River City Grotto has been very fortunate. We have stayed active during the Pandemic, but just low key. By reading the website articles you may notice we have no caves in Jacksonville. Every cave trip is a short road trip. Many Florida Speleological Society (FSS) members lived in Jacksonville but never made meetings. Two hours down and two hours back for a late night meeting on a school night meant many did not go. Many missed out on trips and communication due to the distance. David and Katie Obi realized there were a lot of Jacksonville cavers and put out a call to unite everyone-starting the River City Grotto on October 18, 2012.
River City Grotto has always had good ties with the FSS, and feels it is an extension of that grotto. We visit many of the same caves and help each other in any way we can. River City Grotto did a fundraiser back in March 2019 for the FSS to build a permanent multi-use bandstand structure on Jerry’s Farm.
This year (after 2 years of waiting) River City Grotto was very happy to hear that the annual Florida Cave Cavort was back on. The FSS was going to sponsor the ‘Return of the Florida Cavers’, and the structure was going to be built for the festivities.
Many came out Thursday to camp and hang out. This was a relaxing evening listening to Brian Hauha’s endless stream of jokes, while Jon Singley kept the fire going.
Upon finding out that one of our members could only do a cave trip Friday Morning–we put together a last minute trip. After a quick call to the landowners, James and Peggy, we headed over. The issue was that none of us could remember where the cave was located. James volunteered to get us started in the right direction. Thanks to James and a little extra walking, we did find Watch Cave. It was worth the walk.
After returning from a beautiful day hike and cave trip there were more people at camp. There was now interest in a trip over to Whitecliff Cave. We secured special permission for a late night trip, arriving in darkness and returning to camp around 11:00 pm. Funny, some really enjoyed the trip and others wanted to make effigies of the guide to stick pins into him. This cave can be rather challenging.
A Side Note:
This is about Deann, who is affectionately known as my cave-wife. During a 2017 Cave Cavort, Deann came down to Williston from Jacksonville to sell a camper. The prospective buyer had just driven over to Williston, from Tallahassee. The buyer, Allen, asked Deann if she would like to try caving–not knowing any better Deann said: “Sure”. I had the honor of taking Deann to Whitecliff, as her very first cave, with Allen. Deann fell in love with caving, and also Allen. The two were soon married. In essence, Deann also got her camper back. We have all stayed in contact and look forward to cave events to hang out together. Although unintentional, I have always felt good about being a successful match maker for Allen and Deann. Five years after that trip and recovering from knee surgery–Deann revisited Whitcliff again. While sharpening quills for the guide effigy, Deann assures me this is the last time she is ever going to Whitecliff. I’m sad she won’t be going to Whitecliff again, but very happy Deann is such a good friend.
Everyone went in a different direction Saturday–different caves, different people, and different duties. However, at the end of the day we all got together for some famous Vince Phelps Family BBQ, and some cavorting while listening to the Fire Water Tent Revival Band.
The FSS did a FANTASTIC job getting all of the Florida Cavers back together. Big thanks goes out to Jerry and Shirl Johnson for the use of their wonderful farm. Thanks also to Fire Water Tent Revival who played an awesome show, and Vince Phelps for cooking a fantastic BBQ. What a lot of FUN!!!!
Story and photos by Philip Walker