In: Outdoors25 Jul 2012
(map) This is a cool place to visit – literally. It’s a constant 68 degrees underground year-round, which makes it a welcome break from our blazing heat. Formed by an underground river over millions of years, the cave is by turns spooky, then whimsical, then dazzling. A guide takes you along a 1-1/2-mile path into, eventually, total darkness.
The 1-1/2-hour tour starts at the mouth of the cave, where the guide does a head count to be sure no one gets left behind. She points out these limestone rocks are 450 million years old, “give or take a day.”
The cavern is in three levels: the “attic,”, the main floor, and the basement. This is the main floor, and at times, shafts of light peek through the top. The pathway is solid and illuminated with electric lights. Above, the guide stops to point out a tiny bat living in the cave. (Hundreds of spiders live there, too.) The place has had some odd uses. Back during Prohibition in the 20s, it was a speakeasy where locals came to swill bathtub gin – actually juniper juice, made from local cedar berries.
In addition to stalagmites and stalactites, the water formed smooth surfaces called dolomites. They look like a scene out of “Star Wars.” Below, some of the rooms of the cave are completely lined in glistening crystals. They say the first men to excavate the cavern thought they had found a diamond mine.
Back up top, there’s a cafe and a gift shop full of rock-related souvenirs. Tours are $12.99 for adults, with graduated discounts for children. The park was constructed as one of the WPA projects during the Depression to get men working. This building was their original admin building, built in the 30s with limestone from the cave.