September 15, 2015 Dave Z
If you’ve never been caving, or spelunking, as those in the know call it, you’re missing out. Hidden just below the surface is a awe inspiring network of caverns, crawlspaces, waterfalls and eons-old rock formations. And if you don’t mind getting a little dirty, there are a plenty of these natural wonders you can explore for yourself—particularly in the Midwestern United States.
Let’s begin our underground tour with the granddaddy of them all, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. With over 400 miles of caverns, it’s lucky for you expertly led ranger tours are available. They only cover about 11-miles of the underground, however. Those with a more adventurous spirit won’t be able to wander off on your own unfortunately; these tours are strictly controlled to prevent damage to a cave system with over 5,000 visitors daily during the busy seasons.
Whatever you do, don’t try to take any rocks home with you or write your name on the wall. There’s no quicker way to earn the ire of park rangers than destroying the natural beauty of the caves. Also, leave the strollers, tripods and metal-frame backpacks behind as well. Not only will these make navigating around the cave more difficult, they are prohibited because they might cause damage to the surroundings. Flash photography is also prohibited on cave tours.
If you’re looking for something a bit more self guided as you advance, take a trip up I-71 to Ohio Caverns. Seriously, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the state (we are talking about Ohio after all). The caves are filled with rare mineral formations along with some of the most impressive stalagmites and stalactites you’re likely to see. Just be sure to watch your speed when you cross over into Ohio, many a ill-informed traveller has gotten busted by not noticing the reduced speed limit to 65 mph on many Ohio freeways.
The best part about caves, is that for the most part, they are open to the public year-round. That’s what happens when you don’t have to deal with the weather. Which is especially important if you want to visit The Lost Sea—America’s largest underground lake which is a part of the historic Craighead Caverns system in Tennessee. The underground lake covers four acres, and as a part of a glass bottom boat tour is a fantastic trip for photographers.
No matter which of these caves you decide to visit, there are some pretty universal regulations that you should be aware of. It is ILLEGAL to break or remove broken cave formations, disturb or remove cave creatures, disturb or remove historic artifacts or bones or deface the cave by leaving items behind or marking cave walls. Basically, treat the environment with respect so other people can enjoy the same beauty after you have gone. Spelunking can also be dangerous; so here is a handy guide to some wonderful cave safety tips.
From all of us here at Mr. Meaner, happy spelunking! If you see any moose down there, you’re probably in the wrong spot.
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