Why would you want to go on spelunking adventures? You’re thinking to yourself you don’t even know what that word means – right? Well, the title might have given it away, a little. ‘Cos indeed, spelunking is just the fancy-schmancy word for caving. Spelunking adventures mean getting down into the depths of the Earth discovering and exploring some amazing caves, caverns and holes.
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El Capitan Cave, USA
At more than 2 miles, El Capitan is the longest cave in Alaska, clocking in at a cool 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C). To enter this wettest and muddiest of spelunking adventures, adventurers must first hike a strenuous 367-step stairway up 1,100 feet (335 m) in order to arrive at the cave’s mouth. In order to prevent vandalism as well as White Nose Syndrome (a fungus that is detrimental to bat health), the managers of El Capitan Cave have strict rules for cavers, and a number of caves are closed to the public. However, adventurers may still enter on one of the summer’s guided cave tours.
Natural Bridge Caverns, USA
Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas was discovered in 1960 by four college-aged spelunkers who dipped under the 60-foot (18-meter) natural limestone bridge that links New Braunfels with San Antonio. And now the caves are open to visitors through the park’s Adventure Tours. Not for the faint of heart, cavers are led by guides on an extreme hiking-climbing-and-rappelling exploration, with only your headlamp to light your way. Cavers descend down into a 160-foot (49 m) deep well shaft, continuing on foot for around a mile to the Fault Room, which lies 230 feet (70 m) below surface level, and features one of North America’s longest soda straw formations at 14 feet (4 m) in length.
Lost Sea Wild Cave Tour, Craighead Caverns, USA
One of the most hardcore of the caving adventures allows you to sleep overnight in the dark dampness of the underground in Tennessee. The Lost Sea is America’s largest underground lake and the world’s second largest, flowing deep below Sweetwater, Tennessee. Take a guided Wild Cave Tour and navigate the undeveloped caves, full of stalagmites, stalactites and crystal clusters, by soldier-crawling along cracks and crevices and squeezing between nooks and crannies. You’ll even spot some rare anthodites (cave flowers) and a phenomenal underground waterfall. These caverns also have a juicy history – moonshine was made here, saltpeter was mined here and jaguars once called these caves home.
Carlsbad Caverns, USA
The caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico are so bad the park is named after them. There are actually many caves in the park besides the namesake; however, Carlsbad attracts the most visitors each year, with over 300,000 of them determined to have one of the baddest spelunking adventures. You may choose to self-guide your own tour through the designated areas, which include the 8.2-acre Big Room as well as the not-so-big-but-rather-narrow rooms in Spider Cave or the Hall of the White Giant. The cave is rather warm for cave standards, clocking in year-round at a moderate 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), so you don’t need heavy duty gear – a simple lightweight jacket and rubber-soled shoes will suffice.
Cosmic Cavern, USA
As Arkansas’ best kept secret, Cosmic Cavern is also a cave that doesn’t require a coat. At 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) and 96 percent humidity, this cave is one of the warmest in the Ozarks. The cave includes two infinitely deep underground lakes, the depth of which has yet to be measured. One of Cosmic Cavern’s newly-discovered features is the Silent Splendor, which is home to the Ozark’s longest soda straw formation, stretching an impressive 9 feet (2.7 m).
Great Blue Hole, Belize
Situated in Blue Hole Natural Monument, this most fantastic of caving adventures is not located within the US, as all others on this list are...but is worth the journey to Belize all the same. Great Blue Hole requires spelunkers to slip into scuba gear and dive into a ring of coral reefs which surround an astounding underwater cavern. With dimensions of 1,000 feet (305 m) across and 412 feet (126 m) deep, you’ll have plenty of stalactites, glacial period columns and dripstone sheets to explore in the vertical cavern.
Fantastic Pit at Ellison's Cave, USA
A trip to Georgia’s Ellison’s Cave will certainly involve rappelling gear, as the Fantastic Pit is one of the world’s most incredible vertical drops, sinking you 586 feet (179 m) into the earth. This deepest of freefall pits is just one of the perks of visiting Ellison’s Cave in Georgia. Make a spelunking tour of it, by looping caves throughout Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, where America’s most enthralling spelunking is just waiting to be discovered.
Tell someone that you’re going spelunking and raise an eyebrow! Would you reach out to find your inner cave girl?
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