No Respect for Other Tourists
Tourists have officially ruined Luray Caverns with their Cameras. Over this past Memorial Day Weekend, I flew to visit my brother at his apartment in Arlington, Virginia. As always, I had to visit one photogenic nature area. Normally my style is to find hidden, unknown, overgrown, and unpolished placed to shoot. Since the Florida Caverns are the only dry caves that I’ve explored, I couldn’t resistant some comparison.
I don’t mind alot of people, but with the advent of digital point-and-shoot photography, the tour was dreadfully ruined. The hundred people in front of me stopped at every major stalactite formation, took a flash picture, and then walked to the next and the next, each time taking another flash photo. Rarely taking their eyes off of the screen, they would stop and take pictures of eachother at each formation, blocking the walk through.
Because this was a DARK cave, the flashes blinded me every time, even far away. With unlimited shooting, and the narcissistic need to post everything to facebook and flickr, the tourists around me were on a picture-taking-orgy with their new Christmas toys. Without digital, they would have never been able to accomplish this type of amateur photography.
No Respect for Nature
Many amateurs at Luray Caverns were putting tripods right on the rocks. That is a big no-no! Only a few touches with the human hand are needed to destroy the stalactites, since oil will prevent drips of water from reforming and growing the formation.
Further, not even the Luray staff seem to respect the natural wonder they are suppose to protect. Luray has a lit up reflecting pool that they allow people to chuck money into. Yes, your kids can learn to respect nature by throw ing money at a 100,000 year old rock formation. Is this what we are teaching our children?
Some years ago, someone built a pipe organ into some of the formations. What a shameful display of commercialism. Please Luray, remove this!
Walking through, I saw thousands of hanging stalactites broken off, ones not over the walkway. Shameful.
Worst, worst, worst of all: they now only give headphone tours. Nowhere did anyone explain to me the delicate nature of the cave and not to touch anything. What a lazy group of people that run the place.
My Tourist Shooting Style
What about me you ask? With a 5Dmkii and Canon 2.8 fisheye only, I shot completely with available light and used my steady hands as a tripod. First I stared up and enjoyed the spender around me. In some spots, the caves were nearly 10 stories tall! I shoot quickly and quietly, never in the middle, never blocking anyone. No loud noises, no flashes.
Florida Caves are Way Better
The Florida Caverns, the only accessible dry cave in Florida, is far more intimate, pristine, and more challenging to navigate. They also restrict flash photography, and don’t allow tripods. Further, the Florida Caverns is quite a long trip out, with no major metropolitan cities for hundreds of miles, meaning that only the most dedicated and respectful nature lovers will make the trip out to visit.
The caves offer a long walk, but requires ducking and slippery ups and downs. Just walking through is an adventure!
The staff there absolutely love the park and explain, in great length, how to respect the cave and keep it preserved for future generations. The people-led tours are absolutely wonderful. They also reach points where they turn off the lights, make everyone be quite, and see what the cave is really like.
Like all Florida parks, the Florida Caverns offer a discreet peace of mind that allows you to escape technology and life’s pressures. Although I photograph Florida parks frequently, I’ve often found myself going back without a camera or cellphone to unwind and release my mind.
Much of the nations parks are ruined by people. Not that I don’t like people, but without that sense of peace and tranquility, nature is just not nature. At Yosemite, I can’t walk a trail for more than a few minutes without passing people. Florida’s parks are far removed from cities, and weed out the main flock of tourists. They’re also less pampered, less commercialized, and more natural.
Solutions for Luray
Luray Caverns management needs to do a few things.
First, take out the pipe organ.
If people want to donate, have that information in a booth outside. Remove the money fountain.
Explain how to respect nature before entering. Show examples of damaged stalagmite at the entrance, and why they cannot be touched (this is what the Florida Caverns do).
Explain to people how to respect eachother. This includes flash photography.
Limit the number of people entering per hour. Say, 15 people per 30 minutes with a guide, or even 15 every 10 minutes, just to keep people apart in blocks and give a sense of tranquility.