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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.

Completely within the caverns, we are far below ground, and dependent upon the artificial lighting provided by the Park Service.  Numbered stations begin to mark the path, for visitors who have rented the audio guides.

Though we have already come down quite a way, we have a long way down to go yet, as the switchbacks below only partially indicate.

The path straightens out a bit, at the end of the switchbacks; but will soon be traversing another deep grade.

A look down a very steep grade indeed. Jim White, and the other early explorers of the cave, were brave men.

The Whale's Mouth. Imagine seeing this, by the light of a dim lantern, having climbed down into a pitch black cave.

A look up the most recent series of switchbacks. It is 800 feet down, from the surface, to the main level of the cave.

An emergency phone, handrails, a paved path, and artificial lighting identify this as a developed cavern. Though these paths lead to the main level of the cavern, and to the Big Room, we have a ways to go yet.

The level portions continue, for a while. The path was built up to make it level, and some of the passages were blasted through piles of solid rubble.

A look down, at the last series of switchbacks, before the main level of the cavern is reached. These chambers are huge, and seemingly unending.

Like mushrooms growing on a fertile hillside, stalagmites seem to grow out of the rocks of the surrounding grades.

A vertical shot of this large chamber, giving an idea of it's immense proportions. The "small" formations, stalagmites to the right of the photo, are twenty to twenty five feet tall.

A look at the stalagmites, including the Witches Finger.  This is a wet, and dynamic cave, with structures being actively built, or "live" as geologists say. The cave walls are highly textured, and the ceilings and floors of the various cambers are well populated with stalactites, and stalagmites.

A look back up the trail. We are still heading down. Visible towards the top are the stalagmites shown in the photo above.

The path winds it's way around formations, ledges, and the natural curves of the chambers. It is, for the moment, not descending.

A single, green column seems to support an entire ceiling full of stalactites. The colors here are real, which is sometimes hard to believe. The park uses no colored lights.

More stalactites, as well as cave draperies, are visible looking down the path. We are, once again,   descending.

A look up at a fissure, and a dense collection of stalactites of various colors. The wall below the fissure, is textured with what is called cave popcorn.

The cavern chambers extend way past the paths. Off past the electric lighting can be seen the gloom of underground chambers where no path goes.

The relatively flat ceiling shows stalactites growing in lines, to mark the fissures through which water seeps into the caverns.

We are now, essentially, at the main level of the cavern, though we are not yet on the main path. Backlit maps guide the visitor.

A look back, shows that the path is only for travel down to the main level. The park does not wish to worry about visitors having heart attacks attempting to climb the 800 or so feet back up.

This sign tells us that we are now back in the big room, the main level to which the elevators transport most visitors.

Back to the Natural Entrance 1
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