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The Natural Entrance
     This is the original entrance, and is the way that the early visitors saw the caverns below. Visitors hike down a series of switchbacks, until they reach the 800 foot level below, at which time the trail joins the paths in the Big Room. Exit is made through the same elevators that take everyone up from the main part of the cavern.

This is the amphitheater, and the natural entrance. The amphitheater was built so that visitors could watch the nightly bat flights, and the early morning returns.

A series of paved switchbacks starts us on our way, before we even get to the cave entrance.

This is the cave entrance itself. Within this very large cave, is the entrance to all of the caverns below. There is a sizable bat colony living just off from the natural entrance, and a large colony of swallows, living inside of this cave.

A closer look, at the very large mouth of the cave. Large numbers of swallows live in this cave, and rule the area during the day, just as the bats appear to rule it at dawn and dusk.

Looking down into the cave, and at the mouth of the cavern entrance. A series of switchbacks gets the visitor down, more easily, and in more comfort than the original scramble down the cave. It is also a great advance over the guano buckets which took down early visitors.

A look at the turns of the switchbacks, and the walls of the cave above. The exposure, on this photo make it appear to be lighter than it is. In truth, the bottom levels of the cave are in pretty deep shadow.

A look up at the daylight, outside of the cave, from about halfway down.

A look at the cavern mouth, from a bit over halfway down. Some guide rails are visible, reflecting the light from above. The steep slope down, does not end at the cavern entrance. It will still be a long way down. The blurry figures in the air, are not bats. They are swallows, which are hunting insects. The bats will sleep until dusk.

A look up, from the halfway point. A couple of fellow hikers help to  give scale to the cave.

A look down, from the mouth of the cavern. Some trails are visible, leaving the daylight, and meandering into the artificial light of the caverns.

A look out into the cave, from just inside the cavern entrance. The change in perspective is interesting. Having seemed to be a dark and shadowy place, the cave now gives the impression of a bright airiness.

At the mouth of the cavern, looking down at the path below. There will still be several switch backs, before we are on the path in the photo.

Past the cavern entrance, the path veers to the left, and heads off towards the bat cave. Entrance to the bat cave is forbidden, and the path does not go there.  This is just as well, for most visitors. Even for those who do not fear bats, the bat cave has a forty foot deep deposit of bat guano.

The path turns here. Continuing on would take the visitor to the bat cave. Anywhere from tens of thousands, to millions of bats might be living in this cave, at any given time. There is a very strong odor to this part of the cave, which leaves no doubt about the large numbers of animals, or the large amount of droppings present.

A look up at the cavern entrance, from the path below. A bit of the upper pathway may be seen towards the middle of the photo.

A look up, and off towards the bat cave. There is still some daylight here; but it is at a very low level. Soon it will be gone. Note that at this level of the cavern, the artificial light seems as bright, though of a different hue, as that cast by the sun.

We have come down a number of levels of switchbacks, and are now a couple of hundred feet below ground. There is no longer any natural light here, and without the electric lighting, we would be plunged into complete blackness.

A pair of columns, set within a small pool of water, welcome us to the underworld. This is The Devil's Spring.

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