Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Baker, NV, and Lehman Caves

I decided a while ago that I wanted to take the boys to some caves. I think that they are fascinating, and it’s a great learning opportunity (for everyone). Bub isn’t really keen on the whole cave thing, so she was less than excited when I brought it up. In fact, she said “go without me.” (She would regret that later.) So, while the boys had spring break, I decided to take a couple of days off of work and go to Lehman Caves.

When I was nine or ten, we took a trip to California and Disneyland with our neighbors. We were making a stop in Oakhurst, CA, too. Since we lived in central Utah, it was almost a straight shot to Oakhurst if we just cut across the desert, so we headed first to Delta and then on to Baker. We stopped to see the cave before we went on to Tonapah and then to Oakhurst. It was a long trip – all driving. Back then, it wasn’t illegal for people to ride in the bed of a truck, so five of us kids were in the back of a Datsun pickup with a shell. It’s a good thing that we were all great friends and had grown up together!

That was my first cave. I have been enthralled ever since. Unfortunately, I don’t find many people who share my excitement…. The ex? Nope. The wifey? Oh, hell no. (A cave is not the place where claustrophobic people want to be.) And, there just aren’t many around. We have an AWESOME one in Utah, but it’s a steep hike (and nobody ever wants to hike with me, either).

[Incidentally, I’m not as codependent and pathetic as it sounds like I am. I’m perfectly capable of caving and hiking all by myself, but I would rather spend time with the people that I love than off wandering around by myself. My running time is my alone time.]

So, where was I going with that?

Anyway, as the time drew nearer, I started planning and packing, and Bub was surprised. She really didn’t think that I would do it. She wasn’t very happy. So, I told her to come, but then she couldn’t because she had just started a new job. She was not happy, but we went. I determined that we could sleep in the Honda and spend almost nothing for food. The only expense would be gas. We were off.
You really have to be the right kind of person to see the beauty in the Great Basin desert. It’s not the red rocks of southern Utah. It’s not the dunes of Africa. If you don’t have the right view, it looks gray and empty and void of, well, anything. I think it’s wonderful, but even I started to get tired of it on this drive. That may have had something to do with the fact that the boys were fighting in the back seat for almost the entire drive.

Finally, we arrived in Baker. To be generous, it’s quiet and sparse and interesting. If I’m not being generous, it’s a bunch of trailer houses, pre-fabs, a couple of actual houses, and scrub brush with a post office and a sort-of gas station.

There is no pay phone. There is no cell service. And, the wind was so crummy that there were no people outside. We passed another car while we were checking out the main drag (which was about three blocks long). I had to stop at the post office to try to find a pay phone. That’s when I learned that there wasn’t one. However, the postal lady had a great hint: Drive north for about a mile and a half. Then, turn right on this cut-off road. After passing one cattle guard, there would be service sometime before the next cattle guard. Drive slowly. So, here I am, driving two mph with my hand in the air…. We did manage to call Bub and let her know that we had arrived safely.

We checked out what promised to be some really cool Native American ruins right in the middle of nothing. Sadly, someone broke the promise. It wasn’t that great. It probably would have been better if I could have stuck around and read all of the information signs, but it was COLD and, well, I was with two 5-year olds. There is no “sticking around” when this crew yet. Maybe in a few years.

Having seen the entire town in a matter of two minutes and having checked out the archaeological dig over the course of four minutes and finding the only cell service around (which took more like 15 minutes), we were out of things to do! I had hoped to take the boys for some hot cocoa at the local café, but it’s only open sometimes, and this wasn’t one of them. So, we went to the local school and played on the playground for a while even though we were freezing.

After we were sufficiently iced over, I talked the boys into finding a camping spot and having dinner. There are two nice campground areas with about ten sites each. Considering the location and the weather, they certainly weren’t swamped, but we did have a few neighbors. I believe that even on a popular weekend, the sites are spaced far enough apart that campers wouldn’t bother one another. After dinner (where we got rained AND snowed on), we gave it up and got ready for bed where we would at least be warm. Maybe not tired, but warm.

