Arches, Cave Dives and Hangry Feasts

The common Poor Man's Eclipse
Well, Saturday was interesting! We started the day by heading to the Old Courthouse in STL to get some tickets to ride to the top of the Arch. Along the way we noticed a cool phenomenon. Something I dubbed a "Poor Man's Eclipse", where the sun was being blocked by the Arch. It looked pretty cool and with the weather forecast calling for clouds and possible thunderstorms...it may be the closest to an actual eclipse that we get to see (we hope not). The Arch was quite the specimen and if you're ever in the area, you should definitely check it out. We watched a video documenting the construction and design of the Arch and it was really something to see. Those men and women who worked on the Arch must have been made of steel themselves. Many were 600 feet above the ground walking around without any safety harnesses (it was the 60s after all, where either they didn't give a damn or they didn't have time to be scared). We rode to the top in a tiny little tram that was just big enough for the 5 of us. The view from the top was pretty spectacular, though it was a little cramped. We went early in the day--I can't imagine going during a real busy time. It was already asses to elbows in there.

After that, we bid STL adieu and headed southwest to the Onondaga Caves State Park. The Missouri heat and humidity was already at 'I can't take this' levels by the time we got there, so the prospect of going underground to some caves that were constantly at 57 degrees was tantalizing to say the least. "You'll want sweatshirts or jackets," they said. To which I replied, "I can take it." I'm from the north after all. Winter is coming and all that jazz. Plus I didn't bring a jacket. I looked at the forecasts. Jacket weather wasn't anywhere to be found this far south.
View from the top of the Arch
We decided to buy the combo ticket that gave us tours of both cave systems. We rushed to the campsite to go to Cathedral Cave. Thinking that we were ahead of the curve, we brought Fiona's stroller. Well it turns out we had to hike 1/3 of a mile up a switchback path full of rocks and roots that made it damn near impossible to push the stroller. Many times I ended up just lifting it up and carrying the whole thing with Fi in it. I think the guide lied to us because it felt more like a mile by the time we reached the cave entrance. The entrance looked like a World War 2 bunker with a bunch of locks that had to be unlocked in a certain order with 5 different keys and a combo lock (exaggeration possible here). Then we all piled into this little concrete room while he shut the outside door and then opened the inside door. There were MASSIVE spiders hanging out on the wall. He claimed to not know what they were but I know a venomous spider when I see one. Probably brown recluses.

The Cathedral Bell
Then we descended some steps into the cave. There were no lights, so we used flashlights the whole way. It was really cool and I don't mean the temperature. So many awesome formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Deeper into the cave there 2 seismologists from New Mexico working on upgrading a seismic station. One of the guys was nice enough to come down and tell us all about it and fielded questions from our group for about 20 minutes. He said this is the first time he's been down there in about 6 years and usually they can do everything remotely, but they were upgrading a $60,000 sensor. Apparently they can sense earthquakes from around the world at that station if it's the correct frequency. They can also detect nuclear testing detonations from these stations, which was very interesting. At the end of the cave was the Cathedral Bell formation, which was really cool. Once we got there we were instructed to turn off all our flashlights to experience total darkness. That was a trip, for sure! Fiona was NOT a fan. When that cave was first discovered, it was discovered by 2 brothers who happened to notice a cave entrance by a river. They docked their canoe, then proceeded to craw on their bellies 4,000 ft to this part of the cave (there was an underground river right by the Cathedral Bell) and then used some small oil lanterns to look around. Brave or stupid? You be the judge. People can still book tours today that involve crawling the tunnel out. It's a 6 hour trip. On your belly. In the dark. In a tight space. Nope.

By the time we reached the car it was 3:15. We burned back to the visitor center to get onto the next tour which was for Onondaga Cave. Spoiler alert: this is where the trip took a hard turn south. When we got there, the 3:30 tour was full. We'd have to wait til 4. At this point we hadn't eaten lunch and there was nowhere to get lunch at this visitor center. So we waited til 4. We sat waiting for the guide until around 4:15. Then we had to watch a 5 minute video. Then the guide told us all about White Nose disease which affects bats. We had heard this already in the first tour, but there were people on this one who weren't at the first one. Fair enough. Then the guide forgot like 5 different things and told people they should go get their jackets. 4:35 and we're finally in the cave. This tour is supposed to be shorter. I was hoping for like 30 minutes. Then I heard it could be 90 minutes if it's a slow group. Damn. Ok.

