In last week’s post about Bonne Terre Mine, I mentioned that one of Missouri’s nicknames is “The Cave State.” What a perfect lead-in to this week’s letter C post. Most of the more than 6000 caves discovered in the state are relatively small or privately owned (you can read about our adventures in the small Bathtub Cave here).
There are, however, a few entrepreneurs that discovered you could earn money by showing the larger caves of the Show Me State. I’m listing some of them below (the ones I’ve actually been in) with the most recent admission prices I could find. NOTE: Due to the nature of caves, many of these are NOT handicap accessible. Please visit the links to see if your needs can be met.
Bluff Dweller’s Cavern (Noel, MO)
The 45-60 minute tour costs $12/adult, $6/ages 4-11, free/under 4. The cave was discovered in 1925. Early excavation found arrowheads, bone tools, and remains of early inhabitants. The first passage is spectacular to see. There’s no colored lighting, just the natural beauty of the rock. The onsite museum holds some of the artifacts found in the cave. Not Wheelchair accessible.
This cave is free to tour on (actually under) the grounds of Silver Dollar City and you can tour it for free with your park admission. The tours which leave every half hour and last about 1 hour, are NOT handicap accessible. There are nearly 600 stairs and in the place where you make tour reservations is a replica opening you’ll want to be sure you can stoop through. The cave was actually one of the first attractions in the region—opening in 1894 (long before the neon signs and glitz of Hwy 76). There’s evidence of visitors to the cave much earlier—in fact Spanish Explorers by have come as early as 1541 looking for the Fountain of Youth and other treasures. The cave boasts the largest entrance room in North America (204 ft. high, 225 ft. wide and 411 ft. long). In fact the pile of debris that has fallen into the sinkhole stands 124 ft. tall by itself.
Cave tours leave every 20-30 and last about 80 minutes. Prices are $20/adults, $10/kids 5-11, free/4 and under. You can’t travel far on a Missouri Highway before you spot a Meramec Cavern sign—maybe even painted on the roof of a barn. It was one of the first, if not THE first attraction on that nostalgic highway, Route 66. Philipp Renault (remember him from the lead mines in last weeks post) came here in 1720, when the natives told him there was a glittering yellow metal in the cave. It was only saltpeter –still a valuable resource used to make gunpowder. In fact, a century and a half later, the Union Army had a gunpowder facility in the mine. Evidence suggests that after the war, the infamous outlaw Jesse James hid out in the cave.
The cave uses colored lights to accentuate all the stalactites and stalagmites. In fact the tour ends with a regular light show at the “Stage Curtain” formation while you listen to Kate Smith sing God Bless America.
This cave is owned by the state and tours are given mid-April through October. The Price is $15/adults, $9/kids 6-12, free/under 6. Tours are 75 minutes long. The formations in this cave are breathtaking—the Queen’s Canopy, the King’s canopy, and the Lily Pad Room—the rock formations really look like lily pads floating in the water. Some of this cave may be wheelchair accessible, but the Lily Pad Room requires climbing steps (this part of the tour is optional, there’s a waiting area along the path for those you prefer not to make the trip). There is a second cave in the same park (Cathedral Cave) that offers tours by lantern--
Mark Twain Cave (Hannibal, MO)
The one hour tour costs $15.95/adult, $9.95/ages 8-12, $3/ages 7 and under. They also offer a 90 minute lantern tour for $3 more. What the cave lacks in beauty (none of the flowstone or stalactites and a hundred years’ worth of graffiti) it makes up for in nostalgia. This is the cave referred to in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
By and by somebody shouted “Who’s ready for the cave?”
Everybody was. Bundles of candles were procured, and straightaway there was a general scamper up the hill. The mouth of the cave was up the hillside—an opening like a letter A. …By and by the procession went filing down the steep descent of the main avenue, the flickering rank of lights dimly revealing the lofty walls of rock almost to their point of junction sixty feet overhead. This main avenue was not more than eight or ten feet wide. Every few steps other lofty and narrower crevices branched from it on either hand –for McDougal’s Cave was but a vast labyrinth of crooked aisles than ran into each other and out again and led nowhere.
My uncle can attest to the maze of corridors in this cave, having gotten separated from his tour group.
These are just a few of the show caves you can visit in Missouri. If you have a scout or just a child that likes earning patches, you might want to check out Missouri’s Cave Explorer program. Visit at least five of the fifteen participating caves and you can earn an embroidered patch.
I can’t end this post about caves without mentioning the most famous residents of caves---bats. In 2006, hundreds of bats near a show cave in New York were found dead. They had a white fungus growing on their noses. Since then White-nose syndrome has been spreading westward (as far as western Missouri). The fungus seems to irritate the bats out of their normal hibernation cycle and they either freeze or starve to death. Mortality rates in caves with WNS vary from 50 to 100 percent. Missouri’s Dept. of Conservation has already closed several caves (like the Bathtub Cave I linked to above). At some point it may become necessary to close or restrict access to caves.
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