A Better Knowledge Of Nature……..#186 (80’s)

Wichita Zoo Rainforest

Wichita Zoo Rainforest

The conclusion of the school year finding it was adventure time for the Grade School students, the first and second graders boarding the bus for a 90 mile journey to the Wichita Zoo.  The exhibits totally  over 2500 species including the usual suspects,  lions,  elephants, the menagerie of wilderness and the relatively new children’s petting zoo consisting of mostly farm animals.   A glass enclosed chimpanzee domain and a magnificent indoor rainforest with waterfalls and tropical unhindered birds an impressive focal point for the students as well as the bus driver.   Gary in the past having experienced the Oklahoma City Zoo on numerous occasions,  finding its size prohibitive,  taking hours to tour, finding the Sedgwick County Zoo  more compatible,  able to traverse its accomplishments in a more compendious time.  Mrs. Hill, Thompson, Albright and Feasters students displaying their best behavior, Gary having volunteered to accompany the group as a rear guard to assure that no stragglers were left behind, discovering the real joy was the expressions on the Kid’s face.

Marcia Cantrell and Vick Golliher

Marcia Cantrell and Vick Golliher

Crossing the legendary Cimarron River

Crossing the legendary Cimarron River

Mrs. Cantrell and  Mrs. Golliher third grade class was ready,  their voices echoing their excitement,  having waited all year for their class activity,  a trip to the Alabaster Caverns,  6 miles south of Freedom Oklahoma.  Gary  having position the bus on the west side of the gym, watching the exuberant class board for the 60 mile journey, the students yet to realize the magnitude of their adventure.  It had been over ten years since Gary had acquainted Freedom and the Cavern and was still awestruck when crossing the Cimarron River.  He never mentioned to anyone that he and fellow band member Jerry Willis had attempted to fish adjacent to the bridge crossing only to discover later what the locals knew, there were no fish because of contamination from sulphate and chloride mining upstream.  Arriving at the Alabaster Caverns State Park, the bus driver was well aware of its history,  An Englishman,  Bob Grass recognizing its significance buying the property in 1939, it being one of just three venues in the world where black veins of alabaster are found and the Oklahoma location being the largest cavern,  the other two localities were in Italy and China.   The State of Oklahoma purchasing the 200 acres in 1953,  the property being used as a nuclear fallout and emergency supply storage shelter.  In 1956  it was designated a state park and opened to the public.

The Visitors Center

The Visitors Center

Filing into the abyss.

Filing into the cavern abyss.

The students having been introduced to a uniform state park guide in the visitors center giving a presentation,  the lady annotating  the exhibits of the various types of gypsum mineral and the caverns Oklahoma indian heritage.  Relating  the use of the cavern during the 1800’s as a haven for outlaws during a period when the Oklahoma Panhandle was called of the Oklahoma Badlands.  She concluded her lesson directing the class’s attention to an operational seismograph to measure for earthquakes, having been installed as a safety precaution.  The guide,  with the class in accordance proceeded down the path to the entrance of the cavern abyss, disclosing the temperature inside  3/4 mile of cavern length ranged between 52 to 58 degrees,  depending on the season,  adding that the journey thru the cavern would take one hour.  Once endowed within, the entrance no longer providing a detectable source of afferents,  the walkway course broadcasted with the dim lit effervescent lights,  the once bubbling class now strangely silent as the they filed into the largest room of the cavern,  60 feet in length and 50 feet high,  the guide pointing out the veins of alabaster.  Continuing,  the observant group soon reaching a wooden bridge,  finding a stream flowing beneath them, the water entering from a hidden source and exiting the same,  the guide pointing out the residency of 5 species of bats that hung from the heights of the promontory cave.

The Alabaster Caverns

The Alabaster Caverns

The unbelievable color spectrum

An unbelievable color spectrum

Reaching a mid-point,  the group was halted,  the Criterion again explaining  to the group,  they were about to experience total darkness, the lights in the cavern would be extinguished briefly and not to be afraid.  A deafening  silence among the third graders was prevalent,  the lighting within the cavern was removed,  a total darkness unveiled and with the stillness of silence a surreal environment of total abandonment was present,  each person acquainting themselves alone in a capsule darken world for the first time.  Even Gary appreciated the demonstration,  an experience of solitude, a taste of reality.  The restoration of light, the sound of voices  finding a relief for many who never experience the perception of absolute darkness.   Continuing the journey,  the guide referencing several ancillary passage’s that branched out from the tours main access route,  ten other small,  but aurora reaching openings providing entrance.   The hour-long tour consummating,  the class arising from the profundity of the earth,  once again imbuing the blue sky and verdant Oklahoma air.   A tram ride back to the visitors center, the provided  sack lunch in hand,  the third graders finding the spacious grounds a place of contentment to relate their recent experience with each other.

Kids making a discovery

Kids making a discovery

The natural rock bridge

The natural rock bridge

The bus driver approached the two teachers relating that some of the kids wanted to explore more of the parks realm, Gary telling them he would see if it was permissible and if so he would take the group on an expedition to find some of the ancillary entrances to the cavern.   An affirmation from the two instructors  found the campaign on a search mission,  finding eight of the ten well concealed openings,  but only two with a width for human access.   A further exploration,  Gary chaperoning the students on a venture to find some of the other natural attributes of the awe-inspiring parks domain a trail leading to other caves and the renown natural rock bridge.  The adventurous class activity concluded,  once again finding the school bus returning to Kiowa,  it’s occupants  having obtained an understanding and a better knowledge of nature and a bus driver an acknowledgement of the rewards that those in the teaching profession experience everyday.

The Great Salt Plains.

The Great Salt Plains.

The fourth and fifth grade class were destined to  travel the 35 miles to the Great Salt Plain Lake  five miles east of Cherokee Oklahoma,  its presence having the distinction of being  the only location in the world where selenite salt crystals in hourglass inclusions are found.   The students able to forage on the salt plain bordering the 9000 acre lake,  fed by the salt fork of the Arkansas river.  Mrs. Miller and Mrs Elwood escorting the class, the bus halting in the digging area of the desolate expanse of the salt plains, Gary having visited the state park with his family but preferring the lake over the crystal inflected flat lane.  The lake was without a doubt the most unusual one in the Oklahoma,  providing a prevalence depth of only four feet, a dam on the east withholding the reservoir of water. The fourth and fifth graders lost their enthusiasm shortly after arriving, it was understandable, digging for salt crystals wasn’t very exciting.  Gary made some attempt to enact some stimuli from the boys by relating that during world war 2, this area was a bombing range and in all probability their might still be ordnance just below the surface.  The itinerary for the return called for a  stop at the Dam and its picnic area for a sack lunch and a hesitation at Kegelman Air force Base training command.  The runway at the base was an axillary facility used by the small jet trainers stationed at Vance Air Force Base in Enid.  The excursion had a down side for the driver, it was called salt and it permeated the interior of the bus which upon returning required more than being swept, a garden hose accomplishing the project.

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