As part of my job I give tours of a quirky little feature of Cedars of Lebanon known as Jackson Cave. It’s great in person but I want to extend the pleasure to all of you, no matter where you live. So join me to go deep into the earth and explore the world beneath Cedars of Lebanon State Park.
As you initially approach Jackson Cave you’ll see something like this:
You draw a little nearer and see that the entrance is only about four feet tall, so that you’ll have to crouch to enter. You stop at the mouth of the cave and peer inside. This is what greets you:
Dark. Lots of dark. Best to bring a light along. You’ll also note the uneven footing which, coupled with the low ceiling and occasional mud, makes navigating the entrance a challenge. But you’ve come prepared with light and shoes with a grip, so you resign yourself to stooping and make your way hesitantly forward. After about fifty feet, much to your relief, the ceiling rises and you can stand again. But there’s a new challenge now: water.
The entire cave sometimes serves as a creek bed to drain excess water off the lake, which is situated at the back of the cave. But the water never completely evaporates and so inevitably you will wade through at least a little water. Today it’s knee-deep and to help with balance you grip the walls, which you discover are covered in mud. It becomes apparent that you’re going to need a shower when you come back out.
Other cool things you see:
- Giant crawdads, as long as your hand is from the tip of your middle finger to the beginning of your wrist.
- Rock carved into miniature ravines by the water that’s flowed through it over the eons.
- Sparkly ceilings. Thousands of tiny drops of water coat the roof of the cave and make it glitter. There are also shiny minerals in the rock wall that add to the effect.
- More mud than you thought existed in the entire world and you get to wade through most of it.
- It’s been raining just a little so you also get to see little underground waterfalls.
After three-quarters of a mile enjoying these sights you reach the underground lake. Standing there, on the gravely shore, you get the sense that the water goes on and on through cavern after cavern and rock hall after rock hall, filling a thousand cracks and a million crevices. If you’re lucky you might see a cave fish swim by. They’re blind (a little like the ones Gollum eats in The Hobbit) and where their eyes should be there’s only a shallow, scaly indentation.
Now is a good time to turn off your light and get a sense of how dark it really is down here. No light from the sun ever reaches this deep so even if you had the eyesight of an owl it wouldn’t help you much; you are hemmed in by darkness on every side. Not only darkness but silence. No sound can penetrate the rock that surrounds you and so, if you take the opportunity to listen, you may hear true silence for the first time in your life.
You turn your light back on and now, unless you decide to swim (some people do), you’ll turn back. There is a legend that if you follow the cave far enough you’ll come out at the town square, a full six miles away. But that’s for the spelunkers and scientists to decide; you’ve come as far as you can and now it’s time to head back to the surface.
So back you go, through the mud and water and past the tiny waterfalls. It goes faster this time because you know what to expect and before you know it there’s a hazy glow up ahead and you realize that it’s daylight. As you near the mouth of the cave the ceiling descends and you’re obliged to crouch again. You’ve already forgotten how hard it is to keep your balance during this stretch and you’re a bit over-confident, taking risks you didn’t take on the way in.
Then, at long last, you emerge into the warm, dappled sunlight of the forest.
You stretch in relief, glad to be able to stand up straight again, but notice that while in the cave you have become immeasurably filthy. Mud has somehow gotten on your face, on your legs, all over your hands, and it’s doubtful whether it will ever come out of your shoes. But somehow this only adds to the joy of the adventure and you laugh as you make your way to the Nature Center where there’s a hose and (hopefully) a clean change of clothes waiting for you.
So there you go: a virtual tour of Jackson Cave. If you want the real experience come see me at Cedars of Lebanon and I can get you set up.
That’s all for this week, you guys.
Until next time,
The mouth of the cave from above.