Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Cave of the Mounds

The home school group organized a trip to Cave of the Mounds, a beautiful surprise in a small gravel pit on a farm in SW Wisconsin. The owners dynamited a new section in 1939, found the cave, were going to wait three days until the dust settled to explore, and couldn't stand the suspense; they went in three hours later and were just delighted.

#2 son is on Spring Break from his school, so he came along. To head off Fussing Sister Syndrome, #3 daughter went in the other group, with another mom who knows her. #2 Son has read about caves and knows all the $40 words: speleology, flowstone, aquifer, etc. He gave half of the tour guide's spiel for her. This would have driven his sister crazy; the guide didn't mind at all. I did make him lower his hand a number of times, to let somebody else get a word in edgewise. A very enthusiastic group: lots of little boys in our party. Little boys notice everything and announce it to the world; little girls tend to notice things quietly, except for 4 year old Elsa who oohed and clapped her hands and told her longsuffering 13 year old brother about everything she saw, twice.

Our guide was the most knowledgeable I've heard in the cave; this is my 7th or 8th trip there, and I learned a lot of new details. She brought a strobe light and showed us phosphorescence in some features. She deftly fielded all the kid's questions and didn't mind repeating herself. Ask for Allison if you go to the cave this summer.

A creek runs through the property above the cave, and the snow hasn't melted in the shadow of the footbridge. So I looked over the bridge to see water burbling rapidly at the bottom of a miniature snow crevasse. Springtime is drip season inside the cave, and we could hear the water running in the underground stream below us. In the summer I never heard it. The pools on the upper levels were still, except for drips, which was a blessing, because you can't see some of the domes clearly if you look up, but you can see the reflections in the pool.

Cave Broccoli: a black formation that looks more like round bunches of coral hanging down, forms in pools. The water level in the pool had been lowered with a pump, so you could see the "broccoli" more clearly. I finally found out that the dark purple we'd seen in Jewel Cave, SD Badlands, was due to manganese mixed with the calcite. Here, what looked like a row of purply-brown heiroglyphics were actually streaks of manganese.

Went to Beautiful Downtown Mt. Horeb, WI for lunch at an old diner, and to count trolls on the Main St. "Trollway." Mt. Horeb boasts a Mustard Museum, nicely rehabbed 19th C. storefronts, and an assortment of wooden trolls on posts in front of various businesses. One in a wooden bathtub, one with a cat at his feet, licking up ice cream that dripped off his sundae; an old lady troll with an umbrella, a mayor troll with the key to the city. I missed the Richard Nixon troll. He used to stand in front of an antique shop.

Kids have little experience of slow food. I told them we were NOT going to McWhatnots today. So daughter and I had burgers, but real beef cooked to order, not preassembled in New Jersey; and Luke had a BLT and I had a bowl of the best chicken dumpling soup ever. A real homemade cannonball dumpling: solid, heavy, sticks to you. Washed it down with a chocolate Phosphate (for the uninitiated, a phosphate is soda water plus syrup, like an ice cream soda minus the ice cream). Had to explain to #2 son what the check was, and why I left a tip, and how to figure it. Daughter has been to some real restaurants already, but hadn't paid attention to that detail before.

One last stop on this expedition: UW Geology Museum. Picked up lone copy of self-guided tour, did the rounds, and then let kids have a turn with the self-guided tourbook to review the parts they liked. The shark fossil--shark vertebral disks plus remains of what the shark had for dinner--is my favorite. I fail to see how they can assert that one set of bones belong to a baby mosasaur; all I can see is something that looks like a fossilized cornish hen thighbone. Son liked the fossilized crab, all in once piece; I don't know how they chiseled that out of the rock without breaking the claws. Truly horrendous facial bones of an early armored fish. Amethyst geodes I'd love to take home.

Came home just before a howling thunderstorm, with a tornado warning over Waunakee. Told son a dozen times or so that cell clouds were passing to the north of us, but he was perfectly welcome to go roost in the basement a while.

#2 Daughter is in Myrtle Beach with youth group, where they had tornado warnings on Easter. She called yesterday to tell us she'd spent more time in the laundromat than on the beach (they're camping, somebody didn't set up the tents and tarps right). Today heard from husband of one of chaperones that daughter had taken his wife out for a six mile hike along the beach, so she must have made up for rainy days today.

mrs james

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