In my constant persue of learning how to feel comfortable with myself my finger pointed to Idaho. With only two days to explore (it takes one long day of driving to reach this place) I wanted to know the most.
My first stop was Shoshone Ice Caves, I was greeted by a looming dinosaur statue ridden by a hairy caveman. There is a three-story high Native American, Chief Wasakie, know for his friendliness to the White Man.
The entrance to the cave is through the gift shop. If you don't have a jacket, you can grab one of the "courtesy jackets". This natural wonder is actually a lava tube, on our way to the entrance we saw how part of the tube collapsed long time ago.
Lava Tube Caves are natural conduits through which lava travels beneath the surface of a lava flow. They can be actively draining lava from a source, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.
The place is mentioned in various legends and even said to be haunted. The Indian Princess Edahow was buried in the ice, and waits patiently to reemerge.
Crazed overdevelopment and a poorly placed access tunnel melted the entire cave in the early 1940s. The Robinson family acquired the land in the 1950s. Russell Robinson studied the caverns, charted the air flow through the passages, and restored its icy state in 1962.
Before the total melting in the 1940s, the ice was up to the ceiling. Now they have a process that makes the ice stay low, so it won't reach the ceiling again. That process is basically pumping filtering water out of the cave.
The entrance to the cave is through the typical callapsed roof serving. The door into the cave must be kept shut during the summer, or the whole place may melt.
After passing through the door in the sinkhole, you follow several hundred yards of wooden walkway a few inches above the ice.
The cold air flowing down into the cave during winter freezes all water entering the cave through fractures, producing a continuous layer of ice. The temperature inside the cave is constant although it differs between different parts of the cave between -7°C and 0.5°C. At the same time the outside temperature may reach 37°C.
This lava tube is - as it is typical for this kind of cave - a single tube, almost straight, and more than 300m long. The passage is up to 12m high and between 3 and 10m wide. At the far end of the cave is a wall of ice of unknown depth, despite repeated attempts to determine it.
We were show the remains of a "cave bear" and her cub found inside the cave. So far I am concerned cave bears did not live in America, they are only found in Europe. I kept my mouth shut and I made my own theory that most likely those were the remnants of a Giant Short-Faced Bear, an extinct species of bear that lived in prehistoric North America from about 800,000 to 12,500 years ago.
Many people call these caves a tourist trap. Former owners tried to improve the cave by installing various sculpures outside and even some dioramas inside the cave. The ones inside, like the skating girl and yesteryear's elf, were fortunately removed. The dinosaour and Chief Wasakie statues are the reminders of those times.
After ending my visit to Shoshone Ice Caves, it was time to do a quick drive to Mammoth Cave. Mammoth Cave is much more basic and undeveloped; for serious spelunkers, there are over a dozen other caves and lava tubes nearby.
Just in case, please do not confuse this cave with Mammoth Cave National Park located in Kentucky.
After you pay the entrance ($6 or $8, I don't really remember), you can borrow a lamp and follow a self-guided pathway
The first cave explorers put their names on the lava walls in 1902. Fortunately, this is not longer allowed. This cave is another fine example of a Lava Tube Cave.
Small bats inhabit the cavern. They live to be 15 to 20 years old. They are about half an ounce in weight and have a wing span of one foot (30 cms). They are harmless to man and do much good because their diet consists of flying insects.
This cave is called Mammoth because is the biggest one of the lava tubes common on this area.
Caves have affected history by providing refuge to counterfeiters, runaway slaves, desertes, hermits, murderes, and moonshiners. This area was a a favorite spot for robbers hitting stagecoaches filled with gold heading to and from Idaho mining towns to the north. It was easy for bandits to escape across the surrounding trackless lava fields (which are the largest unbroken lava fields on the North American continent, covering approximately one-third of the state).
Driving distance: 1260 km (788 miles)