This past Saturday, Tony and I decided to cross out another item on our Explore St. Louis list. Since we had a little extra time and it was a beautiful day, we drove about an hour outside of St. Louis to Meramac Caverns which sits on the bank of the Meramac River.
Meramac Caverns is famous for being a hideout for Jesse James.
When we first entered the parking lot, we noticed a large zip line off to the side. It had a line for it the entire time that we were there! What kills me is that they charged $50 per ride and 90% of the ride was over the parking lot! Seriously, a line of people paying $50 to go over a parking lot. I get a zip line through the jungle or something, but over a parking lot? No thanks. Based on this, Tony and I are putting in a zip line from our rooftop deck. Surely we can charge at least $20!
A gentleman enjoying his trip over the parking lot.
This was part of their pan for gold area. We loved the beautiful water fountain.
I love that you can buy bags that definitely have items inside of them.
Entrance to the cave. This was part of the area called the ballroom. It's just a huge open area that is used twice a year for gospel concerts. It even has a disco ball hanging from the roof of it. At the end of the tour, the tour guides use their flashlights to make the disco ball shine. It was pretty cheesy.
During the late 1800s, this part of the cave was used by the locals to hold dances and escape the heat of summer.
Meramac Caverns sits right on the Meramac River. In the 1700s, this was a mostly unexplored area. An Osage Indian guide told French explorer Philipp Renault about a large whole hole in the earth that they would use for refuge during bad weather. The guide also told him that the walls were "veins of glittering metal." Turns out, there is no gold inside this particular cave, but Renault did discover the largest cave west of the Mississippi.
The cave may not have been filled with gold, but it was full of saltpeter. At that time, saltpeter, or potassium nitrate, was a key ingredient to making gun powder. Renault's discovery launched 144 years of mining from this cave.
During the Civil War, the Union constructed a gunpowder facility inside the cave in the area pictured above. In 1864, the Confederate troops destroyed the facility and brought an end to the saltpeter mining.
I had never heard of it before, but apparently People Are Funny was a long running tv game show during the 1940s and 1950s. At one point, the host did a show where a newlywed couple were given an all-expenses paid 10 day honeymoon. A young couple entered and won. What they didn't know is that 10 day trip was to stay in the little room pictured above right inside the entrance to the cave! The young couple were good sports about and even dressed up as a cave man and woman. They even made clubs to use on each other to entertain the tour groups that passed every twenty minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day.
Since they were such good sports, the show rewarded them with a real ten day trip to the Bahamas.
As stated before, a claim to fame for Meramac Caverns is that it was once used as a hideout for Jesse James and his gang for a long time. It's where they would store their loot after a robbery. A local sheriff finally heard about it and surrounded the cave. His plan was to starve them out. What he didn't realize is that there was an underground river with another exit down in the cave. Sure the water was very cold, but it allowed the Jesse James gang to escape. When the sheriff finally got tired of waiting and entered the cave, all he found were the tools pictured at the end of this blog.
This particular part of the cave wasn't discovered until the summer of 1941 during an extreme drought. The then owner of the cave was notified by a couple of tour guides that there was a very cool breeze coming up where it was previously thought that the cave ended at a small pool of water. During the drought, the water had receded nearly six inches. The owner volunteered the two tour guides to explore this discovery, so the guides jumped into the 40 degree water and swam beneath the wall. Once on the other side, they found more cave along with the Jesse James artifacts.
Underground river that they used to escape. The little white sign says Jesse James escape route.
This starts what is called the "Jungle Room" which is one of the highlights of the tour.
It's in this area where the tour of the cave is at its lowest point of 375 feet below. It actually goes back an additional 26 miles, but that area is filled with blind cave fish, snakes, and roughly 4,000 bats. No thanks.
This area is known as Oynx Mountain. It's the third largest stalagmite in the world at more than 500 feet in diameter. It is so large that one side of it has actually died since it has been cut off from the water supply and has rust on it. These are pictures from the living side. It is estimated to be 33 million years old.
You could make a lot of great jewelry from all of this onyx!
This is one of only two wine tables in the world. Notice the grape like formations on it. It's the world's rarest cave structure. The only other one is located in Sicily and is only two feet tall. This one stands more than seven feet tall. To get to it, we had to walk up 58 steps that were wet from the water dripping down with no lights. I am very happy to report that I didn't fall or slip once!
The Stage Curtain
This is considered to be the crown jewel of the cave. In 1933, the owner heard his echo which led him to knock down a small wall and find what is known as the 'upper levels' of the seven story cave. In it, he found this nearly 70 feet tall 'curtain.' This became known as the 'Theatre Room.' There have even been performances held here in front of the curtain.
At 70 feet high and 35 feet thick, it was the largest single cave formation in the world. Its age is estimated at 70 million years. Absolutely gorgeous.
This is the last thing that you see on the tour. When the cave owner discovered it, he jokingly named it mother-in-law's tongue because he thought that it looked like a tongue. It's a 16 foot stalacite.
What was left behind by the Jesse James Gang.
The tour of the cave is a little expensive, but we were able to find some good coupons online. I've definitely seen prettier caves, but this one has some very impressive formations. All in all, it was definitely worth the visit.