Caverns and caves

by Christopher Sorensen 6th period

Cave history

Caves have been used by humans for a long time and for a number of reasons. For many they provided shelter, for others they were a source for minerals and economic prosperity. The first mentions of karst landscape date back to the ancient Assyrian King Salmanassar III. As reported on bronze engravings, he was investigating the caves and springs at the source of the Tigris River. There are also mentions of karst topography in the writings of the ancient Greek and Romans ( Jennings, 1971). In Israel there is a cave called the Cave of Letters and inside this cave documents from the second century C.E. describing in detail one woman’s life were found (Figure 1). The woman was named

Figure 1: The Cave of Letters in Israel which was used for protection and storage 2000 years ago is no being excavated and explored. (NOVA, 2004).

Babatha and it is thought that she used the cave for protection and to store her documents for safekeeping (Tyson, 2004). For information on Babatha and the Cave of Letters click here. It wasn’t until the 17 th century, when scientific societies began to emerge that books devoted to karst started to appear. The earliest work was written in 1654 by a Parisian by the name of Jacques Gaffarel, however little of this text remains today ( Jennings 1971) (Figure 2). In the mid to late 19th

Figure 2: The first page of Jacques Gaffarel’s 1654 work on karst topography. (Martel, 1952)

century Vienna, Austria was the center for scientific study and karst was a hot topic. This area was the hub for karst study because there were karst areas, primarily the Dinaric karst, around Vienna which fueled research and discussion ( Herak and Stringfield, 1972). In the late 19 th century Edouard Martel, with his extensive investigation into karst landscapes, however brought France to the front in karst study with Austria where it has remained since ( Jennings, 1971). The following quote from Martel’s first work Les Cevennes published in 1888 speaks of the caves he examined in France,

Here are natural wonders of inconceivable beauty: Kilometre-long caverns, full of huge stalactites and stalagmites. Subterranean rivers and lakes in a shimmering bed of crystal. A dark and mysterious realm, which, cast in the eerie glow of the magnesium lamp, is transfigured into a magical palace. A fantastic spectacle, just waiting to be discovered (Martel,1888).

After World War I institutes devoted to karst and caves emerged along with the world’s first University Professor of speleology in Vienna, Georg Kyrle (Figure 3). After World War II interest is caves spread around the world and Europe was no longer the center for the study of speleology. After the study of karst landscapes was spread worldwide the International congresses of speleology held it’s first meeting in 1953. This has evolved into the International Union of Speleology which still operates and will hold the next congress in Athens, Greece in 2005.

Figure 3: An important Austrian speleologist and possibly the world’s first professor of speleology, Georg Kyrle (Österreich-Lexikon,1995).

In the 1950’s and 60’s there was a rush to open the biggest and best cave which is referred to as the cave wars. During this time it was realized that people would pay money to see these mysterious caverns underground and everyone tried to make their cave the biggest and the best on order to attract the most tourists. A National Parks Service ranger and tour guide at Mammoth Caves in Kentucky said in 2004, "Wealthy people in Europe and in the East wanted to see Mammoth Cave, and the owners of Mammoth got a wild idea -- that people would pay money to see a hole in the ground" (Associated Press, 2004).

Crystal Caves in Spring Valley Wisconsin was part of this national contest which is how it got its name. The owner who donned the caves Crystal Caves thought that name would help attract tourists. Even before Wisconsin was a state caves drew people to the area for their mineral resources. Lead miners flocked to modern Southwest Wisconsin. The miners would sometimes spend days inside the caves which is how Wisconsin got its knickname of the Badger State (Green, 2004). This competition actually threatened the integrity of the cave at one point. One of the owners wanted to make one of the rooms in the cave more dramatic by carving out the rock and raising the ceiling. This dramatically weakened the ceiling and the overlying layers of soil were too heavy. Eventually the ceiling in that room collapsed and it is no longer accessible to visitors.

How caves are formed

Cave formation begins when rainwater absorbs carbon dioxide as it falls through the atmosphere. Rain water must have carbon dioxide to become acidic. It must be acidic to chemically react to the limestone bedrock. Rainwater is absorbed by the soil into the ground.

As rainwater comes through the soil it absorbs more carbon dioxide that is being produced by plants that are dead. This changes the ground water to a weaker form of carbonic acid(H2O + CO2 = H2CO3). As it travels down through the ground it comes to solid rock. When the rock is limestone or dolomite caves can form.

