Monday March 25, 2019
Home Indian Diaspora Blanchard Spr...

Blanchard Springs Caverns: Wonder story in Arkansas, USA

0
//

By Dr. Priya Mendiratta

What we don’t see still exists, perhaps despite the 7 billion population, many undiscovered treasures are still out there just on this planet.

Listening to Neil Tyson, my favorite astrophysicist, if the entire Universe’s age was compressed into one calendar year, the life of documented human race would just be a second.

Recently we visited Blanchard Springs caverns: these are one of Arkansas State’s treasures and most unusual underground caves located in the Ozark National Forest in Stone County in Northern Arkansas USA, located a short distance from Mountain Home. They are believed to have been formed, and continually changed, by an ongoing mountain spring that pours into a glassy-surfaced trout pond below the cave, called Mirror Lake.

Previously we had been here for a summer trip and it had taken over three hours to explore the entire cavern but the underground portion is closed during winters, so as not to disturb the 400,000 bats that are hibernating deep underground.

We were taken by elevator down to bowels of earth 21, stories below or approximately at a depth of 216 feet down under though at some places the cavern is 250 feet deep.

The cave was first perhaps discovered by Native Americans, and a body was discovered few decades ago around 1955, which was carbon dated and found to be 1100 years old, though not clear as to how without any flashlight someone ventured this far centuries ago.

This cavern was discovered by teenagers 14 and 16-year-olds, who took some long exposure photographs in the area they were hiking and were really not sure what they stumbled upon with just a flashlight, but on developing them they were shocked to see the surroundings and accidentally discovered it.

The locals knew about it as early as 1955, when it was called the half mile caves. The state tourism took another 8 years from when they were actually discovered and opened to the public in 1973 after making it safe for public viewing, lighting it up, making safe access and elevators to reach a depth of 200 feet.

A Czechoslovakian, opera house worker was hired especially and did an amazing job of lighting the cave, to give it the current stupendous appearance.

Some 50 million years ago water passed through limestone and collapsed the ceilings to form caverns, but current cavern was formed some 100,000 years ago and has been preserved intact essentially.

It is estimated that surrounding Ozarks may have up to 10,000 such caverns waiting to be discovered.

We took the shortest 1-hour tour available called the drip tour and entered a site called “the cathedral site” and was one of the most spectacular sites that only a personal experience can define better.

It appeared to be a scene akin to Indiana Jones movie “The raiders of the lost Ark”.

There was beauty, awe and a sense of spirituality evoked at the marvelous treasures.

It was like one was surrounded by many Shiv linga( Hindu God Shiva’s formation in a cylindrical form worshipped in Hindu Temples as a symbol of generative power) in different sizes  glowing an amazing red, grey or white depending on the underlying mineral.

The iron oxide gave a red hue, manganese grey ones and white were calcite.

Calcite is a common constituent of sedimentary rocks, limestone, in particular, much of it is either precipitated or dissolved by ground water, it is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)

Calcite deposits over 100 years and it grows a cubic inch, primarily by water dripping through caverns causes the calcite to continue growing.

The stalactites (grow from the top) the ceiling formations – grow long enough to connect with stalagmites (formation on the floor), they join to form columns.

The cave temperature year around is at 58-degree f and is100 percent humid. To reach the lower level there are some 700 steps and in the summer, this discovery trail takes 2-3 hours to explore.

A white-nose bats disease has killed or made bats extinct in many other caves globally, which is actually a fungus that prevents them from hibernating so they leave caves in winters only to freeze to death or die of hunger and fall off the sky out of sheer exhaustion, some may consider that a supernatural phenomenon in some parts of the World.

The forests around have been thinned some by conservation officials to decrease the fungus spreading in bats, and to help them survive by opening the canopy, and have been successful in this area in keeping them alive.

The only organism that grows in caves is Salamander, an amphibian that exists on bat drippings or bat poop or guano.

It is rumored that manganese is formed around a microorganism and presence on Mars of manganese might mean a sign of some life.

Interestingly the bats are sort of potty trained and poop in the same  exact place or entire bat family does that for generations resulting in  big bat black poop mountains in the cave called guano.

