The annual Florida Cave Cavort was held this year near Webster FL, hosted by the Tampa Bay Area Grotto of the National Speleological Society. It ran from Friday through Sunday, March 5 – 7, and around a hundred people registered (the usual number). I attended on Saturday and Sunday, and was able to explore Jackpot and Blowing Hole Caves, both of which I had never been to before. Both are controlled by substantial gates made of angle iron steel, and are designed to keep vandals out yet encourage bats and other animals to enter and leave at will.
Vandals are a serious threat to cave resources, spraying enamel paint on walls and calcite formations alike, and the gates and locks keep 99% of them out. There are always a few vandals with special equipment that apparently delight in thwarting conservationists, so if you ever see someone trying to damage a cave gate, please make them aware that you intend to thwart them, and then promptly inform local authorities after obtaining license plate numbers, etc. Vandals also often kill the bats within, destroying common species and imperiled species alike.
Jackpot Cave has a tight entrance that leads to more tight passage, often forcing the caver to remove his helmet to pass restrictions. The portions of the cave that I saw on Saturday can be likened to a pit filled with boulders and cobbles, which the caver must slither amongst to get to the main part of the cave. My small group never did get to the latter, however, as there was a larger, slower group ahead of us that occupied the way onward. We therefore exited the cave without seeing it all. This cave was too gnarly to take my camera into.
Afterward we drove over to Holy Oak Cave, which is not gated and is considered a “sacrificial” cave, and is open to all. Surprisingly, there was less spray paint than in many gated caves I have visited, although names and initials carved into the rock are abundant. There were also three 4-inch diameter corings into the rock, possibly obtained by someone looking for rock samples to analyze? Holy Oak is a single, almost vertical passage perhaps 30 – 40 ft deep that does not require a rope or cable ladder to explore, really all you need is a flashlight. Rainwater has washed black, organic mud down into the cave over part of the rock wall, creating dozens of tiny dams on the rock that are encrusted with a white material, possibly calcite. The overall effect is that of lower lips sporting white, frosted lipstick. This photo gives you an idea of what they look like, and I’ll admit they are nowhere as spectacular as the white or colored calcite formations you surely have seen in National Geographic. The white object in the center of the photo is a mushroom or other type of fungal growth that evidently has hyphae growing within the mud. On the short hike to this cave, we spotted a rather large barred owl (Strix varia) in a longleaf pine, which watched us intently as we stared at it.
We spent a chilly night in the cow pasture cum campground. My tent was covered with frost when I arose in the morning, and Mike and Kitty’s truck camper was covered with breath-frost inside above their heads. Ordinarily at Cavorts, I hear the clanging of pots and pans about a half-hour after first light, but Sunday morning was silent until maybe after an additional half-hour or more. Brrr! I scrambled around, bouncing between fixing/eating breakfast and organizing a trip to Blowing Hole, and we finally drove off at 1030am. Our group included cavers from Jacksonville, Gainesville, Dunellon, Brooksville and somewhere south of Tampa Bay (I forget where Tom lives), a truly interFlorida group.
Blowing Cave is a maternity cave for little brown bats, Myotis austroriparius, although at this time of year there are but few bats present including LBBs and the tricolored bat, Perimyotis subflaveus. The entrance must be negotiated by rope or cable ladder, has a nasty, tight entrance section where you wish your long bones were a little shorter, but once past that spot it bells out and you have plenty of room to climb within. A few feet below the entrance, a nest formed of palm “socks” was nestled in a wall niche. I think it was that of an Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), but am not really sure.
From the entrance room, a short hands-and-knees passage takes you into the main passages, which are a spacious 8ft high by 8ft wide. There are a fair number of side passages, some similarly-sized and other smaller and less knee-friendly, but nothing really grim. Like Jackpot, there is no mud to slog through and no water to wade through – nice! Plus, there are numerous small calcite formations, nothing of magazine quality but admirable nonetheless.
I’ll end this post with a few pics of the formations and my friends, but not before pointing out that it was a real pleasure to go caving with this group of highly competent, nimble cavers and certainly not before thanking Robert, Tom and Lance for leading this trip.