The year was 1982. It was summer; my husband and I were on a trip with his cousin and her husband. It was exciting. It was our first trip as “grown ups”. We had my husband’s family’s camper and the four of us were taking a road trip to the Black Hills.
One of the fun things we did on our trip was going to a cave for a cave tour. Jewel Cave National Monument offered three levels of cave experiences. The first was the tourist version of the cave. The version your 80-year-old grandparents could enjoy. The most extreme version was spelunking which at times meant crawling on your belly through very small spaces.
Before you could go on the spelunking tour you had to crawl through a cement form that was about a foot high, 18 inches wide and about one foot long. The purpose of the form was to show you the tight spaces that you could meet spelunking. Each of us got on our bellies and crawled through the form. We could fit through the form.
Now we had decided if any of us were claustrophobic or not. My husband didn’t think that he would like small spaces in the dark. The rest of us were not very sure if we were up for the challenge or not so we opted for the middle ground and went on the tour that was somewhere between.
The tour would take us to all the tourist areas of the cave and then into areas where further exploration was being done in the cave. Our tour guide’s name was Misty Knight. It was my first exposure to an original name choice. She gave us all the information about what our tour would involve and the rules. She said that the rules were for our safety especially in the areas where exploration was being done. Some of the rules were for the preservation of the cave.
There was a family that she spoke directly to about the rules. It was a Mom, Dad and two small children. The boys looked like they were about 8 & 10 years old. She told the parents that on the tour would need them to keep constant watch of their children. There are portions of the cave where if they wandered off the path they could fall many feet into unknown territory. The parents rolled their eyes as if to say you totally don’t understand just how grown up our children are. The tour guide asked if they were ready to go ahead under the conditions of the rules. Everyone said yes and so we began.
It was a very interesting tour and we learned about the different structures within the cave and their formation. As we left the regular tour area the spaces that we traveled through at times were tight but no belly crawling. Along the way we met bats hanging on the rock structures in the cave. Not just one or two but hundreds. The farther we ventured into the cave the bolder the kids were getting. They were touching things they weren’t supposed to touch and when corrected by the tour guide or parents they were rude.
Finally the end of our tour was nearing. Misty said that we would end our tour in a large room where they were doing exploration. She said that when we arrived in that room she would turn off the light that she was carrying. It was to give us the full effect of total darkness. She said that when she turned the light off it was important that no one moved from the place they were standing. There were places around the perimeter of the room where there were drop offs to unknown depths. She explained that if you were down in the cave without light that in a matter of days you would go blind because your eyes would be constantly trying to focus on something in the darkness.
Misty turned off the light and talked in the darkness to us about the cave and the ongoing exploration. It was amazing what sounds you could hear in the darkness, the sound of the wind blowing in the cave, an occasional flapping of wings from a bat, the dripping of water from the ceiling and then the most terrifying sound of all, the sound of a screaming child and tumbling rocks.
Misty immediately turned on the light to respond to the scream. One of the children walked off the edge of the rocks and fell into the blackness. Misty told everyone to stay in their spot and she moved toward the child’s voice along with the parents. She told the boy not to move, not to try climbing, and stand still. This was the first instruction that he actually listened to on the tour.
She told the parents that he had landed on a ledge about 4 feet down and they would be able to reach him. Misty and the boy’s father lay down on their stomachs and each reached down and grabbed one of the boy’s arms and pulled him up to safety. Everyone was silent as the parents checked the boy over for injuries. There were none.
Misty led us back out of the cave in total silence. The boys and their parents were silent the entire trip out. Perhaps things will change at their home after the experience. I would hope so. I know I was different after that experience. I wasn’t a parent yet but I filed the lessons learned on that day away in my long-term memory for retrieval at some future date when I would impress on my own children that some rules are for our own safety and worth obeying.