The Edmond Sun

November 1, 2013

Orvis Risner teacher pens Alabaster Caverns book

Heather Moery
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — While working at Alabaster Caverns State Park over the summer, tour guide Kelli Thomas kept hearing the same thing over and over again from visitors, “Do you guys have a book on Alabaster Caverns?”

Thomas, a second grade teacher at Orvis Risner Elementary School in Edmond, said her reply was always the same, not really.

“We really just didn’t have anything,” she said. “There are very few books written about caves.”

For nearly six weeks, Thomas, who also has a passion for writing, set out to write a children’s book about Alabaster Caverns.

“I love history and I love caves, so I thought it would be great to write about it,” she said. “I thought, ‘What about a children’s book?’ I have always loved caves and I thought it would be a lot of fun.”

During her downtime, Thomas researched, looked through old files, took photographs and completed her children’s book.

“This truly was a labor of love,” she said. “I have loved bringing it to life for others to enjoy.”

Park Manager Mike Caywood at Alabaster Caverns State Park said the park is having Thomas’ book, which is titled “Alabaster Caverns ‘The Bat Caves,’” published sometime in 2014 and, once published, will only be available at the Alabaster Caverns State Park gift shop.

“Alabaster Caverns ‘The Bat Caves’” includes information from geology to history to what animals can be seen in and around the caverns.

As reported in the book, the caverns, which were created over 200 million years ago, are made from alabaster, the most compact form of gypsum, and selenite, the purest form of gypsum. Black alabaster is so rare, the Smithsonian Institution took a sample from one of the caves at Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom and has it displayed in the National History Museum in Washington, D.C. Alabaster Caverns is also “the only gypsum show cave in the United States and it is the largest gypsum show cave in the world.”

Not much is known about who discovered the caverns, but, according to Thomas’ research, in 1939, Englishman Charles Grass purchased the “Bat Caves,” as it was known at the time, and changed the name to Alabaster Caverns.

Thomas also included information about local flora and fauna that can be seen in and around the caverns. Thomas wrote that five varieties of bats live in the caverns. Four varieties of bats live in the caves year-round, but one variety, the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, migrates to the caverns every fall.

In an effort to keep people safe while visiting the caverns, Thomas also included caving safety tips in the book as well. Some of the tips include never going into a cave alone, always wearing a helmet and always having three sources of light on you at all times. A map of the caverns is also included.

Thomas said, once published, she would love to incorporate her book in her teaching.