You may have noticed that I haven’t written lately. Not because things haven’t been happening but because several states ago we reached the land of ‘Very Few Signal Towers’. Oddly enough here in the middle of the London Mountains (just east of the Rockies) we have a pretty good signal again.
We have landed at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, one of 47 Montana State Parks. The name is a complete misnomer, because Lewis and Clark had no idea that there were caverns here when they passed through. According to the journal their biggest concern in this area was the lack of game to be found for dinner. We came to explore the caverns though, because if there are caves to be seen I want to see them. Trish, bless her heart, is very considerate about that. This is a two entrance cave, so you go in one side, through the caverns and out another exit.
According to their website, the difficulty rating for this cavern is ‘Moderate to Difficult’. I can only assume that they mean it is moderately difficult for a 25 year old who actually uses their gym membership, and difficult for one who does not. I’m pretty sure they never asked any people over the age of 60 how they felt about it.
The website also says that ‘The tour begins with a 1-mile gradual uphill walk to the cave entrance’. What they don’t mention is that the path to get to the cave entrance goes up a couple of hundred feet in that mile, with fairly steep grades and a number of steps. ‘Gradual’ must be some kind of typo. They also don’t mention that the trail STARTS at over a mile high (5309 feet) and that people who aren’t used to that elevation may experience some difficulty dragging enough air into their starving lungs to continue. And that there is a precipitous drop off on one side of the path at all times. I am told it was a beautiful vista, but since I kept my eyes down and my feet as close to the wall as possible, I couldn’t tell you. The temps out here have been in the high 90s all week so I won’t mention that aspect.
I was pretty sure I was going to pass out on that trail and drop to my grizzly death. I would have had to roll several feet to get to the drop, but my panic had no interest in facts at that point. Thankfully, Trish kept a firm grip on my arm the whole way. I’m not sure if it was to help me or keep me from fleeing back to the start point, but either way it worked. I made it to the cavern entrance!
I am so happy that I stuck it out, because this was the absolute best cave experiences I have ever had! Of course they had stalactites, stalagmites, columns and helictites. They had bats and flowstone and fossils. Most of the route inside the cave is lighted, but there are some stretches where the light is pretty low. But this is an authentic cave experience. This is no over-populated, groomed to within and inch of it’s cave-ness cavern. This is a cavern where you sometimes have to duck walk through a low area, even slide down a 3 foot section, go in single file most of the time. And there are 600 actual stair steps, both up and down within the cavern carved by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 30’s. We were told the interior temp was around 48 degrees F, but no one over 40 ever used the jackets and sweaters we brought. The exertion from the climb up kept us all plenty warm – even Trish! We had to wait in a kind of air lock to leave the cave, to prevent the Montana winds from rushing straight through the cave and killing it completely. Fortunately it is a mere 3/4 mile of mostly level, but still precipitous, trail back to the welcome center and automotive air conditioning.
We spend another couple of days in this general area of Montana. We were going to head out and mine some sapphires, but it’s just too blasted hot this week. I’m taking a good friend’s recommendation and we’ll visit the Museum of the Rockies. (Thanks JK!)
I’m still having trouble getting photos into WordPress, but there are lots on the 2oldchicksrv Instagram pages.