The Caves of Orgnac

November 4, 2009 12:13 am

Heading Into The AbyssImagine being a potholer in 1935 and going down a hole that everyone knew about but had never visited before because it seemed too deep.  Well (pardon the pun), French spelunkerer Robert de Joly and a small team descended the hole in August 1935 and found themselves in a vast cavern covering 2.5 acres. Stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere. We went to vist these grand Grottes d’Orgnac, as they are now known, at the weekend. Rather than climbing down a hole, we walked down many steps into an immense underground cavern of great beauty.  Our tour took us up and down many stairs and by the end of the tour we were 121 metres below ground.  Luckily for us, at the end of the walk there was a lift to return us to ground level.

Curtains of StoneIt felt amazing to be in the caverns, it was beautiful. We saw many stalagmites growing up to 11 metres high. They were all made of little platelettes, each of which took thousands of years to create. Platelettes formed because the water that created them dripped from a great height. A little pool of water sits at the top of each stalagmite and every time a drop falls, it splashes water out horizontally to form the plate.  For some reason the French call them piles of crepes!

There were also many formations that looked like curtains descending from the ceiling 20 or 30 metres above us. They were amazing.  We had a good guide, he spoke slowly, very important for the two English speaking people on the visit, and he had many amusing anecdotes. He also liked shining his torch onto various rock formations and pointing out that the the shadows on the wall behind looked like a lion, a gazelle or any other animal he claimed they looked like, if only remotely!

Potholers Set Off For The UnknownWe only visited a small part of the cave system. Since being first discovered, several kilometres of caves have been explored, some of which are open to the public and involve a three or eight hour potholing experience with all the gear on. It costs about €60 for the eight hour trip and includes all the clothes. You only have to take along some sandwiches, water and a camera.  It sounds like fun and something we shall do sometime in the not too distant future.

MixerAfter we left the caves, we visited the museum. They had a lot of information about the formation of the caves and interesting exhibits about the prehistoric dwellers in the region. There was a small theatre with videos running about the way that cavemen and iron age people made fire, smelted iron and even how they did their cave painting. One researcher showed that cave paintings may have been made by chewing charcoal up in the mouth and then spitting the charcoal onto the wall to create the soft outlines on some of the pictures. He looked a little bizarre, if not demented, with charcoal running down his chin. They also had a temporary exhibition of how a museum n the 41st centuary might view artifacts from today. It was a fun exhbit with, naturally, the wrong explanations for things. Some examples are shown in the photo gallery. It made me wonder how many descriptions of stone age items we have got wrong today.

Water Dripping from the RoofWe couldn’t leave the site without a visit to the ever-present gift shop. This one contained many local products, ranging from fruit juices, bottles of preserves, nougat, cheese and of course wine! So we had a tasting of some of their wines and ended up buying three small cases of wine between us. It was very nice and only €4 a bottle!


2 Responses to “The Caves of Orgnac”

Mad Dog aka Lamb Chop wrote a comment on November 15, 2009

Hi Kevie-
Really enjoyed this post….the pics are terrific, as usual. Jim and I went into some caves on our recent trip to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and we, too, enjoyed the fact that after walking down several hundred stairs (nearly 400 if my memory serves me correctly) there was an elevator to take us back to the surface! Everytime I go into a cave I cannot help but think about the folks who first went in….with no modern equipment, fire torches for lighting, etc…yikes!

I did enjoy your remarks about the gift shop. My my, what a cultural divide… the gift shop at the cave in SD (a National Park actually) there were only the ever present T-shirts and other crap but the culinary offerings are limited to Cokes and potato chips!

SurEsq wrote a comment on November 15, 2009

I’m with Mad Dog aka Lamb Chop — nice story and picces. Thanks for sharing it with us, Kevie. Cultural divide? Really more like the Grand Canyon!! Such a difference in attitude about “gift shops” aka junk stores, and food. I keep commenting on it when I go out to eat and watch American restaurants focus on the fast turn around of customers, and the fast food type offerings, with some exceptions.

Robin’s in Cambria is the most like the French restaurants for their overall food and attitude. The focus is on fresh, organic, small portions, a back patio where one is welcome to wile away the while, good wines, and homemade sorbet for dessert.

Now I’ve made myself hungry, and my tomatoes are ready, and I have lots of things for a fresh salad for lunch, so off I go.

Hope you are having fun in Germany, Kevin, and that it is not all work!

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