Cute Ways To Paint Your Face For A Football Game 17 Mile Cave, Idaho – Here There Are Monsters

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17 Mile Cave, Idaho – Here There Are Monsters

“The rich,” writes University of Maryland professor Michael Olmert, “have a tremendous advantage over history.” Where they lived and what they owned “dominates what we know about the past because the good is more than the vernacular and the vernacular,” he writes in his book “Milton’s Teeth and Ovid’s Umbrella.”

“Graffiti defeated in a flash,” he adds, “hitchhiking the walls of the good to bring to light an alternative past.”

Nowhere is that democratic spirit evident in eastern Idaho, a cold, dusty, graffiti-filled lava tube buried in a sunburnt field littered with the brown bits of broken beer bottles. Over the decades, graffiti artists have layered names, dates, pictures, love notes on the basalt walls of the 17-mile cave.

and monsters. My son’s favorite.

Colloquially, 17-Mile Cave is located just 400 feet south of US Highway 20, 17 miles west of downtown Idaho Falls, ID, at a location marked by the Idaho Historic Landmark “Elephant Hunters”. Park either at the marker pullout or on the dirt road that surrounds the dimples in the landscape to the south. In that dimple is the entrance to the cave.

The cave’s location, size and makeup make it an excellent place to pique the interest of speleologists, no matter how young. Michelle and I took our three kids – Liam, age 7, Lexi, 5, and Isaac, 2 ½ – to the cave for their first spelunking adventure.

Of course, given the nature of children (especially literal-minded five-year-olds who trust their mothers when they let their fathers into the cave first, breathing air as cold as a large refrigerator, to check on bears) their first adventure did not come without tears. Within a dozen yards of the cave entrance, our youngest two want out. (My wife, Michelle, drove them out. They waited for us in the van for half an hour. And on the way home, literally added to the story in our daughter’s mind: “I told Lexie to put her flashlight on the ground. She could see the rocks as we were going out,” she said. Instead of pointing the light at the ground, she puts the torch down and walks away. Mother quickly straightens her up.)

Liam, however, is game to continue. He and I walk, he leads the way, his torch sending an errant circle of light randomly over the walls, floor and ceiling.

The cave is an easy hiking experience, the entrance being the most difficult aspect. Adults and taller children have to descend a short series of natural lava rock steps – no more than 12 feet apart – before the cave opens up enough to stand up. From there, it’s only a half-mile walk to the end of the cave, only requiring ducking through two additional small sections. As the cave has no branches, there is no chance of getting lost, although it is completely dark inside when outside the entrance.

A single large curve of the cave followed by natural rock quickly hides the entrance and light entering the cave. For the most part, the cave is about a dozen yards wide and easily ten feet high, though there is one chamber where the cave is at least twenty yards wide and easily thirty feet high—enough space for an impromptu football game, if you bring enough light.

A cave teaches a seven-year-old boy about peace. Halfway through, I cut Liam off, asking him to say what he could hear:

away, a drop. . .Drip. . .Drip. . .

“Someone left the faucet on, Dad.”

Sure, son.

A little closer: “Errrr, rrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrr.”

“Is that a monster?”

“Don’t think so, son. There’s someone else with a torch like us in the cave.” I crank the handle on our rechargeable light and it makes the same noise. “Do you hear your echo?”

“Hello!” He screams into the darkness, shining his flashlight everywhere as if trying to get his screams out.

Then we see lights ahead.

“Hello! Who’s that! What’s your name? Did you see any monsters,” he shouts, crashing into each other like bumper cars.

There are no monsters. Only one family is going out, with their curious, friendly black lab.

We walk away with the understanding that the cave can teach about peace, but this lesson isn’t necessarily what we hear from their typical youth questions.

Is there still lava in the cave, Dad? (On the way to the cave, I talked about how the cave was formed thousands of years ago, when a river of lava flowed underground, then created an ebb and flow that left the cave behind.)

No, put it on, son.

what time is it

Long enough boy.

Is the cave about to fall on us?

Better if not. If that happens, your mother will be angry with me.

What happens if we turn off our flashlight?

Try this.

he does For about two seconds, we’re shrouded in darkness no tent a seven-year-old built out of blankets and scraps of wood will ever match, hoping to sleep under the stars.

He turns on the lamp again, shining on me. “I thought I lost my dad,” he said. “But there you are.”

Dad, are there monsters? In addition to the bears, I joke that the cave is home to Wooklar, my favorite movie monster.

“Let’s find out,” I tell him.

Just past the echo chamber – my name for the largest room in the cave; I’m not sure, twenty-five years after visiting this cave, if any of the features have official names – the ceiling on the left side recedes to within three feet of the floor. Long ago, some vivid imagination saw the mouth and eyes of a monster—somewhat like a brontosaurus—emerging from that creation. So he painted the rock to add some definition to his idea.

“Monster face!” My son shouts-whispers, I highlight the monster’s neon-painted features. (A few dedicated souls retouch the paint every year, making sure the giant’s lire remains bright for future cave-goers.)

He holds his own light, blinding the demon if he decides to bring it to life. The mist from his breath gets stuck in the beam. “Monster smoke!” he whispers. (The monstrous smoke, at least this time, is very thick, blowing in underground clouds whether we breathe it or not. It appears in the pictures, the glowing rock, flash-light-faces and bright paint adding to the eerie feel as we roam the underground with the giants with their yellow eyes. watching us.)

The monster is the least of the cave graffiti, all surprisingly G-rated, at least unreserved. Scrawled on the walls are messages from former cave-dwellers, including the mundane – “Stop Graffiti,” “Get Out” (with arrows pointing in the opposite direction) and “Idaho Aunty’s Dyslexics!” — Amusing — “Andon Hope Ye Who Enter Here” — to artistically mystify — “Being the Adventures of One Uther Smith,” with a sketch of a pale, shallow, goateed youth. Uther is of course up to date. It comes with its own URL: biminicomics.com. He is a newly-printed comic book hero that debuted to the world in the spring of 2007 at the San Francisco Center for the Book.

“The story is deeply rooted in that region of Idaho,” said Brandon Mise, a former Idaho Falls resident who wrote the comic with illustrator John Murphy and colorist Nye Wright. “I wanted people out there to know that soon they’re going to have a local hero they can root for.” The comic—though set in Pocatello—relies heavily on an easily recognizable Idaho Falls locale.

While researching locations for the comic, which was partially set on Mises’ uncle’s local potato farm, the trio learned about the cave “and went back the next day with a backpack full of spray paint,” Mises said.

So everyone enjoys the 17-mile cave. Except for my youngest son and daughter, of course, but they are still young. The place attracts attention — even some North Carolina-based writers have engaged in literal underground advertising in a cool cave on the edge of the Lost River Desert. What future historians will make of it is anyone’s guess.

A tip for graffiti artists:

I want to mention here that I do not support graffiti, certainly not in this cave. People who visit this cave should be aware that it is on private property and that the property owner has been very gracious over the years in allowing people to climb into its natural basement, cans of paint in hand or not. But I write about it because the walls are covered with graffiti. As a penance, whenever I go there I take a garbage bag and clean up some of the trash left behind by other cave-dwellers.

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