from head to toe in mud, and completely exhilarated. After changing, doing a fair bit of speeding (sorry parents!), rushing through a shower and scrub in our Staunton, VA hotel, and getting a little bit lost, we made it to our American Shakespeare Company production of The Witch, by Middleton. Much in the spirit of The Merchant of Venice, it's a comedy disguised as a tragedy. The actors were brilliant, the Blackfriars Theatre (in the round!) was gorgeous, and we laughed for about 2 and a half hours. Really, it was the perfect way to end an exemplary day.

Blah blah blah, and a good time was had by all! Tomorrow we're meeting Brice and touring a few more Virginia caves, and then we're all off for Easter! Hopefully more pictures will be coming -- you still haven't seen Mammoth -- and, after 'Bit pestered me a little, the blog now accepts anonymous comments. So, have at it!

Day Five and Some Pictures

The Arboretum, KY - Lisbit's favorite stump

The Arboretum, KY - we're on a bridge!

The Arboretum, KY - Friends on the rocks

The Arboretum, KY - She's jumping on the stump

The Arboretum, KY - Lisbit playing in the sculpture

We spent most of day five driving, touring the countryside, and visiting some exciting places. (Hint: you'll have to ask us in person about that one!) It rained all day, so that, combined with Lis and Dylan's questionable taste in music and a slight detour (by which I mean one that took us an hour out of our way), made for a rather gloomy afternoon on my end. The Kentucky countryside looked gorgeous, as always, despite the rain, and we drove through some very rural, agrarian locales on our way back to West Virginia.

In other news, our hotel smelled slightly like urine, and I'm pretty sure the people in the room next to us were running some sort of illicit drug trade. A rather shady-looking woman without shoes was sitting in the door jam of a room full of other shady people, and they definitely weren't smoking tobacco. Either way, we unloaded the car, kicked back, and had a very relaxing night to prepare us for day six!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day Four

I didn't sleep at all last night, but I was too excited about our afternoon plans to care. It's catching up to me now, but hey, today was absolutely, brilliantly worth it. I got up early, around eight, and went for a quick drive and hike. I pulled off the main road, walked into the forest, and wandered around until I found a sink hole with a bit of stream running through it. Then I spent a little while looking for geodes, and I actually found a couple. When I cracked them open they weren't anything spectacular -- some small crystals and lots of fossils -- so I left them in the ravine instead of hauling them (along with my camera) back up the steep hill.

I got back around 9:20, we ate breakfast, and went through the normal morning routine. Then it was time to go caving! We went on a 3 hour hike through a one-mile passage that led us to a rather large cavern the park officers had converted into a dining room. We saw a lot of beautiful rocks and minerals, ate lunch some 200 feet below the earth, and then hiked back out. It was wonderful. One of the men on our tour sang an Austrian (I think...) chant in a heavy baritone on our way down one of the steep inclines. That voice and those acoustics... I thought we were in a scene from The Lord of the Rings. It even came equipped with its own soundtrack! Lisbit spent the morning marching around pretending she was an elf, and kept saying that her only goal for the day was a full-on sword fight in the cave. For his part, Dylan repeated the Gollum cough and quoted lines about Moria. A very Tolkien excursion.

After we got back to the tour center, we went out again almost immediately on another tour. This one was 3 miles through the oldest parts of the caves and the parts inhabited by prehistoric Natives. And -- this is the best part -- it was lit only by our small gas lanterns and the paths were just some trampled down dirt. We got a more "genuine" experience; I think this was everyone's favorite.

And I will never read about shadows on the cavern walls the same way again... it's really like looking at a flame composed entirely of shadow, or ripples built out of smoky air. There's no focus point, and everything around you feels animated. One chamber in particular, the Star Cavern, really stole the show. When the lanterns were lowered, you could look up and see stars on the pitch-black sky. If I hadn't seen it with the guide's flashlight on it, I definitely would have believed we really had exited into a canyon in the evening.

We saw the places where settlers and slaves made gun powder, some cave art dating back nearly 3,000 years, and met some of the archaeologists excavating the caves. We even saw the place where they dug up the mummy of one of the cave-dwellers who an overseer found preserved under a rock in the 1930's. The called him Lost John, and apparently his remains are still perfectly preserved somewhere in the room. Cool, huh?

I really can't find the words for this experience right now; I'm exhausted, full of really good So-Co cooking (we ate at that diner again tonight), and ready to bunk down for the evening with a LoTR movie. This has been one of the single most memorable, unique experiences of the last few years.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day Three

We got up early and left Louisville for the Bernheim Arboretum where we walked around for a two hours exploring some of Kentucky's wilderness and looking at different trees. Lisbit was thrilled, as you can imagine, and we got a lot of nice pictures of the landscape, gardens, and lake. It was a very relaxing way to spend some time before driving down to Mammoth.