The water reacts chemically with limestone and slowly a larger and larger space will form. This happens because the rocks are made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This is what you call chemical erosion.

As the space becomes larger and larger the water can flow through. As it flows it erodes . Physical erosion washes away rock and sand. This is what makes a cave larger and forms an underground stream. Finally over hundreds of thousands of years or even millions of years the cave is formed.

A history of a cave in Texas, Cave without a name.

Although the cave has been open to the environment for many tens of thousands of years, as evidenced by numerous prehistoric animal finds discovered there, known human contact with the cave began only in the early 20th century, when a small farm animal became trapped in the small external opening of the cave, known as a sinkhole. The cave went largely unnoticed again until the 1920s during the era of Prohibition when a small moonshine distillery was installed in the uppermost cavern. It again fell into obscurity until three local farm kids rediscovered the sinkhole in 1935. These kids are believed to be the first who actually entered the main chambers of the cave.

After the rediscovery, Jim Horn, the original owner of the property decided to open it as a commercial venture. The show cave received its name after its official opening in 1939,[1] as verified by a news paper article that hangs in the Cave's gift shop, in a state-wide contest held in 1940. A young boy suggested that the cave "was too beautiful to have a name", and so he received the 250 dollar cash prize awarded. The second owner of the Cave Without A Name, Eugene Ebell, renamed the cave "Century Caverns" in the late 1950s, but after several years of grief from the locals, Mr. Ebell changed the name back to Cave Without A Name.

Cave Without a Name was declared a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in February 2009.[2]


Built in 1939, the stairwell into the cave has 126 steps descending to approximately 90 feet below the surface.[1] The cave maintains a constant temperature of 66 degrees all year round. Within the cave there are two main areas. The main set of chambers open to the public make up the show cave, extending just over a quarter of a mile. This part of the cave consists of 6 large, well-lit rooms full of speleothems including stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, columns, and draperies. The second main area of the cave is an extensive set of caverns linked to the underground extension of the Guadalupe River. During a 1975 expedition of the Cave Without A Name, cavers mapped out over 2.7 miles of caverns, making it the 7th longest cave in Texas. The cave is currently being remapped by a team of researchers from Texas State University.

Due to the great natural acoustics created by 3 large solution domes on the ceiling of the large Queen's Throne room, the cave is host to 8-12 concerts each year, with attendances of up to 200 people. Some of the more common types of concerts consist of vocals, native American flute music, and Tibetan singing bowls. Some other unique features of the cave include the 50-foot-long (15 m) set of rimstone dams beneath the natural spring-fed pool, the 19-foot-long (5.8 m) draperies referred to by the cave's tour guides as "Texas-sized cave bacon", and a collection of stalagmites that resemble the nativity scene. In the winter months, the cave becomes home for between 5-10 dozen eastern pipistrelle bats. The seasonal inhabitants do not interfere with the tours as they only use the cave for hibernation. Another resident of the cave is a rare blind Texas salamander known as the Kendall County salamander that may only be found in the Cave Without A Name and another area cave, Cascade Caverns.

In addition to tours of the Cave Without A Name, as of 2010, guests to the 187 acre property have access to over a mile of hiking trails, a scavenger hunt, gem panning, picnic tables, camp grounds, and a sculpture garden. Some activities are at an additional fee. Even the geocachers have placed a box on the property of the Cave Without a Name. The gift shop has a large selection of rocks, stones and fossils for sale, including numerous Amethyst cathedrals, jewelry, and more. There is also a large selection of geodes, both cut and uncut as well as a geode cutter onsite.

Accident On April 30, 2007, Thomas Summers III died in a nearby, connected cave known as Dead Man's Cave. Thomas Summers was the manager of Cave Without a Name and the son of the third and current owner of the cave, Thomas Summers, II. He and another park employee Brent Holbert had gone into Dead Man's Cave to investigate why water from recent rains was not draining from Cave Without a Name. They swam into Dead Man's Cave where at times there was only two inches of breathing room. The two separated when Holbert decided not to go any further because of the danger and told Summers "let's get the hell out of here". Summers chose to go a few yards further and shortly thereafter Holbert reported hearing sounds of distress and after receiving no response from several shouts he exited the cave to call for help. Thomas Summers' body was recovered by cavers experienced in cave diving a few hours later. This is the only documented death within the Cavern system.

Cave without a name photo

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