Below are some tips for making your visits to show caves as hassle-free and enjoyable as possible. Topics covered include:
Your cave visits will undoubtedly be more+ rewarding if you have some appreciation of how caves form, how they are decorated with mineral deposits, how organisms make their living in caves, and the important roles that caves have played in human history. If you have children, a visit to a cave is a special opportunity to spark their curiosity about geology, chemistry, biology, archaeology and history all at once!
A quick cave reference can be found at the Virtual Cave. This companion to the Show Caves Directory focuses mostly on cave minerals, but its introductory sections give a feel for basic cave geology and other fascinating pursuits in the ongoing exploration and study of caves.
For more in-depth study, visit your local library, or check the following dealers for books, videos and CD-ROMS about caves:
Unlike most natural attractions, show caves keep limited hours. You'll generally need to plan your visits around tour schedules. The Show Caves Directory provides opening and closing times for each cave, but exact tour schedules are not generally listed. If you're short on time, or will be travelling out of your way to visit a show cave, it pays to call ahead. Schedules change frequently, and you may find that a day's final tour departs somewhat earlier than the cave's actual closing time. For caves in the National Park System, pay special notice to guidelines in the Show Caves Directory about how you can best beat the crowds, and assure that you will have the opportunity for a cave tour on the day you arrive. Also consider if you will want time for more than one cave tour, or to visit other attractions at the cave site. For instance, many show caves offer wild cave tours, which allow you to venture into undeveloped portions of the cave under the guidance of an experienced leader. Such trips usually must be arranged at least a day in advance.
Caves are fragile. Mineral formations that took many thousands of years to develop can be destroyed in moment of carelessness. Broken formations soon seem dull and lifeless outside the cave environment, and leave behind scars that heal exceedingly slowly, if at all. Even lightly touching cave minerals leaves body oils that will inhibit their continued growth.
Just as you shouldn't remove any material from caves, you likewise shouldn't leave any foreign material inside of them. Most show cave management prohibits food, chewing gum and tobacco in their cave, for the good reason that these items can easily mar the cave's beauty as well as upset the its delicate ecological balance. Also, don't throw coins into cave pools in hopes of good luck. You will both poison and discolor the pool and Oztotl, the Mayan cave god, will surely avenge you. A few caves feature "wishing well" pools, where coin-tossing is allowed or even encouraged. Most cave managers designate these pools so that they can better focus their clean-up efforts--at your expense!
Make sure your grandchildren can enjoy show caves as much as you do by moving carefully and touching and leaving nothing. As the need arises, don't hesitate to educate others on your tours about the fragile nature of caves. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, the tour guide will gladly take the opportunity.
Most caves maintain a temperature close to the local yearly average. Thus, in the summer, most cave visitors show up somewhat underdressed. In general, you'll be most comfortable in long pants with a sweater or light jacket. Also be sure to wear sturdy, comfortable walking shoes.
Besides adequate clothing, you may want to bring a camera and flash.
If you will be bringing small children into the cave, be aware that in many caves strollers are impractical or dangerous due to narrow trails, steep slopes and/or stairs. Prepare to hand carry your young ones or bring a backpack carrier.
Very few caves are equipped with restroom facilities. A long cave tour seems very long, indeed, if you discover that you should have gone before you went. Need we say more?