This is a guest post by Michael Lynch. If you'd like a guest post on Go Backpacking, please read more here.
A rainy day or dark-cloudy skies won't keep Ryukyu Mike cooped up in his house waiting for sunshine to burst out all over. On a recent rainy Sunday in June, he grabbed his backpack and camera and headed to the southern part of Okinawa and visited Gyokusendo Cave, the second largest series of caves in Japan.
The cave meanders through 5 kilometers (roughly 3 miles) of limestone far below the steaming earth above. Visitors have access to 890 meters of well-lighted and safety-railed passageways. Signs warn you not to shout or blow whistles, probably so as not to disturb some of the fragile stalactites (sharp stone icicles) numbering in the thousands that could come crashing down if you did.
Just a few meters from the entrance, you feel as if you've entered an air conditioned room. Stainless steel stairs and walkways make the journey through the cavern convenient but, they can also be slippery in spots where moisture has accumulated.
Stalactites grow at a rate of 1mm per year and some of the ones seen in the cave are several meters long. Gyokusendo cave is estimated to be over 300,000 years old. Motion detectors control some of the lighting as you travel through the cave and throw an assortment of colors on certain key attractions.
In parts of the cave stalagmite take on monstrous shapes and you can let your imagination decide what they might look like.
Small streams and waterfalls are seen at a couple of locations as you travel through the maze. The one in this photo is at about the halfway point. There's nothing quite as soothing as the sound of a brook and waterfall inside a cave. This would be a choice spot to camp overnight, if such activities were permitted, the babbling brook and sounds of miniature waterfalls echo through the cave.
Underwater blue lights and external flood lamps accentuate the small sandbars formed by a stream flowing through the caverns in this scene. Leaving this scene the walkway leads back up gentle slopes and stairways towards the exit. Whether it's raining or the sun is shining, after spending an hour underground, the first thing you'll notice as you hit daylight above is the heat and humidity. Mother Nature's air conditioning system has been left behind you.
Reportedly discovered in 1967 by a research group from a mainland Japan University, this treasure of a cave was probably well known to local Okinawans many years before it became the major tourist attraction it is today. It appears the designers and planners did a fine job of balancing the need for tourism and concern for the wildlife inhabitants of the caves. There are displays of some fish, reptiles, bugs, bats and other cave-dwelling critters along the walkways but in the labyrinth of uncharted areas the tourists never get to see, there's a few miles of safe haven for critters to do, whatever it is cave-dwellers like to do while the intruders meander through their living room.
The cave is open for visits between 9AM and 6:30PM daily.
About the Photographer: Michael Lynch is a photographer and freelance writer living in Okinawa, Japan and he contributes to dozens of online sources. For more information, visit his website: www.mikesryukyugallery.com