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Silver Sage Grotto


Enterprise Editor Virginia Hutchins, left, looks over a map with Jeremy Callen of Silver Sage Grotto during a 2015 expedition into a cave near Gooding.

Members of the Silver Sage Grotto caving club are offering an adventure with bragging rights next month: guided exploration of three Gooding County caves.

One of the destinations, a complex cave, is gated to protect fragile resources. Another is seasonally gated to safeguard hibernating bats. The third is a giant lava blister with rare ferns.

All three are locations that cavers usually aren’t anxious to publicize. But they’re happy to take you there themselves.

Here’s the deal: For a $6 rental fee, the club will provide helmets, headlamps, knee pads and gloves. The group will leave from Twin Falls at 9 a.m. May 13 — in Silver Sage Grotto members’ high-clearance vehicles — and return by 5 p.m.

The trip is open to ages 9 and older, but with a maximum of 14 participants. So don’t delay calling trip coordinator Steve Frye, at 208-721-1074, to sign up.

And this adventure will need some preparation.

Expect physical challenges; the club says participants should be capable of walking, crawling, stooping and scrambling over boulders. Wear sturdy footwear with gripping soles. Also recommended: water, lunch, a change of clothes (you might get quite muddy) and another light source.

But don’t, by any means, bring personal items that have been in any cave east of the Rocky Mountains or in Washington state. That prohibition is to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in the Eastern U.S.

Silver Sage Grotto organized the May 13 adventure as an offering for Twin Falls Parks and Recreation, but a miscommunication between the cavers and city recreation staff meant the trip doesn’t appear in the parks department’s Activity Guide for spring-summer 2017.

Check out that guide ( for other low-cost outdoor adventures, such as paddling lessons; flatwater kayaking and whitewater rafting trips on the Snake River; group hikes; and archery leagues.

Enviable observation

Lucky you. You can celebrate International Dark Sky Week (April 22-28) in a place where the sky is actually dark.

The observatory at Bruneau Dunes State Park is open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights from early April through mid-October, weather permitting.

Need inspiration for a visit? Kirk Long’s Sunday post on StarTalk’s blog supplies a hearty dose.

Long, a weekend employee at the Bruneau Dunes observatory and a “StarTalk” intern, majors in physics at Idaho State University. At Bruneau Dunes, he gives educational astronomy presentations and operates telescopes for the public.

“Our telescope is relatively small — for observatories — at only 25 inches in diameter, and yet still in striking detail I’ve been able to see the great red spot on Jupiter, the Cassini division between Saturn’s rings, the beautiful spiral arms of the Whirlpool and Pinwheel galaxies, and so much more,” he writes. “These fainter objects — galaxies and nebulae — are the best reasons to visit an observatory.

“Last weekend I panned through a galaxy cluster in Virgo, and within one field of view I could see the faint light of several dozen galaxies, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars millions of light years away.”

You can’t do that in your backyard with a small telescope, Long writes, “but it’s an incredibly profound and worthwhile experience.”

Another interesting tidbit from Long’s blog post for astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “StarTalk” radio show: The base of the Bruneau Dunes telescope is signed by Carolyn Shoemaker, who co-discovered comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, and by shuttle astronaut Barbara Morgan.

For the Bruneau Dunes observatory’s presentation times, call 208-366-7919.

Virginia Hutchins is enterprise editor of the Times-News and; reach her at or 208-735-3242.


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