First foray into Kansas karst

Spending a weekend digging garbage out of a hole, squeezing through tight spaces, getting covered in mud, and pushing yourself through tiny passages inch by inch may not sound extremely fun. And to be perfectly honest, most of the people that I’ve introduced to the world of spelunking have probably never returned to a cave. But there exists a small group of unusual people that find pleasure in being underground. They don’t mind getting dirty, in fact the dirt fascinates them. They are the National Speleological Society, with regional chapters spread across the world. NSS members guard their caves and local hot-spots closely, sharing information only to those that they trust to protect their treasures. It sometimes gives off the vibe of a secret society. But once you join a local chapter and show up to a couple events, you are likely to find out that cavers are an awesome and welcoming breed. Caves often contain rock formations and fossils that take millions of years to form as well as unique lifeforms found nowhere else on earth. The NSS is often the first and only line of defense for these against hoards of developers, keg parties, and various other badies that don’t care about protecting caves for future generations. If you show some genuine interest and respect for the caves, they will accept you and your caving adventures will begin.

Last weekend Kerry and I met up with the Kansas Speleological Society to do some poking and prodding of the earth. After arriving, we spent Saturday investigating some sinkholes on a ranch. This consisted of digging out decades of trash (mostly cosmetic products from the 70’s) and hoping one would open up enough to explore. No major discoveries were made, but some were promising enough and it was decided that work on them should continue another time. From there, we went to a nearby cave, but flooding and lack of wet suits kept us from going too deep into that one. That night we went to Cowley County State Fishing Lake for the quarterly meeting where we planned future events and camped at the lake that night.

Sunday morning, a group of four of us crossed the Oklahoma border to explore Belle Star Cave. The cave is named after a Cherokee outlaw who once used the cave as a refuge from the authorities. The opening was impressively large and covered in graffiti. But the passage very quickly shrunk to a tiny crawl space. There was about six inches of running water below us. Moving through the cave was a very slow process. We reached a short step that took us a level above the water onto a Swiss-cheese-like rock slab with the running water visible below us through holes in the floor… neat! We had hoped, as all cavers do, that it was going to eventually open up into a spectacular room. But instead it simply got smaller and smaller until none of us could go on, so we turned back.

So we didn’t really get to do a whole lot of caving, but luckily I enjoy wandering around in the woods just as much. If you’re interested in caving, I highly recommend finding your local NSS Chapter and contacting them. If you live in Kansas, feel free to contact me and I’ll put you in touch. The caverns are awaiting your arrival!

On the way home, Kerry and I stopped at Wheat State Winery, a peaceful property outside of Winfield with free tastings. We found out that they hold bluegrass concerts throughout the summer and allow you to wander the roads and trails of the winery.

Links:
National Speliological Society
Kansas Speliological Society

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