Shame on me! Yes, that’s what I said; shame on me for waiting so long to attend my first “night-lighting of the tunnel” event at Natural Tunnel State Park.
Getting Funky at the Tunnel
Wow! What had I been waiting for?
In my defense, I had been waiting and ready for nightfall to come the day of July’s event, only to be foiled by a lightning storm.
I’d seen the tunnel and surrounding amphitheater in daylight plenty of times before, and always delighted in the majestic splendor of it all. But I hadn't prepared myself for the heightened level of mystery and intrigue — darkness would add to an already stimulating experience. Couple that with a lifelong, uh, respect, err, fear of heights, and I nearly had myself a case of high anxiety on my hands, heading into my first night lighting adventure.
To save face, I had reluctantly ridden the chairlift a few times before, but never in the dark. So, nervously, I boarded the lantern-lit car of the chairlift, thankfully accompanied by a coworker for comfort, and began my descent into the moonlit depths of the rugged Karsts landscape below suspended only by cables stretched tightly across concrete and steel pillars. Upon clearing the paved road that leads to the chairlift’s roundabout, we quickly began to “lose” in elevation as we slipped off the side of a steep mountainside into the throat of a great chasm in the Earth.
Once out of sight of the lights of the parking lot, the slow and deliberate descent en route to the tunnel floor begins to take on a distinctly different feel. On this particular night, the shrill sound of a concert of cicadas calling from the surrounding forest permeated the thick, night air. The reverberating din of their conversation set the perfect backdrop for an evening of elevated sensibilities.
After moments of swaying about in the dark, watching the lanterns mounted atop each chairlift car bob up and down like overgrown lightning bugs as they made their descent into the gorge below, and trying unsuccessfully to ignore the slightly-unnerving, muted groan of the chairlift's pulleys maneuvering along the taut cable above, we reached the reassuring terra firma of the tunnel floor, at last.
Ahead, at the end of the platform normally used for peering into the shadowy opening of an ancient, mysterious tunnel nearly a thousand feet in length and untold-millions of years old, stood a band performing an eclectic mix of music, on this night. So, I pulled up a chair and gathered around with a group of forty or so other onlookers and took in the funky, moonlit sounds of B.J. and the Honey Beans. Soothing background music was provided by the sound of rushing water cascading over the slippery, prehistoric rocks of Stock Creek, stage left. Comfortable folding-chairs, fresh-cooked popcorn, assorted snacks and ice-cold sodas further complimented a delightful, semi-subterranean evening in nature.
So, as countless others had done before, from early railroad travelers through the tunnel around the turn of the century, to countless numbers of Native Americans over tens of thousands of years, we took in a moonlit excursion of the great Natural Tunnel. Wow, what had I been waiting for?"
Typically, the park offers night-lighting events on the last Saturday of each month from May through October. The next event is scheduled for October 29th, as well as every Friday and Saturday night starting the first Friday after Thanksgiving through the week of Christmas. These final eight night-lighting events will also feature Christmas lights, hot chocolate and singing. So, what are you waiting for?