Just when you think it’s going to be a typical Oklahoma summer, Mother Nature decides to mix things up a bit. Yes, we have had extremely hot and humid days. But, on the other hand, we had temperatures below normal. Hope this trend continues, but if we have consistently hot weather ahead, you wanna know how to be cool? I would recommend visiting Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom.
One of the biggest highlights of the 200-acre park is the cave formed by alabaster, a rare form of gypsum. So a fun and educational way to avoid the summer heat is to go underground and take one of the many tours on offer with one of their experts on staff.
The average temperature throughout the year is around 62 ° F. However, it can vary from six to eight degrees during the year as there is a natural air flow throughout the cave. Tours are interesting on several levels, one of which involves the main cave itself and some of the cave dwellers – who happen to be bats at different times of the year.
Mike Caywood is the park director of Alabaster Caverns State Park. He says people have questions and misconceptions about bats.
“The first thing people usually think of are fruit bat bats. But then the guests see those in the cave and realize that the bats are very small. They also associate bats with birds and ask if they lay eggs, ”says Caywood. “Bats are, of course, mammals and give birth to live children. And finally, people ask “Are bats going to fly through my hair or bite me and suck my blood?” When it starts up there we do a little education, which is we don’t have any vampire bats in the US and they don’t want to be in your hair. , so there is no need to worry.
Also, the number of bats you can see depends on what time of year you visit the caves. “During the winter we have four species of bats that hibernate in the cave, many of them along the trail. It is not uncommon to see 2,000 or more bats on a winter tour, ”Caywood added. “At this time of year, the bats have strayed from the trails; females give birth and raise their babies and males move to other caves. in the area to avoid the crowds.
Tours of the main cave run hourly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and until 5 p.m. during the summer season, every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“This tour is simply known as the ‘interpretive tour’,” says Caywood. “We take up to 40 people at a time and show them a gypsum cave. 95% of the demonstration caves in the world are made of limestone. We are considered the only gypsum demonstration cave in the United States and the largest touring developed gypsum cave in the world. We have a specialty night tour that we run eight times a year, every other weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This is called the Kaleidoscope Tour. We don’t have a lot of interpretation on these tours, but let’s answer questions.
Caywood told me he takes people on an underground journey using only black lamps for lighting, and due to the nature of this particular tour, it’s limited to just 20 guests.
Caywood has been at Alabaster Caverns State Park for 30 years and has been hosting tours since 1991. His current focus is more on educating people about bats, the cave environment, and other cave dwellers. . And he always tours every now and then when extra help is needed or if they have a special group.
And over the years, Caywood told me, no matter if he’s touring to present some type of educational program, he always has a wonderful feeling when he looks in someone’s eyes when he “receives”. what it presents. . “Whether it’s a child or an adult, that simple ‘glow in the eye’ gesture of an individual is worth it.”
He hears all kinds of comments, many of which are quite common, such as “We didn’t even know we had caves in Oklahoma” or “It’s so different from other caves I’ve been in. People always say how much they loved seeing bats.
I find it fascinating that the alabaster caverns were carved out by ancient waters 200 million years ago and the caverns now extend for over three quarters of a mile. But I always thought it was not only an educational and fun tour, but also beautiful. You will hear about selenite crystal, alabaster, fine grain gypsum, and how five different colors of alabaster can be found inside the cave. Therefore, the natural beauty found in the cave is a subtle, yet stunning color!
Finally, the Echolocation Grotto is what Caywood calls the park’s mobile education experience. This is a trailer that they use statewide for bat education purposes, and so far since 2019, they have been able to share the cave with over 20,000 people at this day and have traveled over 10,000 miles across the state.
Think about your next outing, going “inside” and exploring the beautiful and captivating caverns of Alabaster Caverns State Park.
For a list of summer activities at any Oklahoma state park, visit Travelok.com.
Dino Lalli is the co-producer, co-host and one of the reporters on the weekly “Discover Oklahoma” television show.