The guano or bat poop is used to make fertilizer as are rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, even to make gun powderBat guano from the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky was used to make saltpetre, of the three key ingredients of black gunpowder, up until WWII and rumored ladies that it is used in cosmetics including mascara though lately all cosmetic companies have announced that to be false, saying that it is made from guanine which is obtained from fish gut.

Some formations look like a battleship, some like the opera house balcony, some resemble Indian Shiv Lingas, and some is left to your imagination.

The acid in hands can destroy the calcite growth making it loose the ability to grow, making it dry and chalky, so touching is forbidden, and tour guide does not let anyone step away from the path created to preserve the beauty of the cave. Also, a dry spell or drought can cause the lack of dripping and formations.

I wondered if the place was safe during a nuclear attack though cavern can house up to 29,000 people, the water and air would bring the nuclear effects into this depth even, in under a day.

The depth is surprisingly protected from earthquakes, though has an earthquake meter installed in ceilings and though several in the area, have caused destruction on the surface but none at the depth for centuries.

During summer, the tour guide takes for longer, 6-hour tours called the wild cave tours for some groups who are in good physical health through dark caves and one has to crawl through them to see more inner depths than was visible. Aaron Christopher was our wonderful guide through the trip.

It is true sometimes some such experiences are priceless, not found in books, but meant to just be felt and experienced with our senses, and continue to add on to our entire experience on earth.

Priya Mendiratta is a physician, an associate professor in geriatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical sciences at Little Rock Arkansas, USA.

Next Story

Siberian Caves Provide New Insight Into Mysterious Extinct Human Species

New fossils would be especially welcome, as we know almost nothing about the physical appearance of Denisovans, aside from them having rather chunky teeth.

0
Siberia
The entrance to Denisova Cave, which contains evidence of previous habitation by extinct human species, in the Anui River valley in the Altai mountains of Siberia, Russia, is shown in this image released on Jan. 30, 2019. VOA

Scientists using sophisticated techniques to determine the age of bone fragments, teeth and artifacts unearthed in a Siberian cave have provided new insight into a mysterious extinct human species that may have been more advanced than previously known.

Research published Wednesday shed light on the species called Denisovans, known only from scrappy remains from Denisova Cave in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Russia.

While still enigmatic, they left a genetic mark on our species, Homo sapiens, particularly among indigenous populations in Papua New Guinea and Australia that retain a small but significant percentage of Denisovan DNA, evidence of past interbreeding between the species.

Fossils and DNA traces demonstrated Denisovans were present in the cave from at least 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, and Neanderthals, a closely related extinct human species, were present there between 200,000 and 80,000 years ago, the new research found. Stone tools indicated one or both species may have occupied the cave starting 300,000 years ago.

Fossil
Bone points and pierced teeth, sampled for radiocarbon dating from the early Upper Paleolithic layers of Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia, are shown in this photo provided Jan. 30, 2019. VOA

Scientists last year described a Denisova Cave bone fragment of a girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and father a Denisovan, evidence of interbreeding. The girl, nicknamed “Denny,” lived around 100,000 years ago, the new research showed.

Pendants made of animal teeth and bone points from the cave were determined to be between 43,000 and 49,000 years old. They may have been crafted by Denisovans, suggesting a degree of intellectual sophistication.

“Traditionally these objects are associated in Western Europe with the expansion of our species, and are seen as hallmarks of behavioral modernity, but in this case Denisovans may be their authors,” said archaeological scientist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

Our species arose in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago, later spreading worldwide. There is no evidence Homo sapiens had reached Denisova Cave when these objects were made.

Denisovans are known only from three teeth and one finger bone.

Also Read: U.S. Sponsored Event Promoting Fossil Fuels Disrupted by Protesters

“New fossils would be especially welcome, as we know almost nothing about the physical appearance of Denisovans, aside from them having rather chunky teeth,” said geochronologist Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong in Australia.

“Their DNA in modern Australian Aboriginal and New Guinean people tantalizingly suggests they may have been quite widespread in Asia, and possibly even southeast Asia, but we need to find some hard evidence of their presence in these regions to flesh out the full story of the Denisovans,” added University of Wollongong geochronologist Richard “Bert” Roberts.

The research was published in the journal Nature. (VOA)