Hi, my name is Craig and am a Cave Snob. That’s hard to admit ’cause I didn’t even know I suffered from the affliction until recently. I see signs touting the spectacular Onondaga Cave in Missouri. But hey, I’m from Kentucky, home of Mammoth Cave. The largest cave system in the world and one of the 10 Natural Wonders of the World. Like I invented the darn thing or something. Nonetheless, I’m totally prepared to be unimpressed with this cave, you’ll have to Show Me Missouri, besides I’m here to see the bats anyway.
To the Bat Cave
Huh?, What? There are no bats? What do you mean there are no bats? Like many North American caves, White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) has infected many of our caves. First noticed in Onondaga in 2012, WNS is a fungal infection that grows on bats during their hibernating season causing them to become active prematurely and burn through their fats stores. The fatal infection has killed millions of bats that would have saved farmers billions by eating the crop harming insects. About 95% of Onondaga bats have perished as a result of this infection.
Besides being The Show Me State, Missouri is also known as the Cave state, second only to Tennessee in the total number of caves. Onondaga is considered one of the states most spectacular caves; earning it a National Natural Landmark designation. Onondaga cave was first discovered in the late 1800’s and really gains fame during the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis. Tourism reaches its peak in the 1950’s-60’s with advertisements painted on barns along Route 66 and are part of Missouri’s history.
“If You Want Your Eyes to Go Gaga, Come and Visit Onondaga!”
– 1950s advertising slogan
Onondaga and Mark Twain caves are the last of 8 Missouri “Show” caves. Popular before the advent of Air Conditioning, the caves were not only used to produce beer but became cool beer halls and destinations for picnics, dances and other gatherings. These caves were also even used as theaters, I would certainly see a movie here.
Known for its abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, rimstone dams, flowstones, soda straws and cave coral the cave is an amazing visual tapestry. Add to that a stream that meanders all through the cave and you have the making for an extraordinary cave tour.
Holy Flowstone Batman
The tour of the cave last 1.5 hours and covers about a mile of walking. The temperature is a cool 57 degrees year round. The young guide leads us from the concrete bunker airlock and the temperature drops 20 degrees immediately. It’s like walking into a cooler. We descend down along an amazingly clear blue-green stream. Known as the Lost River, it is a tributary of the Meramec River that runs into the hillside thus creating this marvelous canyon underground. The guide provides a mix of historical information on this cave specifically as well as information on cave structures, in general. I try my hand at some different photography techniques in an attempt to capture the amazing views the cave offers. I’m about 1/2 way through the tour before I figure out the best camera settings to use now wishing I can start the tour over.
The Cave so nice I spelunked it twice
I return to the cave a few days later for another event hosted by the Onondaga State Park. They are catching, banding and releasing ruby-throated hummingbirds. I have never seen such an event and certainly want to give it a go. The organizer’s fashion nets over existing hummingbird feeders and we wait for them to figure out how to navigate through the nets into capture.
I wait about twenty minutes and begin to really miss the bats’ contribution of insect-eating. The bugs are just eating me up and I grow weary of the whole process. I know the next cave tour is in 10 minutes so I pack up and grab my tripod and head back to the cave. I have never been compelled to revisit any of the Mammoth Cave tours twice in a week, so Missouri, I guess you Showed Me.