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Wildcat Cave. (c) 2012 J,S.Reinitz

These days the trail to Eldora Cave is fading. Crumbing and overgrown, the remains of the path skirt the bluffs along the Iowa River. My 9-year-old son lost interest in the search for the cave early on. My daughter, age 5, was gungho, but she lacked the scrambling skills. So, after negotiating the first few washouts, the kids headed back to the nearby playground with mom. I slid and stumbled on down the trail slowly, constantly scanning the route for any sign of something cave-like.

This was our first visit to Eldora Cave. My introduction to it came by way of Iowa Underground, Greg Brick’s catalog of subterranean features. The book details the path, but time has passed and with it came erosion and rampant vegetation.

Trail aside, finding the cave itself wasn’t difficult. It wasn’t far from the trail and looked like a cave. An iron post and chainlink fence stood accordioned to the right, making it appear that the cave had been closed at some point in the past. There was the odor of animal urine or decomposition in the air. I couldn’t quite place it. Flies buzzed around the entrance.

The cave is little more than a small shelter. A few feet beyond the mouth is a heap of rocks that appear to be evidence of a cavein. Stand on top of the pile, and there is a 7 or 8-foot tall chimney. Not interested in crawling any deeper, I took a GPS reading and a few photos and worked my way back to the playground.

Not far from Eldora Cave is Wildcat Cave, located upstream in a deep ravine off the Iowa River. It, too, is a small cave, but there’s a little more to it. Wildcat is perched near the top of the rocky ravine wall, and most times there is an old tree trunk leaning up to the mouth to aid in the climb. The cave goes deeper, and the tunnel walls hold dozens of names and messages chiseled into the rock.

During this year’s trip (this was our second visit), we found rotting animal carcasses scattered about the valley floor. My first thought was a hunter had dumped them, but now I wonder if perhaps it was the remains of a wildcat’s feast.

Wildcat Cave has a designated parking lot with a moved path that takes explorers to the ravine’s start. Also, not far from the cave is a wrecked school bus nesting half way down the ravine wall.

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