So, I laid the back seat down and arranged the sleeping bags and pillows. Quite cozy. We donned our PJs and hit the outhouse. Then, we snuggled into bed – me in the middle with a boy on each side. It was at this moment that I realized that our little mini-SUV wasn’t going to be long enough. Yup – my brilliant plan was perfect for someone 4-feet tall (the boys), but about 2-feet too short for an average adult. Son of a….. Needless to say, I spent the weekend sleeping in the fetal position and was never comfortable. (The boys are ready to do it again, but not mommy!)

The next morning, I awoke and started heating up some water for hot cocoa and oatmeal. We managed to warm our clothes by snuggling with them and then dressing inside the sleeping bags. We ate breakfast in the car and rearranged everything so that the seat could be lifted back up and the kids seats put back in. Then, it was off to the cave!

We arrived with about 90 minutes to waste until the next tour. The park rangers gave us some kids workbooks to complete. We toured an old cabin, hiked an easy trail, learned about the flora and fauna of the area as well as the history. It was a really cool activity book, and kept us busy until the last minute. FINALLY it was time to go in the cave.

The boys were amazed from the beginning, and we were only in the tunnel leading to the cave – not the actual cave itself. Once we got inside, they were very well behaved and very funny. They were super careful to not touch any of the formations or cave walls as both I and the tour guide had explained how our natural skin oils damage the cave environment. They asked good questions and participated in the conversations to the best of their abilities. (We learned that the stalagmites grow up from the ground and become mighty tall, and that stalactites grow from the ceiling and hang on tightly. Get it? Pretty clever. We also learned about cave bacon, draperies, and popcorn!)

It was sad to see some of the vandalism that had happened 60 or 70 years ago – well before the cave was a state park and long before scientists understood the damaging impact that humans could have on the cave. So, the vandalism happened forever ago, and while it was a bit depressing, it was still fun to take a couple of minutes to try and find my great-Uncle Frank’s and great-Uncle Auer’s names on the wall. We never did find them.

It was also very interesting to learn that a really bad B-movie had been filmed in the cave! Something about a Mars exploration. I guess in the 50s – knowing almost nothing about the true surface of Mars – the interior of this cave could be seen as a landscape from another planet. At the time that the movie was filmed, the “great room” was half full of water due to a very wet spring, so they filmed some raft scenes. Hahaha! Now we know that there is NO water on Mars. Raft scenes. Hysterical!

Well, after the tour, the boys got their picture taken with Ranger Peter, and then it was time to certify as a Junior Ranger.
I had no idea that there was even such a program, but since they finished the hike and the activity book and the cave tour, they were eligible for such an honor. The “presiding” ranger had them raise their right hands and even take an oath. It was a very serious occasion, and the boys were so proud of themselves.

Well, with all of this excitement over with before 1pm, what’s a family to do when they have technically done ALL there is to do in town? Well, the family high-tails it outta’ there! We headed towards home after just one night and through a driving rainstorm.
We didn’t make it all the way home, though. Instead, we decided to visit the Little Sahara sand dunes for the first time.

Easter weekend is by far the CRAZIEST time to go to the sand dunes, but we were hitting it two days after Easter when most people would be back at work. It was wonderful. There were some lingering ATVs, but not enough to be a nuisance or a hazard. We found a site, got out our toys, and played in the sand all afternoon and evening.
It was really fun to just let the boys get as dirty and grimy as they wanted. Cell service – an added bonus! (The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was the fact that I had to pay $18 for one night. I totally understand that when you’re bringing in campers and trailers and toy haulers full of ATVs, but we were a mini-SUV staying for a single night. Harumph! Oh well.)

I was very happy to wake the next morning and get OUT of the sleeping-quarters-for-midgets. My body was tired and achy from being so cramped up. The boys slept in for a while, so I got some reading time with just the sunrise and the birds.
After breakfast, we packed up and finished the trip home. Bub was super happy to see us, and us her.

I can’t wait to take the boys to Timpanogos (Utah) and Minnetonka (Idaho) caves!

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