Exploring Ohio Caverns

All your classier caves come equipped with doors.

All your classier caves come equipped with doors.

Sixty miles northwest of Columbus, surrounded by endless acres of corn, lie the Ohio Caverns. Betsy and I drove there Saturday to check them out.

The caverns are 54Β° F all year long, though you end up a bit colder than that, on account of the water that drips from the ceiling onto your hands, your head, and down the back of your shirt. Still, it was a welcome change from the summer heat.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This particular cave system was formed by an underground river, carving a path through the limestone over thousands of years. The stalactites (“hanging tight to the ceiling”) and stalagmites (which “might someday reach the ceiling”) are simply the accumulated remains of water dripping in the same spot for millennia.

Rust (iron oxide) in its natural form.

Rust (iron oxide) in its natural form.

Apparently, the caverns were discovered in 1897 when a 17-year-old farm worker noticed that the water would pool up in a certain area of the land, then drain away. He wanted to find out where it went.

Now we know. The process of excavation took decades, but I’d say it was worth it.

What do we call it when a stalactite and stalagmite merge? We call 'em columns. Ha! Call 'em columns. omg do you get it

What do we call it when a stalactite and stalagmite merge? We call ’em columns. Ha! Call ’em columns. omg do you get it (Our tour guide actually made this joke. I liked it.)

It’s a strange feeling, walking on the raw rock under the surface of the earth. You find yourself in the presence of ancient, alien structures, the result of processes that operate on a truly geological time scale. They began thousands of generations before you were born, and absent some major calamity, they will continue for thousands of generations after you die.

It’s easy to forget, because of countless movies and photos like these, that there is no light underground. The Ohio Caverns are wired up with artificial lamps, of course, but when they flip them off – as they did for a minute during our tour – you find out what absolute darkness looks like. Supposedly, enough time in the dark will atrophy your eye muscles, leaving you blind.

Back in 1925, they actually encouraged visitors to touch this stalagmite for good luck. That advice lasted only a year. It's still filthy from the skin oils today.

Back in 1925, they actually encouraged visitors to touch this stalagmite for good luck. That advice lasted only a year. It’s still filthy from the skin oils today.

Even with the artificial light, photos are tricky. Your flash goes off by default, but it washes out the picture and makes it ugly. So you have to disable the flash and hope for the best. These photos are the ones that turned out okay, culled from a herd of blurry rejects.

The Crystal King, the largest stalactite in the caverns.

The Crystal King, the largest (and therefore, presumably, the oldest) stalactite in the caverns.

Of course, no tour is complete without a trip to the gift shop. This shop had a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessarily from the caverns themselves, but was still sort of cave-y or geological. For just $20, I snagged a trilobite:

The state fossil of Ohio, narrowly beating out such competition as "Can we even think of any other fossils?" and "Nobody cares."

The state fossil of Ohio, narrowly beating out write-in candidates “Can we even think of any other fossils?” and “Yo momma.”

Have you ever been in a cave?

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10 responses to “Exploring Ohio Caverns

  1. I had the opportunity to visit the Black Chasm caves (http://www.caverntours.com/BlackRt.htm) and I liked the walking tour. These pictures remind me of that visit.

  2. When I was in Mexico this winter, me and a few family members went swimming in a “cenote” in Cancun. It’s basically an underground river that collapsed and (partially) emptied, so you’re often wading through or swimming in the water. There were all sorts of neat formations, and fossils and shells and things buried in the walls. We even saw some cave-dwelling catfish.

    It was incredibly neat. Definitely the coolest part of my trip.

  3. Despite being more than a little claustrophobic, I have enjoyed caving at the Lava Beds National Monument. Caves are very cool places, as long as you have adequate lighting and a known escape route. πŸ˜‰

    http://www.nps.gov/labe/planyourvisit/caving.htm

    • I explored a lava tube called Ape Cave, near Mount St. Helens, way back on (checks diary) August 12, 2003. A lot of fun. πŸ™‚ No native critters as cool as the bug in that photo, though.

      It’s cool you were willing to try that, in spite of your claustrophobia!

  4. I was a lot younger then, with a far more limited understanding of all the ways in which spelunking can go terribly wrong. πŸ˜‰

  5. Caves and the natural formations inside are always cool.

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