Tag Archives: caves

Bats, Caves, and White-Nose Syndrome

Weird! Cool! Bats!

Weird! Cool! Bats! [Image: www.nature.org/]

Bats are awesome. They are a crucial part of insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal within their environments. They’re adorable, they help mitigate mosquito populations, and they have suffered huge, tragic population losses over the last 10 years because of a fungus that is incredibly spreadable, Pseudogeomyces destructans (Pd).

Over six million bats have died because of white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is caused when Pd is present in a cave where bats are hibernating. The hibernating bats are understandably awoken by the discomfort of having a fungus growing on their faces, but being awake prematurely is terribly costly in terms of energy. The bat is supposed to be sleeping the winter away because its food sources are limited or nonexistent, and it will likely starve or die in pursuit of food in weather and temperatures they aren’t built to withstand.

Poor bat.

I don’t think any of us would get a good night’s rest with that kind of thing going on. [Image: www.whitenosesyndrome.org/]

All this to say: While WNS is spread mostly between bat neighbors, humans can contribute to the problem if explorers delve into a cave where Pd spores are present, and then without proper precautions, wear the same gear to an uninfected location. That is, even though human transmission is neither the primary mode of transmission between bat populations, nor very common, precautionary measures are a critical aspect of protecting a very important species, especially when we haven’t entirely figured out how to combat it.


Dinner on the fly. [Image: www.scienceinseconds.com/]

If you’re an avid spelunker or cave explorer, especially on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, you’ve probably already read up on the appropriate decontamination protocol for your subterranean equipment. But for those of you who are new to the activity, it’s best to think of white-nose syndrome as an invasive species. One should endeavor to avoid contact with an area where the fungus has been documented, and certainly contact with bats, regardless of the confirmed presence of the fungus or not.

Here at Pocket Ranger®, we support the noble spirit of subterranean exploration! It’s a great way to stay active in the year’s hottest months and is a fun and enriching way of experiencing an inverse of our lives above ground. But with the deadly proliferation of white-nose syndrome in American bat populations, there are responsibilities that cave explorers must recognize. Hopefully we all keep them in mind as we spelunk our way out of the oppressive summer heat.

National Parks East of the Mississippi

While the dramatic landscapes of National Parks in the West often receive the lion’s share of attention, National Parks east of the Mississippi River have just as much to offer. Here are five of our favorite National Parks in the East that offer visitors plenty of adventure and spectacular scenery.

Mammoth Cave National Park


Inside a large cavern at Mammoth Caves National Park which is one of Mississippi's National Parks [Image: travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/mammoth-cave-national-park]

Image: travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/mammoth-cave-national-park

Descend into the world’s longest-known cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park. Over the past 5,000 years, more than 400 miles of this water-formed labyrinth has been mapped and surveyed, but there is still so much left to explore. This uncharted territory lends a sense of mystery to the park. The best way to see the cave is by signing up for one of the many tours offered through the park. We recommend going on the Violet City Lantern Tour. For three hours and with only the soft light of a paraffin lamp, explore some of the cave’s largest passages just as early settlers did. Visitors will find evidence of prehistoric mineral mining and a forsaken underground hospital for TB patients.

While the cave is the largest draw for visitors of the park, there are so many other things to do and see! Some favorite sights include the Cedar Sink. By walking down inside this sinkhole, visitors can glimpse an underground river system as it snakes out of the cave. Or follow the River Styx Spring Trail, a leisurely stroll through the woods that brings you alongside the partly subterranean Green River as it wends its way from the cave.

Shenandoah National Park


Old Rag Mountain in the Fall [Image: www.nps.gov]

Old Rag Mountain in the Fall [Image: www.nps.gov]

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The ever-popular Skyline Drive, a 105-mile National Scenic Byway that runs the entire length of the park, affords multitudes of scenic vistas. Skyline Drive is most popular in the Fall when trees at the park burst with colorful foliage. There are also many opportunities to hike the Blue Ridge Mountains, such as the park’s highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain. For the thrill-seekers, we recommend taking the trail up Old Rag Mountain. After a challenging rocky scramble to the summit, hikers will be rewarded with the most breathtaking panoramic views of Virginia.

In addition to beautiful mountainscapes, there are many beautiful waterfalls within the park. At 93 feet, Overall Run Falls is the tallest waterfall at the park and a must-see. South River Falls, the third highest waterfall in the park at 83 feet, is another favorite. Both of these waterfalls offer visitors rocky ledges, perfect places for visitors to sit and have a snack.

Everglades National Park


An alligator rests on a sandy trail through a cypress grove at the Everglades  [Image Credit: David Geldhof]

Everglades National Park is listed as a World Heritage Site. [Image Credit: David Geldhof]

A watery labyrinth containing 1,100 species of trees and plants, Everglades National Park is the largest designated wilderness in the southeast. Within its miles of diverse ecosystem, travel winding paths through cypress groves, take a boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands, or a tram ride through Shark Valley. With more than 40 species of bird inhabiting the Everglades, this national park is a must for birdwatchers. For optimum bird sightings, we recommend heading to the park’s verdant Mahogany Hammock Trail early in the morning. The park is also home to 14 endangered (and often reclusive) species, such as the Florida panther, American crocodile, Loggerhead sea turtle, and manatee. If you’re anxious to see some turtles and gators, check out the Anhinga Trail. A wildlife hotspot, this trail is perfect for families and is also wheelchair accessible.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina & Tennessee

Cades Cove is a popular spot for people and wildlife at Smoky Mountains National Park. [Image Credit: Kristina Plaas]

Cades Cove is a popular spot for people and wildlife at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. [Image Credit: Kristina Plaas]

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the rugged peaks and old growth forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park make it America’s most visited national park. Home to 100 native tree species, the park contains the largest blocks of old-growth deciduous forest in North America. This is one of the many reasons why this beautiful park is honored as a World Heritage Site. The early Precambrian rocks are another popular feature at the park. These very ancient rocks are found at the bottom of the park’s Foothills. Head to the picturesque valley, Cades Cove to see these ancient rocks for yourself.

