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A column, designed and sculpted by nature

I never thought I’d get into speleology. For one thing, where I grew up, it’s flat. No caves that I know of. Well, John Brown’s cave, but that was pretty far away. For some reason, I dreamed of seeing Carlsbad Caverns, but that was even farther.

Turns out the mountains in France are Swiss cheese. Caves galore to expore!

P1000970I wouldn’t say I’m “into” speleology, but when it’s as easy as the Grotte du Limousis, it’s hard not to at least check it out. Limousis isn’t adapted for wheelchairs or strollers, but we took elderly mother-in-law, who managed the short hike through the garrigue from the reception to the cave entrance, after which, you’re in a more or less flat cave at 55 degrees. Which is fabulous in the middle of summer. Or winter.

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The bottom third of the photo is reflection. Can you tell?

As a room mother, I had the honor (?) of visiting an unmarked, “wild” cave nearby. There is nothing quite as terrifying as being cut off from mobile phone reception (duh, underground), with a lamp on your helmet (already, we have to wear helmets? It’s that dangerous?) and a squirming bunch of third graders who are harder to herd than cats and a guide who says, “keep a watch over there,” pointing to a dark corner of the cave, “there’s a hole that goes down 20 meters or more.” Because that’s the room mother’s job, keeping stray cats, I mean kids, from falling into bottomless holes in the middle of the earth.

P1000946Saving grace: while there were bats, there were no spiders. It occurred to me to be afraid of the bugs only after I was well underground with the class and no longer allowed to panic, and it was a huge relief to discover there were no bugs at all.

Limousis is nicer because (1) it’s well-lit, (2) you can walk through it comfortably—no wiggling like a snake through a chatière (definition: “a very difficult and tight passage that you can only get through by crawling”—ha! as if a chatière were big enough for being on all fours! no, you squirm like a worm, plus it’s wet), (3) no puits or deep drop-offs or holes, at least not on the tourist route, (4) it’s beautiful, (5) they serve wine.

So if you’re into caves, just curious, or want to taste some good wine, Limousis is for you.

P1000944The cave was discovered by people who could write in 1811, or maybe 1789. It was discovered much earlier by people who didn’t write, but who left skeletal remains, thank you very much. A bear left its marks, too, near the entrance.

There’s a room that’s rather large with a nice flat floor that the nearby village of Limousis used to use as a salle de fête—a party hall, like for wedding receptions—and it’s naturally air-conditioned (summer) or heated (winter)! Plus the acoustics are awesome. The floor was created over millennia by calcium deposits on an underground lake, which eventually hardened, while the lake water receded, leaving the floor stretched like the cover of a drum, and a hollow space below that produces the resonance.

There’s a pretty green pool and stalactites (the ones hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (the ones growing up from the ground), not to mention columns where the two meet, all over the place. Don’t touch or you’ll “kill” them—oils from our hands changes the special chemistry. It would be a shame because they grow drop by drop, about a quarter of an inch to almost an inch per century. Math quiz: if a stalagmite is 3 feet tall, how old is it?*

In the last room, there’s a huge formation of aragonite, which is pretty cool.

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Aragonite, up close. Doesn’t it look like something from the ocean depths?

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In the first room of the cave, the wine cooperative Alliance Minervois ages some wine, called l’Amethyeste—what better place, right?

 

Answer: 3,660 to 14,400 years old.

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9 thoughts on “French Underground

  1. I don’t think I could do that anymore..as much as heights and depths did not frighten me when I was younger..now they do!
    I remember learning about stalagmites and stalagtites in school..funny the words and definitions that stay with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We visited Carsbad Caverns many years ago. I do not like confined spaces…in fact terrified
    of them. However it was absolutely mind blowing….so glad that I went in and down. Your
    caves are now on the bucket list….this year perhaps.

    Ali

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    1. You don’t feel very “down” in this one. It kind of goes back into the mountain, pretty flat. And it’s so lit up that it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Not like the one the third-graders visited.

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  3. What great photos. How did the children go? Were they scared? My husband has some scary underground stories of his mine visits in Africa and China. I am glad I didn’t know what was happening until he was safely home in Australia!

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    1. The kids were great. We had an amazing guide. That cave was near this one but without the amazing crystals and pools, though plenty of stalagtites and stalagmites. Have you seen the photos of the huge cave recently found in China? Amazing.

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