The Kiikaapoi, better known to me as Kickapoo, Indians descended from the Algonquian, brothers to the Shawnee. After being displaced by illegal immigrants from England and France, the tribe left Wisconsin, settling mostly in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico.
I know this because I looked the Kickapoo tribe after we got back from our mini-vacation over the 4th of July (http://ktik-nsn.gov/home.htm). We drove to Kickapoo Caverns State Park which is between Rocksprings and Bracketville over Christmas and saw that there was a guided cavern tour held most week-ends except that week-end since it was Christmas.
Bob and I returned on Saturday, July 6, calling early to reserve a place on the guided tour. The park ranger who put our names on the list told us that we must wear closed toe shoes and that we needed to bring 2 flashlights apiece into the cave. We got to the park an hour before the tour started and signed the liability release forms.
I didn’t think much about the release. Despite my pillow pet body shape, I’m relatively healthy. Synthroid is my only daily medication; blood pressure stays south of borderline. I don’t drink, smoke, or chew. Unfortunately, I’ve also stopped taking any type of exercise. A sporadic dog walk is my exercise regime. Since Murphey and I both are leisure walkers, there’s not much exertion.
I didn’t consider that a cause for alarm. Websites about the caverns said the trail is “moderately strenuous.” Huh. I’m pretty much immune to warnings. Cautionary text to limit liability burdens everything fun from rides at Schlitterbahn or Disney World to trails at Big Bend. The gathering of tour participants took place in front of the park headquarters. A retired prison bus was our taxi to the cavern, jostling us along rocky trails. There were a few potholes that could sever an axle. The mean age of riders was less than 30 since a church youth group skewed the average. My advanced age wasn’t enough to skew it past 32.
The way to the cavern entrance is a quarter-mile, boulder strewn 2:1 sloped path climbing to a 3′ x 6′ gape in the rocks. We took the climb at a quick pace and I could feel the burn. The outside temperature was in the mid 90’s. Once inside the cave, the temperature was in the 70’s, but sweat was pouring off my face.
The park rangers led us through the rubble of a cave collapse half a million years before. They pointed out cave features and answered questions. This wasn’t the first cave I’d been through, but the trails aren’t level and easy to navigate so there was plenty of time for us to look while the group collected periodically. Bob kept marvelling at what cave exploration must have been like years ago. Who would have been brave enough to take a torch and venture into that absolute darkness?
While I was looking for information about the Kickapoo Caverns, I ran across an article written by Jerry Atkinson about the early history of the UT Speleological Society and cave exploration by students in the early 1950’s: A log was stretched over the entrance and a pulley attached to it. Two ropes were rigged; a ¼” nylon rope to serve as a hoisting line and a 1/2” hemp rope as a safety. A team of several people lowered the two explorers hand-over-hand into the depths. Unfortunately, the hemp rope did not reach the bottom and Carroll was lowered the rest of the way on the ¼” nylon! Upon exiting, Carroll noted that the thin nylon rope “was like being on a rubber band!”
Our trip through was easier and less daring than the UT spelunkers in the 1950’s but my old self got pushed to the limits. When I started to lean against a boulder to catch my breath, my favorite ranger said, “Hold up!” and shown his bluelight special on a little scorpion.
There was a point in the climb out when I thought I’d end up living in that darn cave. I believe there might have been a point when the rangers considered whether they’d have to pack my bum out of there. It was hard work, but it was worth the effort. Would I do it again? I believe I would.