Meet Rachelle Burk: Caver, Explorer and Author!

Throughout history, humans have been drawn to the mystery and wonder of caves. A cave provides safety, protection and camouflage, perfect for dwelling and hiding. Caves have lent humans a sense of the sacred and offered a canvas for their earliest artworks. For scientists, caves are fascinating ecosystems with unique critters, compounds and geology; and for all who appreciate nature, they are full of fantastic beauty that connect the spectator to the earth.

In recent years, the sport of “caving” or “spelunking” has given scientists and other adventurous individuals a chance to explore the depths of caves, as they crawl and squeeze through subterraneum crevices and rappel into open grottos. Cave exploration offers the thrilling experience of entering the depths of the earth and exploring other-worldly beauty underground. However, spelunking is only for adventurous types who are willing to train, sweat and get dirty. Our Tumblehome author, Rachelle Burk, is one of them!

Rachelle has always been fascinated by caves and even anything “cave-like.” As a young girl, she imaginatively explored her grandmother’s basement or her friends’ cellars, craving mystery and adventure. Then as an adult, she joined her first outing with the local chapter of NSS, the National Speleological Society. Through this group, Rachelle explored dark caves on her hands and knees in amazement, and learned the important safety rules of caving that protect both the caver and the cave environment.

Rachelle describes that what she loves most about caving is the beauty and the sheer adventure. A caver discovers extraordinary formations, waterfalls, and strange creatures inside the earth’s depths that have existed untouched for thousands of years. Some places Rachelle has caved include Belize, Panama, Puerto Rico and Vietnam. Her favorite trip was to Belize; after an hour hike through the jungle, swimming through a river, and spelunking in an ancient cave, Rachelle and her group found Mayan pottery and skeletons! Someday she hopes to cave at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, which is the longest cave system known in the world.

Rachelle and her daughter Alana at age 10

Rachelle and her daughter Alana at age 10

Caving is fun, thrilling and beautiful. But also, as Rachelle notes, one learns the importance of respecting caves. Protecting caves also protects our environment since caves are important bat habitats. Bats are essential in the pollination of hundreds of varieties of plants, in protecting crops from destructive pests, and in controlling mosquito populations.

In Rachelle’s new juvenile novel co-written by Kopel Burk, The Walking Fish, Rachelle weaves in her knowledge and experience of caving as the young protagonist, Alexis, discovers and studies a perplexing finding: a fish that walks. Led by a scientist and accompanied by the local caving club, Alexis journeys below ground to conduct research and spelunk in the cave’s labyrinth. They learn the wonder of caves, the thrill of discovery, and the proper safety precautions one must take. The Walking Fish provides an exciting window into the world of caving, and encourages children to engage in adventurous scientific endeavors.

For children and families, there are many caving tours all around the country that provide the opportunity to learn, connect with the natural world, and explore. Cave exploration is a great activity for a family summer vacation. Check out the entry for more detail:


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Jun 9, 2015 | Posted by in Ecology, Family activity, Nature study | Comments Off