After standing around talking for a while, we descend. Somebody not far in front of us neglected to put deodorant on for what I'm estimating to be at least a week. Harper loudly blames Anjuli for the smell, who loudly protests that it's not her. Embarrassing to say the least, however I doubt the person cared. For a smell that strong, you'd have to be way beyond caring.

This cave has a full lighting system, so no flashlights necessary. Except for the guide. Who forgot his. So we wait for him to run back to the top, grab his light, then run back down. Upon return, he slowly shows us everything in the first cavern, taking way longer than is necessary to allow people to take pictures. We proceed to the next cavern. Somewhere along the way a gentleman smacked his head really hard on some rock after failing to duck. He's bleeding pretty bad. So he and his group and the guide run up ahead to get a medkit and to call some emergency services. We stand around for 20 minutes or so while this situation is reined in. Then we proceed.

This cave was definitely beautiful, no doubt about it. The caverns were massive, an underground river meandered through the entire system and the formations were memorable. But by this point in the
trip, all of us were checking out. We were tired and hungry. Fiona was loudly proclaiming that she
wanted to head back to the car, to which many people also agreed. At one point as we were walking Fiona was on my shoulders. Somebody not far behind me ripped a fart. Fiona loudly shouts, "Daddy!". I didn't know whether to ignore her or protest. I chose to ignore. So I'm sure a few people in our group thought I was a public flatulence artist. Later I learned that the perpetrator was an older guy who was right in front of Tiff, so she got a front row seat to that one. Lucky her.

After reaching the deepest point in this cave and again experiencing total darkness (Fi still wasn't a fan), we started heading back. There was a neat room called the Lily Pad Room up about 15 switchbacks which was worth the climb, but by this point in the trip we had already been in the cave for 2 hours. We were becoming jaded. "Oh look, another sweet formation that I've already seen before!" The two older girls were ready to be done as well and were often walking with the front of the group well ahead of me and Tiff and Fi, who had been relegated to a 1 year old who must ride on our shoulders or carried. I learned my lesson in the first cave with the stroller and left it in the car this time. It was more hassle than it was worth.

Finally we reached the end. I felt like I had been dungeon diving all day long. The guide cheerily asked if we had everybody with the group before we exited. Yep, we did. The older girls were near the front by the door. He opened the door, everybody filed out rather quickly, no doubt happy to be back to the surface. At one point it was mentioned we were about 180 ft beneath the surface, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

After exiting, I figured the older girls would be waiting by the entrance to the visitor center. Nope. I walked into the gift shop. No girls there. Tiff went into the bathroom. No girls there. Crap. Where the hell could they be? I anger walked down to the van to check if they were there. Nope. At this point I was thinking they somehow got left in the cave and they shut the lights out. They had Tiff's phone, which meant they could turn on the flashlight. I'm sure you're thinking, "Call the phone!". You're funny! There's no cell reception around this place! Tiff heads back to the visitor center and she finds them. Sitting outside in a garden around the corner from the entrance. Needless to say, they got what for when they reached the car. I was NOT happy.

It's nearly 7 now. We haven't eaten since breakfast. We just want to get to the hotel. Remember how I mentioned we have no cell service? So I pull out my handy dandy road atlas. The place we're at isn't marked anywhere on the atlas. We head back for the interstate, which is about 7 miles away. Finally get reception. Come to find out, the hotel is 1.5 hours away! It blew my mind, which was already stretched to the limit. Oh and the automatic van door was acting up. It kept flashing the interior lights and saying that it wasn't closed. We ended up pulling over, I turned off the automatic doors, then opened that door and slammed it shut with the gentle touch only an angry, hungry (hangry?) man can conjure. My wife may have commented on the fact that we don't need a broken door, but I digress.

We proceeded down the most winding road in the Ozarks (I'm guessing) and after an hour and a half, we arrived at our hotel. We hastily checked in, then headed to a Mexican restaurant we saw a
The reward for a day of dungeon diving
billboard for on our way in. The food was amazing and the margaritas refreshing. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and I ended up eating maybe a quarter of mine, but it's now lunch for today. The rest of the family did the same. We crashed hard afterward at the hotel. Did I mention it was still 86 degrees at 9:30 at night? That's way too hot for my northern ass. Humidity was 200% as well. Florida or Missouri?

Once I leave Wisconsin, nobody knows.

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