We’re following up our brief account of the history of spelunking—and the daring explorations of Édouard-Alfred Martel—with a list of 7 American spelunking destinations.
Photo of Lehman Caves courtesy of http://www.nps.gov/grba/index.htm
Any given spelunking aficionado could undoubtedly debate the merits of these with the 250+ grottos in America registered with the National Speleological Society: the features and qualities of each as diverse as America’s landscapes. Nonetheless, our attempt to outline a relatively diverse collection of well-known American spelunking locales follows:
- Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky): Explored by Martel himself, the Mammoth Cave system is definitively mammoth, featuring 390 miles of explored caves, by far the world’s longest. Consisting primarily of Limestone, Mammoth Cave features many stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, travertine dams, and the otherworldly “gypsum flowers” formation.
- Caverns of Sonora (Texas): Regarded as the “most beautiful cave in Texas,” this spelunking destination offers guided tours for the faint-hearted explorer and gemstone panning. The co-founder of the National Speleological Society, Bill Stephenson, once said: “Its beauty cannot be exaggerated, even by Texans,” and in fact, the Caverns are among the most active caves in the world as 95% of its formations continue to grow.
- Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota): Located in the rolling Black Hills of South Dakota, there is, in fact, a wind that greets visits at the opening of the cave, as its founders were actually attracted to the cave by a whistling noise. Wind Cave is also known for its rare boxwork formations, which are among the most defined in the world.
- Oregon Caves National Monument (Oregon): More descriptively known as the Marble Halls of Oregon, these caves were formed as rainwater from ancient forests dissolved the below marble over time. Located within the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, the region home to the Marble Halls of Oregon is among the most bio diverse in the world.
- Lehman Caves (Nevada): Located within the Great Basin National Park, the Lehman Caves are also marble caves, arguably among the most beautiful in the world, and were discovered by Absalom Lehman. The entrance of the caves features a collection of apricot trees thought to have been planted by Lehman over 100 years ago.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): The harsh New Mexico landscape gives way to 117 known limestone caves. The rock home to the caves features fossilized ocean plants and animals from before the dinosaurs. Over time, the rock was eroded by sulfuric acid forming these caves around 250 million years ago.
- The Private Caves of Pennsylvania: While the previously discussed National Park “show caves” offer safe, guided tours for the rookie spelunker, privately owned caves across the country offer a more rugged and remote exploration for the veteran caver. Pennsylvania, in particular, is a hot bed of privately owned caves as the state’s many limestone formations have been infiltrated by water over time. The water expanded forming room-sized cracks ripe for exploration. The National Speleological Society offers lists of these privately owned caves accessible to spelunking pros.
Have you caught the spelunking fever yet? Pelican’s extensive range of headlamps is ideal for spelunkers—from beginners to experts. The Pelican 2620 HeadsUp Lite, for instance, lets you switch from Xenon light or LED, while a special lens alters the color spectrum, making the 2620 NVG the perfect night vision headlamp for dark caves and twilight spelunking.
Will you be heading to a spelunking destination anytime soon?