Lewis and Clark Caverns

May 19-20, 2024.

lewis and clark caverns

Photo album

Caves

I was excited to explore a new cave. We arrived in the morning to secure a campsite and pick up tickets for a cave tour at Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana. Still feeling pretty run down from my latest illness, I was not excited about the hike *to* the cave. But, I survived the three quarters of a mile uphill to the opening, being the first to arrive. We enjoyed scenic views of the moody mountains, with threatening gray clouds slipping between the distant ridgelines.

Views on the way to the caverns

Our enthusiastic tour guide gave us a comprehensive history of the cave and its previous caretakers before heading inside. She casually slipped in several local references that went way over our heads. I wonder how many of the people in the tour group picked up on anything related to this remote area. Still, I enjoyed her charisma and extensive knowledge of all things related to the park.

We stepped inside the cave, staying to the back of the group. I looked in awe at the many cave formations. The tour guide’s description of the geology faded into the background, as I had seen these things before. But every cave is a little different. This one had a small cluster of bats clinging to the ceiling right new the entrance! In most parks I’d visited before, they close the cave passageways that contain bats. Not here!

Turquoise pool in the caverns

For the next hour or so, we wandered through room after room of new shapes, colors and features. At one point we had to slide down a passage on our butts. Other portions of the cave had staircases and other built features to allow people to travel through it safely. At the end of the tour, we had a straight, flat walk back to where we started. I calculated before today’s outing that I’d hit the 10,000 lifetime hiking miles mark, so we stopped for a quick photo op before finishing up. Ten THOUSAND miles. That feels like a lot. I was a little annoyed that I didn’t reach this milepost on some ridiculously epic adventure. But then I reminded myself that every opportunity to get outside and walk is a joy and a privilege, and why not cross off that goal in this stunning landscape after an interesting and educational tour?!

10,000 lifetime miles hiked.

By the time we returned to the visitor center, I was wiped. Luckily, there was a small cafe attached to the gift shop, where we dug into bison burgers, chicken fingers, fries and a local huckleberry soda.

Wildflowers

Against my better judgment, I decided to go on a second hike along the nature trail. It would be easy, of course, in my normal state. But my body was still pretty angry as it fought off whatever bug decided to ruin my trip. Knowing this would be my last chance to hike this trail before leaving, we went for it anyway.

The forecasted rain still hadn’t come, so we enjoyed a partly cloudy walk at a casual pace. Along the way, I found what I’d been looking for: fairybells, buttercup, shooting star, balsamroot and yellow corydalis, among other things. No bitterroot, but I knew that would be a long shot. No bears either, another long shot.

Yellow corydalis! A new one for me.

When I worked on my Hike366 project, I learned that every hike counts, no matter how long or short, fast or slow. This really helped me savor every step of today’s short and mellow hikes in the cave and on the nature trail. I’ve also come to learn in the past few years that the slower you walk, the more things you SEE! I’m enjoying my time spent learning about all the wildflowers and being able to identify them as I hike. Even when I’m in excellent help, this curiosity about the natural world ends up slowing me down. Why rush when you’re surrounded by so much cool stuff, anyways?

And then, art

Later that evening, I completed my first ink sketching class in a series of five. I also did my first practice sketch in a 30-day sketching challenge. It felt so good to be working in black and white, and I can already tell that I’m beginning a love affair with the ink brush. I’m so interested to see what I learn and where this new tool takes me.

Ink sketching, day 1

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