We stood there before the entrance to the underground rock quarry. The chain-link fence had a gap in it where some unknown kids had cut through it to go exploring in that black gloom. The “No Trespassing,” sign above the cavern’s entrance was riddled with bullet holes and hung there by a single nail, like a bad joke that had no effect on its audience.
There were seven of us there that day standing before the dark gap of the quarry entrance. Five were friends I had known most of my life, and we had dared to go where no man had gone before on a number of occasions in the past. All five of them were eager to travel into that huge tunnel before us. In fact, despite the threat of trespassing citations, they all quickly slipped through the hole in the fence and entered the mine shaft.
Their hushed voices drifted back to me as their flashlight beams flickered through the darkness like light sabers. The only reason why I hesitated to follow them was the kid standing there beside me. My foster kid, Chad, and I had ventured off into the “unknown” several times in the past, but this was different. Someone had put that sign there for a reason. Someone did not want us to go into those underground tunnels.
I stood there, remembering our last misadventure, when Chad and I rode our canoe down the rain-swollen waters of Wilderness Park. We capsized at the Horse Crossing on that particular trip, both of us going into the madly churning water. Our canoe was washed downstream, along with our cooler and my favorite jean jacket. The jacket was never found again, but we did manage to eventually find the canoe wedged up against a log jam downstream the next day.
A second disastrous adventure came to mind then. Chad and I and my friend, Ben, had spent a snowy winter day out having a fire in the bluffs of South Bend. On the way home, Chad had asked to drive. He was 15 and had his learner’s permit, and though the roads were icy, I decided to let him drive. He did a good job, too, until we came to the incredibly steep hill between South Bend and I-80.
And then we hit a patch of ice, and down that hill we sailed. Chad frantically cranked the steering wheel back and forth, fish-tailing crazily, shooting directly toward the left hand ditch, then careening back toward the right. Any second my Datsun truck was about to go nose-diving into the deep ditch or flying off the narrow bridge at the bottom of that God-awful steep hill. That wild ride lasted forever. When we finally skidded to a stop at the bottom of the hill, we all three laughed at those panic-filled moments we had shared, quickly forgetting we’d all had a “Come to Jesus” moment as we flew down that icy hill.
One more misadventure came to mind as Chad and I stood there, undecided about following my friends into that underground rock quarry. It took place just a mile down river from where we then stood. Chad, Ben, and I asked a local rancher if we could camp out on his land situated above Horse Shoe Lake. The rancher said, “Sure. But be careful of the Yak.”
“A Yak?” I asked, not wanting to sound ignorant, but Chad asked, “What is a Yak?”
The rancher said, “An Asian Water Buffalo. He’s a mean one, too. Just be sure if you see him out there in those hills, you are close to a good tree to climb!”
We set off down into the ravine between the rolling bluffs, cautiously keeping an eye out for the Yak. Ben even made a witty comment about having a “Yak Attack,” which he and Chad thought was hilarious. I, however, kept my eyes on the trees, wondering if we indeed were going to have to climb one before our trip was over. But near night fall as we made camp out there in the wild lands along the Platte River, we hadn’t seen hide nor hoof of the menacing Yak.
However, upon waking up the next morning, an entire herd of cows stood before us, wanting to get past us to drink from the stream we had pitched our camp before. We hurriedly scrambled out of our sleeping bags, all the while watching for the Yak to emerge from the herd and perform a full-fledged Yak attack. But still no Yak. To this day, I still have no idea what a Yak even looks like.
“So,” Chad said as we stood there, watching the flashlights of my friends getting fainter as they traveled down the dark tunnel, “we going to do this or not?”
I simply started down into the tunnel. Chad flicked on his flashlight and followed me. We first came upon a frozen pathway. Six inches beneath the crystal clear ice there were little railroad tracks. They wound all the way through the underground quarry, once used for mine carts to roll along. Chad said, “Looks like the Seven Dwarfs have been here!”
We then came upon huge stalagmites and standing six feet high on the cavern floor before us. We passed through this immense chamber and the in next hallway stalactites hung from the ceiling. Chad and I followed the hushed voices of the rest of our little band, finding ourselves passing between the opening of what appeared to be another whole section of cave. We saw the lights flickering up ahead of us and soon discovered my friends shining their lights at a dark wall thirty feet in front of them.
“Cow crap!” Chad said as we all looked at the wall, which indeed looked like it was covered with the stuff the cows left behind. And then the wall began to undulate like the black waters of a moonlit river. “Bats!” I said, watching the whole mass of winged furry creatures moving as they clung to the wall. They then began to fly toward our lights.
Gary swatted one out of the air with his glove. He picked up the stunned creature and Ben used his flashlight to shine its light through the tiny bat’s thin wing. We were all examining the veins running through it, when the bat let out a nasty hiss and showed us it’s wicked fangs. Gary let out a shout and dropped it at once, and we all fled the chamber, thinking we were about to be bat-swarmed.
We explored those dark depths for quite some time for they wound back into the hills for at least a mile or more. When we finally came within sight of the white light of the quarry opening in the distance, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Ben made the comment, “Hey, Gary, you sure dropped that bat in a hurry. Have you checked your boxers lately?”
Everyone laughed, except Gary who responded, “I wasn’t scared. I just didn’t want to get bit. Bats carry rabies, you know.”
Ben chided him, saying, “You weren’t scared? How come you screamed like a little girl then?”
We all laughed again, and Gary replied, “Hey, who knocked it out of the air in the first place? Who picked it up?”
At that point, Chad and I were bringing up the rear of our little party when I spotted a metal pipe sticking out of the wall beside us. I whispered, “Watch this.”
Thinking just to startle them all, I swung my walking stick at the pipe, and the Whack! exploded all around us, echoing off the cold stone walls, sounding like the entire cavern was caving in. They all broke into a run and hightailed it to the white dot marking the entrance in the distance. Gary was the first one to make it there in record time.
Two weeks after this excursion into the underground rock quarry, we all read in the papers where four boys were camping in a similar quarry two miles down river. They had lit a fire in the center of the cavern floor, and sometime during the night, the ice melted above them and sent a car-sized boulder down on top of three of those boys. The fourth woke up to find his three friends dead from the impact.
It was a tragic camping trip gone horribly wrong. We were all thinking the same thing could have happened to us. We all considered ourselves lucky that we made it out of that rock quarry alive and well. One month later, we discovered that someone had dynamited the opening to the quarry we had explored and sealed it off with a ton of rock. We figured it was just as well. Why tempt fate when those three boys had died just two miles down river?
Of all the adventures we took after that, we remembered there are consequences to all actions. And no, I probably shouldn’t have trespassed into that quarry, and yes, I am lucky we came out of there alive and well. But would I do it all over again?
What do you think?