Since the Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachian Trail, visitors will most likely run into thru-hikers journeying to either Maine’s Mount Katahdin or Springer Mountain in Georgia. A favorite hike is traveling the Alum Cave Trail up to the summit of the park’s third highest mountain, Mount Le Conte. Spend the night near the summit at the LeConte Lodge. For a more strenuous hike, take on the dual-humped peaks of Chimney Tops. This hike delivers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Stay tuned for the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide, a free new app that makes planning and visiting the National Parks easy and fun!

Everything You Need To Know About Spelunking

Image: www.lifeinthefastlane.ca/

Image: www.lifeinthefastlane.ca/

Spelunking. It isn’t the prettiest word in the dictionary, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Spelunking is the sport of exploring caves as a hobby or for scientific purposes.  Also known as caving, spelunking explores caves more so for fun rather than professionally. The people who do it professionally are called “cavers.”  The term spelunking comes from the Latin word spelaeum, which means “a cave.” Fun Fact: the scientific study of caves and the cave environment is speleology.

Spelunking’s difficulty can range from easy to very difficult, depending on the cave and knowledge of the spelunker (yes, that’s a real word). Challenges can also include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes and water in the cave.

Caving is said to be pioneered by Édouard-Alfred Martel, a Frenchman who came up with caving techniques using ropes and ladders. Special gear is required for spelunking. You wouldn’t think it, but overalls are great for spelunking since things can get pretty dirty down there. A helmet, headlamp and non-slip shoes are also advised. Climbing paraphernalia such as ropes, glow sticks, flashlights and GPS devices are good supplies to bring along for your journey.  Not saying this will happen, but just in case you do get lost or trapped, bring an abundance of food and water–just in case.

Experts also advise bringing a compass and a small first aid kit for any minor bruises you may get along the way. Other safety tips include constantly taking mental snapshots of where you’re coming from and where you’re going so you won’t get lost.

It is also recommended to go spelunking with experienced cavers since it’s easy to get lost or injured. It’s best to go with a small group of people, never alone. Many national and state parks such as Onondaga Cave State Park in Missouri and Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona offer spelunking.  A lot of parks don’t allow solo spelunking.

Dangers of cave touring include hypothermia, falling down, falling rocks and exhaustion.

For the advanced caver, vertical caving is sometimes practiced. Vertical caving is the means of using ropes to access portions of a cave due to large drops, oftentimes hundreds of feet. Vertical caves can be found in many southern states including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

When you do visit your respective cave, be sure to keep the area as unpolluted as possible. Don’t write or leave any markings on the cave walls. Don’t touch the formations because most are very fragile and easily breakable.

There is a caving motto, Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time,” which is good to heed.

If you’re interested in spelunking, contact your local state or national park to see if they offer any cave services. Enjoy!


Spotlight On: Caving at Missouri State Parks

Nestled along the Ozarks, Missouri is a state as diverse in its terrain as it is in its pronunciation. From the mountainous Ozark region and gently rolling hills to vast plains stretching across the Midwest, Missouri’s topographical diversity allows for some extraordinary recreational activities. While it was hard for us to choose just one of the great things to do while visiting Missouri State Parks, we have to say caving is somewhere on the top of our list. Brimming with mystery, history and natural beauty, the caves you’ll find throughout Missouri are like giant mouths beckoning us to come in and explore their cavernous interiors. While we highly recommend checking these caves out for yourselves (Pocket Ranger® can help you find a cave near you!) we can’t resist sharing our favorite Missouri caves and why we love them so much!

Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park

We like to think of Fisher Cave as Mother Nature’s mansion, offering room after room of geological wonders, that many of us have never seen before or will never see again. Even more fascinating are the animal tracks and claw marks so perfectly preserved in the cave’s interior as if to say, “we were here,” a message from the past wildlife to the cave’s present dwellers.

Cathedral Cave at Onondaga State Park

This cave’s name only hints at the intricate, mystical treasures that lie within. If you think flip-phones are old, wait until you see this ancient cave system that is said to be well over 400 million years old, an impressive age with equally impressive geological features. Naturalist-guided lantern tours are offered at Onondaga, so you can learn the geology and history behind the nooks and crannies of this natural wonder.

Graham Cave at Graham Cave State Park

In this modern age of technology where food can be zapped and put on the table in a matter of minutes, it is easy to forget about man’s humble beginnings as hunters and gatherers, rather than texters and tweeters. Graham Cave at Graham Cave State Park reminds us of these days of foraging, when hollow caves were more than just for exploring—they were homes. Travel through this cave system to retrace the footsteps mankind took tens of thousands of years ago, and uncover the mysteries of their days.