Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cumberland Caverns by Larry E. Matthews

I've been fascinated with maps of caves since I was a kid and first read a wonderful book that I think is called The Sacrificial Wells of Chichen Itza--I used to have a copy, but I can't find it and I can't find that particular title online either. Anyway, I used to pore over the maps of the underwater caverns; I used to draw my own imaginary cavern maps too. So when I picked Cumberland Caverns up in a used book store and saw that it contained lots of cave maps, of course I had to buy it and read it.

Fortunately, the book is fascinating even if you're not particularly into cave maps. It's intended for a particular audience, namely people who are either cavers or interested in becoming cavers, and as a result it's sometimes more detail-oriented than readable. It covers the history of the cave system now known as Cumberland Caverns, which happens to be pretty close to where I live. Since I grew up here, it just goes to show that there are mysteries everywhere you look. Who knew I lived an easy drive from one of the largest cave systems in North America?

While the book focuses on the cave's history, it also touches on connected topics, especially the people who explored sections of the caverns. I would have loved more details about those explorations beyond the rather dry, jargon-heavy descriptions. On the other hand, there's an excellent chapter about mapping the cave, which of course is my favorite part of the book (apart from the short and inconclusive section about a possible ghost).

The book was published in 1989, and it's astonishing to me how much work went into mapping caves back then. It's undoubtedly still a lot of work, but I'm willing to bet there are computer programs now that will do the grunt work of actually building the map from measurements. I'm glad, because the more cave maps there are, the happier I am.

B&N link

No comments: