FREEDOM — They don't offer reverse tours at Alabaster Caverns State Park — so far.
Kim LaFon, a historical interpreter at the cave who leads tours, said some summer visitors have jokingly asked for such.
“Entering I hear them say ‘Ah this feels so good' and exiting it's ‘I want to go back,'” LaFon said. “There's a little more whining involved at the exit and I can understand because it is just so sudden.”
And by that, she is referring to the temperature change.
LaFon tells visitors that in a span of 45 minutes to an hour, they'll walk about three-quarters of a mile along a cavern trail. Included is going up and down about 330 steps. However, it's somewhere around the seventh step from the iron exit gate that will get you. Why?
In July and August, the temperature of the cave is about 60 degrees. But outside?
The Oklahoma Mesonet weather network site at Freedom, six miles north of Alabaster Caverns in northwest Oklahoma, provides an excellent contrast.
After 22 days of triple-digit temperatures in 2010 at Freedom, the number soared to 69 days the following year. That was followed by 43 days in 2012.
And even though it's been a little milder this year, Freedom had reached triple digits on 15 days this year through Thursday. That included 111 degrees on June 27.
Should I stay or ...
“They don't want to go back outside,” LaFon said of many visitors. “They usually ask if they can pay to stay in the cave or go back through backward because they don't want to go out into the heat.”
Recently, Christabell Gutierrez of Alva brought her brother Chris and sister-in-law Denise, who were visiting from the Albuquerque, N.M., area, to tour the cavern.
“I've been here when it's been really hot out,” Christabell said, “and I've had to wear a sweater in here so that it's not such a big shock to go outside.”
This time she walked through while carrying a light jacket, just in case.
LaFon promised the guests she'd warn them as the tour approached the exit.
“Even before we hit the gate where they open it,” Denise said, “my glasses were fogging up, it was already hot.”
A mild alternative
This is the third consecutive year a maximum high temperature at the Mesonet station at Freedom has topped 110 degrees.
It was a scorching 114 on July 9, 2011 and 113 on Aug. 1, 2012.
“I think it's the best place to be in July and August,” LaFon said. “If you're not in a swimming pool with cool water, I think a cave is the next best thing because it's generally cooler in here than you might feel in most buildings.”
Minutes after the start of the tour, LaFon told visitors they were standing 50 feet from the ceiling and 80 feet below the surface.
“Right above this layer of gypsum on the ceiling is where the office sits that we just came from,” LaFon explained.
Park manager Mike Caywood said for the majority of the tour, visitors are about 50 to 60 feet below ground.
And he said the temperature does vary a little in the cavern throughout the year.
“The air temperature will vary because we have a light air flow through the cave,” he said. “The openings that we go out of and into are almost directly north and south. So if the wind's in the right direction, we'll even get a little bit of airflow through there where you can feel it.”
The temperature usually dips no lower than about 50 degrees with the high reaching “up to 60 or just a little above.”
Right about where it was on this day.
That led Chris Gutierrez to say, “It feels so good in here.”
And LaFon replied, “Soak it up, it doesn't last very long.”