But, after wandering for a while, we got back in the car and pressed on. It was a quick drive, made easier by our abundance of St. Patrick's day music. Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, and some tracks from the Boondock Saints all the way! We got to our hotel after driving through Cave City, a massive tourist trap, but it looked like it had some decent junk shops. (I bought my father the larger half of a rather remarkable geode there later this evening).

We took the "Frozen Niagara" tour, which was a quick look into one of the more well-known formations on the far end of the caverns. It was a little too quick, though. We kind of wanted to wander around for a little longer. But that's for tomorrow!

This evening we went to a local So-co restaurant with the intention of ordering fried chicken. Yes, it's cliche, but we were pretty excited about it and thought it would be a good follow-up to our fabulous barbecue / ribs from last night. Well, it was fairly dead in the restaurant, so we just took our seats and told the waitress we'd like to see the menu (the alternative being the buffet). We saw the fried chicken dinner, but it was a dollar more than the buffett, so Dylan went up and scouted it out for us. He came back and said it had all the standards of southern cooking, including chicken and salad, so we all decided to order that and try some of everything.

Now, I cannot stress how small this place was so 1) everyone in the place could hear every thing we said and B) Lisbit and I should have just sucked it up and walked across the room to look at the buffet ourselves. BUT, we decided to just order and save some money. Anyways, we went up to get our food, and it's fabulous. Dylan had loaded up two plates before Lis and I even sat down, Lis had a plate and a salad, and I just started with a bowl of salad. In the time it took us to finish our salads, I'd left the table to go get some of this delicious-looking food that Dylan had been raving about. Very, very loudly Lisbit starts saying (after her first bite of real food) "Oh my God, this is like, the best chicken I've ever had. It's so delicious! You guys..." I take one look at the chicken strips on the buffet and know better, but whatever. I grab a piece and sit down to let this play out. She's still raving about it when I get back to the table. I take a bite, and cut her off mid-sentence, saying, "Lis, you know this is fried fish, right?"

She just stops, looks down, turns kind of red, and says "Oh". Dylan looks dumbfounded (apparently he didn't notice either) and just then the waitress comes over and says, "Hey
y'all, hows it?" "It's really good fish," I reply. "Yes!" she exclaims, clearly ecstatic that one of us stupid Yankees managed to figure it out. It was quite possibly the funniest experience of our entire road trip so far.

That's all for tonight. Hopefully more pictures tomorrow!

Some Pictures!

Blackwater Falls, WV

Buffalo Trace, KY

Buffalo Trace, KY

Lover's Leap Vineyard, KY

Day Two

We left Lexington around 11:30 yesterday, and started driving towards Louisville. It turned into an "explore this attraction" sign hunt for three hours, and we really got a feel for Kentucky. We went to a Bourbon Trail still called Buffalo Trace Distillery. It was closed (Sunday), but we were able to wander the historical part of the manufacturing plant, and play in the gardens. Lisbit took a brief detour to the swing set, and we read all the plaques and signs we found. I'm not sure we "learned" anything, but if you ever have the run of an industrial plant for a day I strongly suggest you use it wisely. Our next stop was a Wildlife Preserve, which basically involved walking around a lake and trying not to let the geese accost us. Those birds have nasty tempers, and they really, really like Pringles. We had a quick lunch at the preserve -- eaten stylishly on our car, since the geese were scaring us off from the picnic table -- and spent most of it trying to intimidate the aggressive ones away with a combination of body language and cursing. We had a blast goofing off like that for 45 minutes or so, and then we started driving the length of highway we had, by this point, affectionately dubbed "The Circle".

The next stop we tried was Lover's Leap Vineyards, but we were fairly certain they would also be closed. And they were. But we got to run around unsupervised and do a little exploring of the area outside the manufacturing room, wander into the vines a little, and play with two rather rambunctious dogs. Basically, this turned into our tour of the Kentucky country-side. I know exactly what poets and over-quoted, cliched writers meant when they said "rolling hills." This is a truly beautiful place, and I think it would be breath-taking in the summer.

After we finished playing with the dogs and just generally walking around the country-side, we continued our drive to Louisville and got here around 5:30. Too late for the history museum (but -- and I haven't decided if this is a benefit or a detriment -- history doesn't change from museum to museum) so we'll try for the one in Charlotte or Staunton.

