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Nature's Spectacular Formations

Photo by R. Lachowsky

Drip! Drip! Drip! Far below the earth's surface, water drips from the roof of a cave.   The drops fall through stillness and darkness into a large stone room no one has ever seen.  No bird singing here; there are no flowers to bloom: a place where bats might be snoozing upside down.  For thousands of years, the silence has been broken only by the falling water.  Then, footsteps break the stillness.  Voices drift through the air and artificial beams of light cut across the darkness lighting up a strange and wonderful sight.

For the very first time, someone sees what the drops of water have made.  Stone icicles hang overhead.  Smooth sheets of stone coat the walls.  Huge pillars of rock connect the floor and ceiling.  One will find quite an array of beautiful formations such as stalactite, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, cave pearls, draperies and others.  These come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes.

Spelunking is definitely not an adventure for the faint-hearted.  To many people, the darkness is disturbing.  Beyond the entrance is total darkness; no light other than the artificial light brought in by the explorers.  Many caves are completely silent.  This silence matches the darkness!  When someone enters the cave for the first time, they experience quite a surprise!  To some it will be sheer terror!   Others may experience claustrophobia and turn back!  To the ones who continue on with courage, there is quite an adventure lying ahead with many happy memories.

Tread softly so the cave will be just as beautiful for the next one to enjoy.   Help preserve the beauty of these remarkable underground treasures.  One wrong step can destroy or break a formation that took millions of years to form.

Photo by R. Lachowsky

Caves, also called caverns, are natural hollow spaces underground large enough for a person to enter.  A cave may be one chamber with only enough room to hold one person, or it may extend many miles.  No matter how large or small it may be, in order to be a true cave, it must have been made by nature.  Only underground holes that are made naturally, and not by animals or human beings, can be considered caves.

Caves range in size from small hillside openings to vast interconnected subterranean (underground) systems of many chambers and galleries.  Some extend for miles underground and may have many outlets.

Caves hold many secrets for explorers: oddly shaped stones, hidden waterfalls, tiny plants and strange animals are all found beneath the earth's surface.

The science of cave study is termed speleology.  Cave explorers sometimes stay underground for days mapping and studying an extensive area.  People who explore caves are called cavers, spelunkers, or speleologists.

Caves are formed in various ways by the solvent action of water and compounds in it.  Caves are most common in limestone formations in regions that have ample rainfall.  In these areas, surface water contains carbon dioxide and moist acids derived from the organic constituents of soil.  This acidic water, carbonic acid from by rain water and carbon dioxide, dissolves and carries the limestone away in solution.   The end result of this weathering process is a cave.

A cave is a place where the sun never shines.  There is no day or night.  The only light is artificial light that beams from man's instruments.

It is cold in a cave.  At the lower levels (about 1,000 feet or 305 meters), temperatures range between 24'C (75'F) and 1'C (30'F).  The adventurous spelunkers who choose to descend deeper into the depths of the cave will become warmer from geothermal energy.  This heat is generated within the earth.

A cave is too deep to be affected by seasonal shifts in weather outside, so the seasons never change.  It also never rains or snows.

A cave can be a place with many colors.  Different mineral deposits can determine the colors of the interior.

A cave is so quiet one can hear a heart beat.  The silence is broken only by the sound of falling water.  This has been going on for thousands of years.   It is hard to believe a cave is continually changing, but the fragile formations are steadily changing with each drop of water.

Jimmie Roark
Fifth Grade Level
Hampton Elementary School
Hampton, AR

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