National Geographic : 1964 Jun
34 years of service with the National Broad casting Company.* As a young newspaper re porter, Miller had won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories of the vain attempt to rescue ardent cave explorer Floyd Collins, pinned down by a dislodged rock in nearby Sand Cave in February, 1925. Miller, a courageous newsman of slender build, had been one of the few to reach Col lins, carrying hot coffee and soup to the doomed man. Collins lived for two weeks, dying an estimated two to four days before a rescue shaft reached his body. The National Speleological Society team unraveled a whole network of new and for gotten passageways in Crystal Cave. Since then, the Cave Research Foundation has put in a decade of remarkable exploration and mapping in the Mammoth Cave area. In Au gust, 1961, climbers reached an aperture on the far wall of a deep shaft in Colossal Cave. It led to a half-mile tunnel that opened at last through an insignificant crack into known portions of Salts Cave. Within a year, Salts Cave again was linked to Crystal Cave by the discovery of a pair of passages. The giant underground system now totals 41 miles of mapped tubes and tunnels in the Flint and Joppa Ridges. The explorers have linked Crystal, Colossal, and Salts major caves by any standards-and very likely will fit this many-fingered system into the equally extensive Mammoth Cave in the ridge to the southwest. Drowned Boneyard Yields a Bonanza Today spelunkers go under water with Aqua-Lungs in caves that afford the special thrills of submarine exploration. Divers risk the siphons, or water-filled portions, seeking dry-cavern reaches beyond. Where sizable underground rivers reach the surface, as in Missouri and Florida, per manently flooded caves are common. In 1958, Stanley J. Olsen, vertebrate pale ontologist, organized a scuba attack on Wa kulla Springs Cave in Florida. Knowing that a complete mastodon skeleton had been found there 27 years earlier, Olsen sought a richer "strike" of fossil bones. In a deep cav ern, he hit a bonanza. As a result of many daring forays, Olsen's fine collections in the Florida Geological Survey Museum include bones and teeth of giant sloth, armadillo, ta pir, and other prehistoric mammals. In 1962, I headed for Wakulla with Stan Olsen and geologist William Reves. I lowered my camera gear in a floating rig that allowed 820 picture-taking through a submerged glass panel. "We're going to bring up one of those mastodon femurs," Olsen told me as Reves swam down to a couple of long, dark objects nearly as big as himself. They lay in front of the cave entrance, 75 feet below (pages 836-7). With a flip Olsen went under, and soon I watched the two men pry a bone loose from the silt, where it had lain for 10,000 years or more. Slowly they propelled their burden upward with rhythmic kicks of their flippers. Submarine Would Aid Fossil Harvest "The whole floor of the main 'cemetery' is littered with bones," said Olsen. "The great est concentration lies deep in the cave, about 500 feet from the entrance. The submerged cavern slopes downward, away from the doorway on the wall of the spring pool. It reaches a known level 250 feet below ground. "At that depth we use up half our air supply just to reach the bones. This gives little time to work. We need better gas mix tures to penetrate these extensive, drowned caverns. What would be really useful is a one-man submarine. Then we could carry more air tanks." Exactly how these prehistoric mammals came to their watery grave remains a mystery. Some scientists speculate that the beasts fell into the cave through a sinkhole, now plugged. Others believe that most of the tunnel may have been high and dry, and hence accessi ble, during a period of lower ocean levels. Whether in water or in the chill air of cramped passages, cavers remember the tragedy that resulted from Floyd Collins's risky practice of solo ventures underground. The cardinal rule of organized spelunkers today is: "Never go caving alone." They have learned also to heed the hazards of fatigue and poorly conceived cave diets. Though a dislodged rock trapped Floyd Collins, caves almost never collapse on ex plorers; the formations are remarkably stable. The dangers of spelunking lie in human neg ligence and in faulty equipment. Most serious hazard: loss of light. Major cause of injury and death: unsound rope. Nylon rope that will hold a ton is now standard for underground mountaineering. As for light, cautious cavers usually carry three sources: carbide head lamp, flashlight *William Burke Miller, one of the first two passengers to fly the Pacific in Pan American Airways' famed Clip pers, wrote of the epochal flight in "Flying the Pacific," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1936.