Travel: Escape the heat with a visit to Alabaster Caverns State Park Community

When I was a little kid growing up in Kansas City, nobody had air conditioning. A great heat treatment was going to the movies. Corrugated cardboard icicles make the marquee shout “It’s cold inside!” Cut off with the message.

Today, almost every building is air-conditioned, and on hot days, we all stay indoors. If you’re looking for a way to get outside and still stay calm, Oklahoma has a unique state park that fits the bill.

Alabaster Caverns State Park can be hot at the top, but go into the cave and you’ll enjoy not only the temperature, but a fascinating geological feature.

Millions of years ago, this part of Oklahoma was covered by the Permian Sea, a shallow ocean. During the 47 million years of the Permian period, this sea rose and fell, creating layers of sediment.

The Earth was rocked by earthquakes and volcanoes, and eventually, large parts of the planet were pushed above the surface of the water. The drying created cracks in the rocks.

Eventually, the water seeped into the rocks and began to wash out underground caves. Water rushed through these underground spaces, carving more and more paths. Caves formed in this way are classified as solution/erosional caves.

Unlike more common limestone caves, Alabaster Caverns are formed of a hard form of gypsum: alabaster. Alabaster, gypsum and selenite are found in the cave.

Limestone caves and gypsum caves are formed by water erosion. Chemicals in limestone caves create stalactites, stalagmites and other fantastic formations.

Gypsum caves like Alabaster Caverns do not have these features. Alabaster Caverns, one of the largest gypsum caves in the world, is the only gypsum cave in the United States that is open to public tours.

The state park actually has many caves. The main cave is called Alabaster Caverns. Other caves, not open for tours – although spelunkers can arrange tours – include Owl Cave, Bear Cave, Hohandle Cave, Ice Stalactite Cave and Water Cave.

Caves such as Alabaster Caverns develop in six stages. The caves here are in the fourth stage, when the running water has receded, leaving more dry areas and allowing more air into the cave. This is a mature state.

Stages five and six describe the deterioration and collapse of the cave.

In fact, some scientists believe the park’s Cedar Canyon is the result of a collapsed cave.

At one end of the parking lot there is a beautiful view where you can get a good view of the valley.

The park also has hiking trails, picnic tables, a playground, and tent and RV camping.

But the main reason to visit is to take a guided tour of the cave. I hadn’t been to the park in years, so I was surprised to get on the tram instead of going to the entrance.

The new entrance is actually the old exit. In 2018, movement in the earth brought 2,200 tons of rock, which closed the old entrance to the cave and made it impossible to walk through the entire cave. Instead, visitors walk halfway in and back.

Unfortunately, some of the most unusual features are in the closed part of the cave. This is where the rare, black alabaster – found in only three places in the entire world – can be seen.

Still, there is more to see in the other part of the cave. Features with names like George and Martha Washington’s upside-down bathtubs, Cathedral Dome and Keyhole Dome provide interest.

And you’ll learn some history of the cave, once a hideout for outlaws. In the 60s, it was designated a fallout shelter. It was also seen in small budget films.

This is an easy cave to visit. While visitors are warned that there are 330 steps to the cave, they are well-spaced and easy on the knees.

Only about 30 steps in and out are a bit challenging. They are a little irregular, but there is a strong handrail throughout the cave.

Be sure to wear good walking shoes – no flip-flops. The trail can be a bit bumpy and there are a few wet spots. Cave temperatures remain in the mid-50s.

If you’re a bat fan, you might be disappointed — we only saw one bat. Winter, when they are hibernating, is the best time to see bats here.

Admission to the state park and parking are free. There is an entrance fee for guided tours. There is no charge for children under five, but they require a reservation.

The fee for ages six to twelve is $5; 13 to 61, $10; Seniors and active military, $8.

Tours are offered on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours last about 45 minutes, walking about three-quarters of a mile.

For those who are more adventurous, wild caves are allowed in other caves.

Strict regulations require permits, minimum numbers of spelunkers and fees. Overnight camping is permitted in the water cave, with several conditions.

Call the park for details at 580-621-3381.

The drive from Norman to Alabaster Caverns is about 180 miles, about three hours and 45 minutes.

For me, road trips of that length definitely require a pit stop.

I was pleasantly surprised when I stopped at Gore’s Travel Plaza on US 270/OK 3 northwest of Seiling. A combination filling station, Sonic, convenience store, bistro and coffee shop, it also received high marks for clean bathrooms. It’s not the Buc-ees, but it’s one of the best facilities I’ve ever visited (and, trust me, I visit a lot of facilities!).

In short, if you’re looking for a full-day trip, a look at Oklahoma’s most interesting features and an escape from the heat, put Alabaster Caverns on your go-to list. It’s cold inside.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.