June 12, 2015—Weatherbug, that little Android app on my cell phone—the only electronic device to pick up a signal here in Three Rivers State Park—advised that Mexico Beach on the Gulf, our planned destination for Thursday—was to experience a series of thunder storms and heavy rain. So, we nixed the idea of surf fishing and opted, instead, to visit Florida Caverns State, located outside of Marianna, Fla.
The reform school in Marianna is where supposedly delinquent boys were treated in despicable ways. It operated from 1900 until 2011, when the truth about the abuse, beatings, rape, and even murder of many young boys eventually was proven. The institution was one of the biggest reform schools in the United States.
Jim said that when he was growing up his parents made the hollow threat of sending him to Marianna unless he shaped up. (In my family, my brothers were threatened with military school. I don’t recall the threat to us girls.)
Marianna is actually a nice little Panhandle town nestled in an abundance of beautiful natural resources, including Florida Caverns State Park.
When people think of Florida, they immediately think sunshine, sand, palm trees, and flat land. This part of Florida (Northwestern Florida) has plenty of sand and some palm trees, but it is definitely not flat. It is very hilly, with many rivers and creeks. Its bedrock is limestone, and as every spelunker knows, when acid rainwater seeps through limestone, caves (and sink holes) are created.
Florida Caverns is the only state-operated public caverns open to tourists.
This park, like many other 161 state parks in Florida, was built during the Great Depression by the CCCs. (My dad served in the CCCs as a teen, but not in Florida.) The young men labored to create a walk-through tour of the caves.
The caverns are not on par with any others I have seen, but they are well worth the time nevertheless. My neck still aches a bit from having to walk through some of the passageways hunched over. One passage is only two feet wide and four feet high. It wasn’t very long, though.
Upon exiting the caverns, we had three choices to return to our car: a 9-minute walk that ended at the gift shop; a hiking trail (I forgot where it went); or a 45-minute trek through the woods, where we could see a shelf cave and walk through the Tunnel Cave. We opted for the latter.
I am not much of a hiker. The trail was replete with roots and stone “steps” that we had to navigate. My problem is balance. Navigating up a trail or steps is not too bad (I only get out of breath and don’t enjoy the workout), but going down steps, especially uneven steps on a trail, challenges my balance. However, I managed. I admit that I was tuckered out and extremely thirsty by the end of our walk in the woods.
The hike tested my endurance, but it was fun. It ended by our going through a Tunnel Cave—a cave that was open on both ends (hence, a tunnel), which led us out near the parking lot.
I slept well last night.
Your Reluctant RoVer,