Monday, September 21, 2009

Grotte Madeleine

Something about human nature makes us terrible stewards of the environment.

The Grotte Madeleine would have been an incredible sight when it was first discovered by a shepherd. The light of his lantern would have revealed an spectacular cascade of sparkling concretions, drapery-like crystalline formations that were formed over thousands of years like their stalactite and stalagmite cousins. Streaks of different natural hues were made possible by the minerals naturally occurring in the stone.

Unfortunately, the cave has become a victim of it's own beauty. Today, preservationists do their best to protect the fragile underground environment, but the visitors take their toll. While descending through the cave, it's obvious that some earlier visitors walked away with natural souvenirs. The tips of many concretions are noticeably missing. Even modern visitors leave traces that damage the cave. Hot air expelled while climbing back up the steep stairs creates an environment for algae and bacteria to grow on the walls. Later, these infiltrators must be power washed off the fragile walls.

Unlike the more spectacular Aven d'Orgnac, the Madeleine cave has not yet found a means of balancing human visits with preserving the natural wonder. Although this cave is more accessible, located on the main route through the Gorge de l'Ardèche, it's less impressive. If you've visited a major cave before, I recommend skipping this tourist destination.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.