We decided to go to dinner at a barbecue restaurant on Bardstown road. The food was amazing (we're going to try fried chicken next). We all sort of looked like zombies with caked on red slime all around our mouths. Then we hit the town! The "keep Louisville weird" campaign was in full swing, so we knew we were in the right part of town. Lots of music stores, used book stores, hookah bars, and metaphysical shops -- you know what part of the city I mean, the fun part! We had a pretty sweet time just wandering around Louisville, looking at the sights and listening to the locals. The accents here are much more pleasant than the ones we heard in West Virginia.

Today we're driving towards an arboretum and Mammoth Caverns. Our first cave, yay! And it's St. Patrick's day, so that means Lisbit is bouncing up and down to fiddles and flutes. Also, she says "Leave comments or I'll slit your throat." Personally, I don't care. But hey, when a stepdancing blond tells you to type something you sure as hell better do it!

We'll try for pictures later today... we just haven't been still long enough to bother transferring files. Wouldn't change it for the world.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

You Drive me Crazy

We got up early and left Messiah at around six o'clock and arrived at our Lexington hotel a little before seven. If I ever voluntarily spend twelve hours in a car with my peers, you have permission to employ nonlethal forms of restraint. Really. Well, it wasn't all that bad. Dylan made us some decent mixed CDs to help pass the morning hours, and then made up for it by talking about "driving theory" and "the psychology of a driver who isn't me" for two hours. Further note: he laughs exactly like Tyler Durden, but a full octave higher and (unfortunately) thinks I'm hilarious. So he laughs a lot. He doesn't know I'm not kidding yet... we'll see how that goes.

Gavin, I'm sorry to say this, but West Virginia is as bad as I always thought it would be. We drove for about three hours through clusters of homes that looked like something out of The Hills Have Eyes or Evil Dead (or a Cormac McCarthy novel, for those of you who aren't B-literate), and some of the people definitely looked shady. If I had been related to any of them, I might have been worried. Luckily, the most interaction we had with the locals was watching a few boys in plaid and overhauls fish out the back of a truck. That's right: fishing from the truck bed. I may have been the only person to notice this anomaly, but they existed! I wish I had a picture, you can't pay people to pose like that.

Oh! Lisbit had a great moment in the park. We arrived at Blackwater Falls (still in West Virginia) around eleven, and after the first glimpse of them through some foliage all she had to say was "Hey, they aren't black!" They were beautiful, though. Massive rhododendron bushes and pine trees were covering huge pieces of ferrous fallen rock. The whole river looked like the kind of rapid you imagine only exists in Wyoming or Alaska, and three or four stories of water cascaded down into a frothy, white foam. There was a rock jutting out in the middle of the spray, and it reminded me of the rock that Ariel sits on while she's stalking GenericPrinceHere. I really wanted to just stretch out on it and, um.... well, I don't know what I was going to do, but it would have been awesome. But that looked like a bad idea, and I probably would have died.

I'll try to post some pictures as soon as we figure out who remembered to bring the USB cable for their camera. (Hint: wasn't me.) I think Lisbit has hers, though, so we should be able to post something later tonight or tomorrow. Mostly, we just drove all day long so that we could take our time touring Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia (again) on our way back. All told, the Falls were beautiful, driving sucked, and I'm still not sure how group dynamics are going to turn out, but I'm fairly optimistic. For once. Ha ha ha. Anyways, we're going to Louisville tomorrow and then to Mammoth on Monday. Yay!

Today's lowlights include Dylan and Lis trying to chant Latin along with the Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack and an unsolicited dissertation on the various rock bands present in our driving mix versus their Guitar Hero counter parts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Duc, sequere, aut de via decede

It's getting closer and closer to our departure, and I'm really excited about this road trip. We're going to visit some pretty amazing places like Blackwater Falls, Mammoth Caves, Carter Caverns, and the Blackfriars Theatre -- home of the American Shakespeare Company. I have a feeling it's going to be a whirl-wind week with very little time to just sit back and relax, so I'm trying to take advantage of the last two days of relative sanity (and boredom).

I bought tickets, put new batteries for my camera, got some blank CDs to burn for the ride, and transferred some funds into my checking account; there's no turning back now. Yay!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

In principio

Many of our friends have expressed an interest in the spring break road trip to Mammoth Cave, and I know a blog will be the best way to keep you all updated about my semester in England, so here it is! Iridule Imagined - a travel blog, or There and Back Again, because one literary allusion simply isn't enough. I'll try to post some regular updates and photos while we're on the road next month, so check back sometime around Easter if you're interested in the details!