Let me frame my recent experience in Natural Bridge Caverns using an analogy.
Do you ever wonder why birders do what they do? Sure, most people would agree that birds are cool and interesting to see (especially from the convenience of one's own home office)...
|A mourning dove squab, newly liberated from the nest and still perplexed about his surroundings, recently overnighted on the rim of our bird bath. Not the most conservative survival strategy, but he was a newbie who didn't know any better.|
|For some, birding becomes a primary lifestyle driver, a fact that is not lost on the retailers and municipalities that pursue a share of their collective disposable income. |
Advertisement screengrabbed from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. What this has to do with Natural Bridge Caverns will become apparent in a minute.
But there's another less-oft cited reason: They do it as a mild form of healthy dissociation.
|Healthy dissociation is so poorly understood by laypeople that I couldn't even find a satisfying URL to describe it, so I had to screengrab from this Google book source.|
Some folks might instead declare this component to be selective attention, which is a more benign-sounding idea. But I can't tell you how many times I've marveled at a birder who was able to deftly dissociate from his or her physical surroundings, which objectively should have been quite distressing at the time, so that they could instead focus solely on the species in front of them. They didn't register the ankle-deep car-thrown trash including animal carcasses, urine bags, and discarded hypodermic needles on the shoulder of the road as they were stalking their feathery quarry. They saw only the beauty before them. The birds were their psychic relief valve, of sorts.
The "bridge" at Natural Bridge Caverns may be natural, but being almost two hundred feet underground in a confined space with a hundred other people is not a natural experience and, if not approached from an optimal headspace, can be extremely stressful.
|The mantra is always "get there early", but due to family schedules, we were forced to get there mid-afternoon on the Saturday of the last full summer weekend before school started. We could scarcely have picked a worse time. To say the place was mobbed would be the understatement of the century. It looked like a Katrina evacuation center - people were exhausted and stressed to the max.|
|The more intimate tours were already sold out and so we had to see it via the "Discovery Tour", which is basically a controlled open-access cattle-call. Notice how the webpage describes it as "Departs every 40 minutes, or sooner throughout the day". When we got there, they were mobilizing huge crowds of people in a continuous flow. I guess there's no need for fire regulations and associated capacity limitations underground, given that the relative humidity is 100% and there are few combustibles present.|
|Ceiling shot. No people up there, thankfully.|
|Cave features are often given names so that visitors can mentally integrate them into existing conceptual frameworks. My teenager said, "That doesn't look like a tower - it looks like a swarm of jellyfish."|
|Raindrops were falling on my head as I zoomed in for this eerie close-up of a particularly wet and active formation.|
And oh - Natural Bridge Caverns really are worth seeing under any conditions of stress. I wasn't sure they would be, because I'm a cave snob. I've hiked miles and miles of Mammoth. I spent a few years in the Show-Me State during graduate school, and it's hard for me to imagine anything topping a few of its offerings, especially Onondaga. But I thoroughly enjoyed Natural Bridge, despite having seen it on what must have been the craziest day of the year.
|Focus on nothing but the up-side.|