Some people see them as a potential disaster waiting to happen, while others have grown up with them and see them as a useful hobby. No matter what side you fall on, odds are you’re fairly opinionated about guns and their role in our society. These guys are no exception as they wax eloquent about their hobby while playing with their favorite toys.
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This is a heat map of state health rankings. Hopefully, this map encourages you to get out and go exploring, but if not, sit back and have a good long laugh at the south because our rankings are pitiful. Varying shades of red mark the states that came in 1-45th but the black marks the last 5 and most of the bible belt.
Most people don’t go adventuring outdoors only to end up in a dark, damp and cold crawlspace, but cavers around Huntsville, Ala. love the region for exactly that.
Over 400 caves riddle the hills around Huntsville, and the National Speleological Society (NSS) has their headquarters in the city. Speleology is the study or exploration of caves, for those who aren’t fans of context clues.
Fortunately for me, the Outdoor Adventure Club at Auburn was planning a weekend trip to the caves, and they let me tag along.
From the start, it definitely had the feel of a group of college kids trying to get something done. We left hours later than we were supposed to and without some of the equipment we needed, but eventually everything got straightened out and we were on our way.
We reached the campsite well after dark and fell into a fitful sleep punctuated by coughs and some of the most thunderous snores I have ever heard from a nearby Boy Scout troop. I actually woke up several times when the guy stopped snoring, I assume because my subconscious got used the snoring and/or dog fighting going on in that tent.
The next day, after a 5 am wake-up call (thanks again boy scouts) we hit Tumbling Rock cave. Before we entered though, a guardian angel named Sabrina Simon found us and offered to guide us through the cave. Sabrina was an NSS surveyor, and she probably kept us from getting lost forever (our student guide was great but did not have the best sense of direction).
For the next several hours, we walked, crawled, slid and squeezed through the cave taking in the awe-inspiring sights. It was a fairly developed cave, so there were plenty of colossal stalactites and stalagmites, the “King’s Shower,” and “Mt. Olympus”. The latter nearly caused us to turn around, but the arrival of a group of students from FSU kept us going. We may have lost the national championship to them but damned if we weren’t going to beat them to the top of that underground peak.
Exhausted and starving, we eventually stumbled out into the evening light and thanked our guide by buying her dinner at a local restaurant. At this point, most of the students headed back to Auburn, but a few of us stuck around for the second day at Limrock.
Limrock was more of a subterranean waterway than it was a cave. For most of the way, the four of us walked standing up, although we were standing in freezing cave water. There were a few spectacular sights, but it was a much younger cave than Tumbling Rock, so the main attraction were hundreds of bats speckling the cave ceiling.
According to Simon, bats across the US are dying from a strange illness called White-nose Syndrome. As of right now, scientists have no idea what is causing it. We saw several dead bats, but none of them had the tell-tale white nose, so for now it seems this bat population was healthy and kind of ticked that we were waking them up. I think each of us had at least one bat fly in our face at some point.
One of the best parts of caving is coming back out. The sun starts to warm you and colors become more vivid. Simon said she once spent eight days surveying a cave, and when she first came back out, she saw colors she didn’t even know existed.
We left Limrock muddier and hungrier than when we entered, and took the long drive back to Auburn.
Down in the caves when you turn off your headlight, the world goes completely dark. Time, stress and schoolwork all fade into a state of non-existence. Only the sound of your breath lets you know you’re alive as consciousness fades to a singular rhythm of inhaling and exhaling.
I’d like to think I left part of my mind in that state, and that’s why it’s taken so long to post this.
Garfunkel getting his head bit off.
This is a map pinpointing the locations of the top 5 National parks and briefly describing why I chose each one. The top pick is marked in gold, second in silver, and third in bronze. The remaining two are marked in red and were honestly a toss-up. I based my rankings on a blend of personal experience, attendance statistics and (of course) research on the internet.
It was a close race between first and second place, but in the end Yellowstone’s wildlife, camping, fishing, hiking and rock climbing trumped the Grand Canyon’s awe-inspiring sights. As a child at Yellowstone, I caught my first rainbow trout, stood within a few inches of a moose, and got held up by a herd of bison crossing in front of the family van. Basically, Yellowstone was just more fun.
That’s not to say the Grand Canyon was a bad experience. Most people think they’ve gotten the measure of the canyon through photos and videos, but actually standing on the precipice of the cliff is completely different. Another interesting selling point for the canyon is the extensive remains of a cave-dwelling Native American civilization that peppers the fissure’s walls.
As far as the others are concerned, Acadia National Park grabbed my attention with this picture of the park in fall. It is also the only one of the top five that offers whale watching and is located in the Northeast. The park was designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Although it’s one of the top parks for attendance, Yosemite got bumped to fourth on the list because of its accessibility to the generally messy general public and the fact that it didn’t really exceed expectations in the areas that the other parks did. The scenery is amazing but can’t match the Grand Canyon, and there’s some wildlife but nothing compared to Yellowstone. This is, however, a great place for the family to go and has North America’s tallest waterfall inside its boundaries.
Denali National Park interested me more than any of the others on this list. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite all represent some of the most heavily toured parks even by those who have no interest in the outdoors. Denali, with its remote location and mammoth size (six million acres in all), seems like the adventurer’s paradise where it’s easy to get both literally and metaphorically lost in the nature and wildlife. Not to mention North America’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley, looms regally over the park’s territory. I think if I had actually visited Denali it might be closer to the top of the list than it currently stands.
This is a heat map of state sales tax data. You’ll be able to see where your state ranks and exactly where the grass is greenest in America as far as taxes are concerned.
As a college student, I have wasted many gorgeous Auburn days sitting on the couch waiting for the bars to open up. Hopefully, this blog will be the solution to my problem and any others who may suffer a similar fate by informing readers on the various recreational activities set in and around Auburn University. I will cover festivals, hiking, fishing, sporting events, or anything that could be considered remotely “fun” or “interesting” as long as students can participate. Given Auburn’s relatively small size, I may branch out into the surrounding locale in my quest to find weekend-type fun for my readers but will keep it in the Central Alabama/Georgia area.