I never let my friends know about the cave, because I wanted it all for myself. Looking into the past, that was not very wise. Going deep into unknown territory, and without anyone knowing where I was; well that was just plain stupid. If, for example, something were to happen to me, there wasn’t anyone to help me. During this time of my life, I never thought about things like that; besides, I was the all-knowing bulletproof fifteen-year-old! I suppose thinking in this way is why so many teenagers end up getting hurt, or even worse, killed.
Growing up in the state of Missouri, I found many things to see. With the woods surrounding our house, and a river close by, there is no wonder; that is where a boy would want to spend so much time. Most of my days were spent hunting and fishing, but some were for exploring as well. Most people are unfamiliar with the fact that Missouri has many caves, and I had found my very own. In the eighties, parents were not breathing down your neck, like they are today. Leaving my house at daybreak, returning after sundown, was normal for my parents. However, they were unaware of the cave I discovered.
The cave I explored was dangerous from the very beginning, because the opening was straight down. There was a five-foot drop before landing on a shelf of rock, and then another three-foot drop onto the cave floor. I used the headlamp that I used when raccoon hunting late at night, and carried an extra battery just in case. The first time I entered the cave, I did not have gloves, and learned quickly, with the cuts on my hands, this was a grave mistake. Afterwards, I always took my rawhide gloves with me when I headed to my secret place in the ground.
Like many other caves, bats were a problem. I learned to duck down in certain areas and let the bats fly over my head. This was a better idea instead of having them ramming into me when I disturbed them. Each time I entered, I would explore farther into the blackness using a little more stored up courage.
One day, I traveled too deep into my cave and found my courage about to get me into trouble. Luckily, my superpower teenage brain warned me, just in time to halt before I reached the point of no return. I looked around, and noticed that I was in a large room. This room had a floor space of twenty feet across and a ceiling so high that my headlamp would not shine on it. Woah, I thought, this is incredible! Walking around the room, I heard the rumble of water echoing through the room. Well, that makes sense because the river was not too far away, I thought.
Something caught my eye in the middle of the room. As I walked to the center, I found a rock pedestal coming up from the floor, standing three feet tall. The base was a foot wide and grew to two feet in diameter at the top. It was concave at the top and had water in it, resembling a pedestal bird bath sold in garden stores. I had to laugh at the thought of the bats using it to get cleaned up for their night out.
I stared at the top of the pedestal for a long time. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a drop of water land in the center of the small pool, creating a ripple effect. I looked up to see where the water had come from. As I shined my headlamp, I could see that the ceiling overhead was not as high as the rest of the room, and my light reflected off the bright line where the water was running. So this pedestal is a stalagmite being built one drop at a time. Now that really got my attention. So where is that drop of water originating from, I asked myself. I did not realize that I had said that out loud until the echo of my own voice made me jump.
I dipped my finger in the water and tasted it. The liquid had a strange taste, and I thought better of putting anymore in my mouth. Afterwards, I walked to the far wall of the cave and started making my way around the room. About halfway, I found another opening, just above the floor. This opening was almost directly across the room from where I entered. Shining my light down this passage, my skin crawled; my nerves were shaking, and I wasn’t sure I could venture on. This would be difficult for me; in a space so small, and I would have to inch through on my belly. I was already heading into it before I could think better of it. I wiggled on my belly for fifteen feet or so, like a snake. To my relief, I was then able to get to my hands and knees. I crawled another thirty-five feet before it opened up to the point that I could stand.
The sound of rushing water grew louder, drowning out my fear, and ramping up my curiosity. I shuffled along, with the feeling of walls closing in. Another hundred feet and the sound of water turned into a roar! Should I continue on or do the smart thing and go back? Once again, the teenage brain took over, and I decided to go on. That little voice in the back of my head started warning me, If I die here, my body will never be found. I had to locate that rush of water, (my pride taking over where the fear should be). Three hundred more steps, and it was all worth the danger. The tunnel led me into a room ten feet wide. The rushing water grew louder, which made me clinch my teeth. But for now, my eyes see and made the noise go away.
There was a waterfall in the middle of this cave! The water dropped fifteen feet from a hole in the ceiling, disappearing into the rock below! The shape was fascinating, for it reminded me of an old cowboy standing in the rain. On the top shelf, the water splashed on a ledge as rain ran off a Cowboy’s hat to the ground with his head turned down. From that point, it fell to a small shelf of rock in the middle. As the water landed on the second shelf, it reminded me of a championship buckle that a rodeo Cowboy would wear. From this point, the water split into two separate streams. This finished the rodeo look off for me, showing the chaps the cowboy was wearing. I cannot explain it in any more detail than that. Maybe that’s just the way I have seen it because I like going to the rodeo, and seeing the Champion wearing that humongous belt buckle.
I wanted to put my hand in the rushing water, but my courage had left me. (What if the rushing water pulled me under the rock floor?), I thought to myself. I spent quite a bit of time in awe, but finally the echoing sound of the waterfall became more than I could handle. It was time to go back. I worked my way out of the cave and headed home. That night, I dreamed of what I had witnessed.
After a good night’s sleep, I decided not to tell anyone of my experience. I am not sure why, other than I want it all to myself. I visited my cave a few more times after finding the cowboy waterfall. Every time I went back, I found the pool of water on top of the stalagmite, but I was never able to find the passage to the cowboy waterfall again. I guess it will have to live in my memory. If I had a cell phone in my pocket back then, (like we do in today’s world), I would have taken pictures of my discovery. Tomorrow, I will watch the rodeo at the fair grounds, and I will pay close attention to the Cowboy wearing the championship belt buckle, and it will remind me of my grand adventure.
The truth shall stand that I alone will possess that memory. Furthermore, I alone know where the opening to the cowboy cave is. I covered the main entrance to the cave before moving away. I will leave the hint that it is within twenty miles of the little town of Fair Grove. If you should stumble upon the opening, make sure to let me know, otherwise, I shall go to my grave with knowledge of the entrance to my secret cave.
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