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Watkins Cave
Green County, MO
24Nov07
Cavers: Jim Cooley, Craig Hines, Seth Alley, Wayne Fitzner, DJ Hall, Justace Clutter, Marcelo Kramer from Natal Brazil, Ben Clutter and Tommy.
Trip Report by DJ Hall.
(pictures)

After a hearty breakfast at the Creemer Cabin south of Walnut Grove, MO we packed up our gear and proceeded south about 10 miles to the Bois D`Arc Conservation Area in Greene County Missouri. Crystals of frozen water tapped a random dance on our vehicles as we geared up into our wet, muddy, frozen gear from the day before. The low gray clouds gently drifted across the morning sky, exhaling itís chilling breath upon of damp bodies. Quickly, we sought the warmth of Watkinís Cave delayed a few minutes by the task of unlocking the massive protective gate.
The steep stair step decent into the cave was a mixture of formed steps leading to craggy rocks soon enveloped in darkness. The entrance room was somewhat expansive due to several large side passages begging our curiosity. We naturally dispersed into these passages which all seemed to loop around somewhat back together again. The cave entrance was a bit south of what would be considered the geographical center of the cave. We spent a consider amount of time exploring the various formations including large flow stones, fossils forever captured in the cave walls and moderate sized columns along edges of sparkling bacteria covered rafters.
The cave once served as a speakeasy during prohibition. A speakeasy was an establishment that was generally used for selling and drinking alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. The term comes from a patron`s manner of ordering alcohol without raising suspicion ó a bartender would tell a patron to be quiet and "speak easy". Watkins Cave would probably be more aptly referred to in the time as a blind pig. We discussed and joked about how it must have been like to live in that experience.
Marcelo, the curious cave biologist that he is, began exploring along the bottom of a very wet cave wall haphazardly strewn with large rocks. He carefully moved each rock inspecting underneath for signs of life. As he lifted the third rock, an orange spotted salamander about 5 inches in length scurried out and ducked behind a neighboring rock. Marcelo coaxed it out from behind the comfort of itís hiding place and I snapped off several close shots while it patiently waited for me to move on. Everyone took turns getting a close look at its wet sliminess, carefully trying to avoid various slugs and snails living on the wet rocks in the middle of the passage.
The next portion of the cave was the southern most loop, which contained a very tight crawl. This crawl was about as tight a space that I would ever want to squeeze through, and I properly stored away the memory for future reference. The map indicated there was a pool in the vicinity, however I was unable to spot any water, let alone bikini clad bathers. As I wiggled out of the loop, I caught sight of another orange spotted salamander. He seemed less inclined to garnish my attention and quickly scampered into a hole which proved to be too small for itís long slender body. His head and tail stuck out in an amusing, contorted fashion; dark bulging eyes watched my every move. I recorded his silliness on my digital camera and found a comfortable resting place to refresh myself with water and tasty beef jerky. At this moment I discovered in my hurried preparations, I failed to pack my jerky, so I mooched some off of Seth.
During this comfortable break, we all turned off our lights while Justace regaled us with the science of how bacteria manages to grow in the low intensity, invisible light of the cave. There was some other discussion of little consequence during our sojourn, after which we discussed our next move.
We slid down a steep muddy slide and past the entrance of the cave into the northern passages. A side passage split into two steep climbs, dead ending after 30 or forty feet. One of these upper side passages contained a small natural bridge. Both of them were quite near the surface, as the air was very warm. Climbing back down the side passage, we stooped through a colorful passage which opened up into a cavern about 20 feet high. Centered on the north side of the cavern was a beautiful column extending from a 5í foot ledge all the way up to the apex of the ceiling. It was magnificent and measured about 10 inches around and at least 15 feet tall. I had to turn my camera sideways to get a full shot. Another cavern existed to the right of the column and to the left a natural bridge offered a choice of climbing over or under to gain access to the properly named Octopus Room. Either way proved to be a small challenge.
The Octopus room had eight side passages leading out in all directions. All but one of the tentacles dead ended. This passage narrowed quickly to an extremely wet and muddy tunnel and I waited for Seth to explore further before proceeding. He soon emerged stating that the passage did not end, but there was a very tight water crawl to the next cavern shown on the map. I gave it further inspection and observed about 6 inches of water overtop 12 inches mud with about 5 inches of air to the ceiling. I had no desire to get soaking wet, especially considering the temperature of the outside air and the trek back to our vehicles. I opted out and returned to the Octopus room.
Craig Hines ventured the same passage, perhaps wanting to deduce for himself the logic of my decision to turn back. Having had a somewhat enlightening experience some months ago getting stuck for nearly twenty minutes, he was quite reluctant to push through, although he did get himself completely drenched from head to toe in the process of his analysis.
We hung around for a bit longer, and then made our way back towards the column cavern for a group photo next to the tall column. The climb out was uneventful, except for the chilling midday air prickling our skin as we changed into clean, warm clothes.