One never forgets a first venture into the inner depths of the earth. Beneath the hills, trees, cornfields, and all the things we take for granted lies a dark, quiet, forbidding hidden world only a few have ever experienced. Quiet that makes your ears ache; darkness that is as black as black can be; and, solitude – a feeling that, yes, you are alone in an alien world.
I found my first cave, Wilson’s Cave, on a green topo map marked with a small “x” as though it were an invitation to the unknown. A week later, my group of three adventurers, sloshed their way up a small tributary of Little Creek in Southern Indiana, and we stopped, as we suddenly felt a change in temperature, humidity, and strangeness. Turning to our left, we saw it – an immense opening in the rock perhaps forty feet wide and a dozen tall. A small stream splashed out of that mouth and within the minute we started on an adventure with flashlights in hand and a complete lack of fear. The water deepened to just above our knees and in the distant dark depths, we could hear a muffled unmistakable sound of water falling and twenty minutes later our artificial lights revealed a fifteen foot cascade of tumbling water coming from a surface sinkhole with a touch of natural light. Off to our right was a dryer, smaller passage and we followed it to a narrow opening and we were glad to be back on the dry, firm, sunlit forest floor. Such was my first caving adventure.
Since then I have been in cavernous caves of unlimited proportions and on the other extreme – “wiggle on tummy” crevasses that led to nowhere. I couldn’t imagine doing that today as I can no longer fit and I have developed a claustrophobic fear of places that restrict movement and the ability to breathe freely and openly. Shivers accompany such restrictive thoughts!
Adjacent to our residential subdivision is one of those “bat out of hell” places – Yarbrough Cave. If you look to the right as you drive down our entrance Parkway, you will see a large hill – Collin’s Hill. On the west side of that hill behind the commercial developments of gas stations, restaurants, and a few warehouses lies a cave that has a unique opening, the most picturesque in Georgia.
It is not a large cave; it has no spectacular stalagmites; there is no running water emanating from its entrance: there are few, if any, fossils of prehistoric creatures; and, other than its arched entrance, it offers little to the caving enthusiast. But it is near and accessible. Commercial development is threatening its continued existence, yet it stays another season adding to its millions of years of sharing the underworld with our surface subsistence.
Yarbrough does have human history. On its walls are blackened soot from torches of earlier explorers, most notably, Confederate miners who removed layers of bat guano for the valuable saltpeter so necessary for the manufacture of gunpowder. There wasn’t a lot of mining activity due to the relative scarcity of bat dung and certainly not as much as in Kingston Cave a dozen miles to the south. More academically inclined spelunkers have found only one set of initials scrawled into the cave walls and only a few signs of mountain lion, bobcat, wild pigs, and murine inhabitants such as mice and rats. One can only wonder of who or what lived in or near this cave. Did Native Americans take shelter here? Did the extinct saber-toothed tiger raise her cubs in relative safety while prowling for deer in the surrounding forest? We may never know the secrets hidden in this cave.