Carter Caves State Resort Park, Kentucky
By Meredith Hall Johnson
July 21, 2001--en route to the 2001 NSS Convention
H2O Cave, Kelsea Johnson, Dan McConnell, Marian McConnell, Greg Turner, Drew Turner, and Meredith Hall Johnson:
After stopping by the Visitor Center and signing out for a trip to Laurel Cave, we headed for
the footbridge leading to the entrance. At the bottom of the hill, Dan noticed a very
cave-like rock wall that he wanted to check out. He and Marian, in white jeans, weren't
planning to do much more than go to the entrance of the cave anyhow. He headed off to explore.
As esteemed trip leader, I said we should all stick together and besides, it looked too cool
to pass up. It turned out to be a collapsed, or partially so, cave entrance. It was quite
impressive, but so was the extant entrance that beckoned us with its low wide stream.
We followed this into the cave and turned on our flashlights. We followed the inverse
rule of three light sources per person and had three people per light source. I figured we were
still better prepared than most of the tourists who visit this park.
About this time, Dan and Marian decided they wanted to go caving. We headed out of the cave
only to find a forlorn puppy-looking man sitting on a rock. That was my first impression of
him anyhow. He recognized the McConnell's and introduced himself to the rest of us, Jim "Crash" Kennedy
from BCI. He said he had tried to catch up to us but knew we would be out soon the way we
were talking not far into the cave. He was looking for some cavers to go with him to check dataloggers.
"I have keys to two caves that you wouldn't otherwise get to see. It should take only an hour per cave,"
was the fish line he threw at us. Of course we bit and went to suit up. Of course the first cave trip
took three hours; we never did get into the second cave. Oh well, Convention was calling anyhow.
Saltpetre-Moon Cave System, Jim "Crash" Kennedy, Kelsea Johnson, Dan McConnell, Marian McConnell, and Meredith Hall Johnson:
We hiked past the group of tourists who had paid for a tour of Saltpetre Cave and were waiting at the
Main Entrance, where we would exit later. Jim pointed out two other small entrances nearby, covered with
branches. We hiked way up the hill, with Jim pointing out the Moon Pit Entrance which is located in
sandstone. We helped each other down the Moon Entrance and ended up in a big room after a short crawl
past a black spotted Slimy Salamander and much trash brought in by cave rats. After pointing out where
the sandstone meets limestone, Jim went to the first datalogger. Marian, Kelsea and I sat and watched
while Jim did his thing with the datalogger. Meanwhile Dan was exploring the interlocking passages of
this big room.
Bat Conservation International (BCI) is studying the temperature and humidity in various caves around
the country. It is hoped that, by studying former roost sites, BCI can determine what changes can be
made to the cave environment in order to hopefully bring the bats back, particularly Indiana bats,
an endangered species. Jim installs small round white devices that collect this information every
three hours; he later checks the dataloggers and downloads the information. He then does a temperature
check of the cave wall near the datalogger with a probe. The temperature at the first datalogger,
where we all felt we were melting from the humidity, was 67.8 degrees. The second device was in a
The basic procedure is to unscrew the datalogger from the cave wall, usually as high up the wall
as possible, often where brownish markings indicate past bat roosts. Then a probe from a very small
computer device is inserted and the information downloaded. The device number is recorded as is the
cave temperature that day. Jim inserts the thermometer probe into a hole or crack in the wall. The
rest of us started making guesses as to the temperature to pass the time.We then slithered through
the obviously dug-out passage into the Saltpetre side of the Saltpetre-Moon Cave System. The
datalogger here was atop a large passage that the tours come through, or used to. We saw a long
object laying to one side that looked exactly like what it was, a fluorescent tube light. Datalogger
number six was near the steps leading to the Main Entrance of Saltpetre Cave. The temperature here
was a chilly 47.6 degrees. Jim said this was due to the way the cave breathes and that the colder
temperatures are why Saltpetre is (or was) a good cave for bats. In the 100 or so feet of vertical
difference between the Moon and Main Entrances, the cave temperature differed by more than 20 degrees.
I was amazed.
The whole while we were going from datalogger to datalogger, Jim was giving us a tour. He showed
us the cistern, some vat casts from long-ago saltpetre mining, the "potato bin," some anastomotic
passages which were plugged with dirt, and some signatures from the 1860's. He obviously knew the
cave well and was quite willing to share his knowledge. Also, Dan was entertaining us with jokes
and songs. I followed close behind as Jim headed for the eighth and final datalogger. At one point
Jim pointed up and said, "There's a cluster of bats." He then climbed up the wall nearby for a closer
look. I was surprised when he reached out and removed one of the four small bats from the ceiling.
As a bat biologist, though, he can do so to identify the species. (Don't try this at home!) He looked
the bat over carefully and called down that he thought it was an Indiana bat, an endangered species.
By now the whole group had gathered below and wanted a look. Jim downclimbed with bat in hand and
began a very interesting lesson in bat identification. Despite the grayish fur, if you blow softly
to see the color of the underlying fur, you can determine an Indiana bat from a Gray bat. The Indiana's
fur is much darker below; a Gray's is light-colored to its skin. Jim spread the wings for us and showed
the bones, the keeled calcar and something else, the latter two characteristics of Indianas. He told me
later that it gave him hope that BCI's efforts are paying off since there are still Indiana bats in
this cave system. Kelsea asked if she could hold the bat. (I think we all would have liked to.)
Jim said no, that he'd had all his shots and that the bat had been disturbed enough. The little guy
(yes, Jim showed us that too!) was a bit angry, with teeth bared. Jim climbed back up the wall and
tried to get the bat to reattach itself near the cluster. The bat was still torpid (Jim's word, means
sluggish) so Jim set him on a shelf.
We went on to record the data from the last datalogger. Marian led the way back down the passage.
Her shout told us that the bat had fallen off the shelf. Dan climbed up this time with bat in gloved
hand to put him on a more recessed shelf. We stayed until we were sure that the bat wouldn't fall again.
We climbed the steps up by datalogger number six and Jim unlocked the Main Entrance gate. Our one hour
trip had turned into three hours but it was well worth it.
Note: Later, at the NSS Convention, I went to Jim's session on bats. He had the downloaded datalogger
information in graph form on his laptop. The one datalogger that he'd had to replace due to failure
had stopped collecting data back in March. It was neat to see the end result of our trip.