EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was written by a former Star-Tribune employee. It originally appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune in July of 2012.
Our guide, Sarah Trembly, met us at The Rise with two extra headlamps and two pairs of gloves.
We walked a short way toward The Sinks before she led us off-trail to a pile of rocks.
Then Sarah climbed in.
That small hole, seemingly nothing more than a gap between several boulders, was actually the entrance to the cave. Sarah called up for us to follow her down.
Sarah, a temporary park ranger, lead me and my 10-year-old son, Sammy, on a tour of Boulder Choke Cave at Sinks Canyon State Park in Lander.
Once inside the cave, we settled in an open room with a bit of sunlight still shining through above. It was a beautiful 55 or so degrees, a temperature it stays all year long.
The limestone cave extends 1,400 to 1,500 feet – at least that’s the amount that has been mapped and explored. How far you can go depends on how far the water has receded.
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The water deposits trout into the cave that never find their way out again. Their offspring have adapted to the dark and are now colorless, though they still react to lights directed in the water. Sarah has seen the flashes of white swim away from her beams, though Sammy and I didn’t catch sight of one.
As we walked, crawled, or shimmied through the passage, we heard the water flowing either in front or beside us. It sounded like a crowd before the start of a concert, with a hundred voices bouncing off the walls and ceiling.
We stopped at a place where the water flowed from a room below us, but also pooled in front of us. Sarah told us to sit in the dark for a while, to see the absolute darkness.
The river chirped and gurgled. It laughed and hollered. I thought I could make out the words if I could just listen a little harder.
"Can we turn our lights on now?" Sammy asked.
We made our way back, spending no more than an hour underground.
Wear clothes and sturdy shoes that you won’t mind coming out covered in mud. Bring gloves, at least two light sources (preferably a headlamp to keep your hands free), and knee pads if you have them. Crawling is the only way to advance through some passages.
You will have to maneuver through a narrow descent to get into the cave, but afterward you will have room to at least crawl on hands and knees. There are sections where you can stand up and walk.
The Rise is a large pool, more than 20 feet deep in places, and home to large rainbow and brown trout.
Trout swim upstream to spawn, looking for gravel beds to deposit their eggs. But The Rise is a natural barrier, preventing them from going farther, and the trout tend to congregate. Many stay because visitors feed them pellets at 25 cents per handful. The area has been closed since 1920 to fishing, so it gives the trout the opportunity to get up to 8 to 12 pounds.
Park at the visitors center and follow the signs to both the Sinks and the Rise. A concrete trail connects the two areas.