Aug 12, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff WriterOn the north wall of Sinks Canyon, between the disappearance of the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River into the ground and it rise farther downstream, there's a cave.
A small gathering of children, parents and grandparents met at the Sinks Canyon State Park visitor center Saturday morning in anticipation of entering this wonder of the park.
The occasion was Kids Xtreme Caving, a day of special tours targeted for the younger generation. Park superintendent Darrel Trembly said this is the fourth of fifth summer for the organized tours.
The first of five excursions included a couple of families from Riverton, a Lander boy, and his grandparents from Fort Washakie.
Waiting in the parking lot to leave, Tommy McAdams, 7, of Lander, said he was excited to get inside, though he said he doesn't like darkness.
When asked if he had been in a cave before, he said, "I'll tell you one thing, no, I haven't."
Then, after thinking about it for a little while, he remembered that his grandparents had taken him to see a cave or two in South Dakota.
Ordinary from the outside
After hiking roughly 200 yards downhill, the group reached one of the many areas where the Popo Agie overflows during high water. This time of year, the spot looked like any other water-worn boulder field, but it was here that the cave was discovered in about 1990, Trembly said.
He and his daughter, Sarah Trembly, who led the tour, recounted how the discovery happened.
Two park employees were exploring in the area early in the high-flow season and happened to see water coming up through the rocks.
Later in the year after the water dropped, the employees did some exploring and found the cave.
"We went ahead and began to use the cave
as a resource," Trembly said.
On Saturday, the tours went in a littler farther than a quarter of a mile. Because of the tight schedule and the age of some of the attendees, not all known areas of the cave were explored.
To begin the trek, the spelunkers had to wriggle through the river boulders to reach the entrance.
The mouth of the cave is gated and locked when not in use. Over the years, Trembly said, it has been subject to vandalism. This year welding equipment had to be packed in to repair the gate after a break-in.
The first passage is narrow and forces cavers to all-fours. Belly crawling is not necessary.
"If you feel uncomfortable, join the club," Trembly told one family as he guided them through the rocks.
The cave is pitch black, and most everyone on the tour was equipped with a headlamp or flashlight. Helmets were supplied for the children.
Sarah Trembly pointed out the features of the cave. It's carved out of Madison limestone. The walls and ceiling are scalloped due to the rushing of the water.
She said the cave has a noticeable lack of stalactites and stalagmites, common drip formations in other caves, because nearly every year the passages of this cavern are flushed by the river.
After crawling, sliding on a rock slide (with the aide of a rope), and traipsing through mud, the tour reached the back of the cave.
Here, Sarah Trembly showed the group a spot where normally the river flows high, but there was no water Saturday. Everyone went to another room and sat, listening to the rushing sounds of the Popo Agie.
To the far left of the room, a long, safe distance away, the rushing river could be seen with a flashlight.
Sarah Trembly instructed the visitors to turn off their lights. When darkness closed in some of the children exclaimed for a moment, then there was silence.
Outside again, the smell of sagebrush greeted everyone at the surface. Knees and rear ends were stained dark with mud from crawling around.
Chloe Cross, 4, of Riverton, was celebrating her birthday with her family. It was her second time in the Sinks Canyon cave.
Mandi Belding, Chloe's mother, said that when they came last year at age 2, Chloe was the youngest one ever inside.
"I want to go again," Chloe said.
She also said she wasn't scared.
Robert Schiff, also of Riverton, enjoyed his second time in the cave. His favorite part was seeing the river.
Tommy said he enjoyed all of it, "except for the part where the light died."
His headlamp lost power during the ascent to the surface. But his grandmother shared her light with him, and he wasn't frightened.
People interested in exploring the cave need not wait until next year's Kids Xtreme Caving day. With about a week's notice, Trembly said, personal tours can be arranged.
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