Monday, October 20, 2014

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park: The Cave: October 12th, 2014

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that Joe and I often find ourselves on tours of underground spaces.  Mines and caves and caves and mines.  During this leaf-peeping trip to Southeastern MN, we decided to spend one morning in a place where no leaves dare to tread: Mystery Cave.  There are two sides to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park...and they're pretty obvious.  We'll go visit the Forestville side later.

Turquoise Pool is nice and cool, so juicy-sweet!

This part of Southeastern Minnesota is full of caves and sinkholes.  If you're driving around and see a cluster of trees in the middle of a field, odds are good that the trees are there because the ground sunk in and is no longer able to be farmed.  This particular cave was found in 1937 by the property owner, Joe Pettey - who filled in some of the floors and opened it up for tours less than a year later.  Hard times befell them and the farm (and cave) changed hands several time before it wound up property of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  They restored the cave as best they could - hand-scooping out the gravel that Pettey used to fill the floors, and replacing the gravel walkways with see-through steel grate walkways - and it is now open for tours from spring to autumn.

Stalactites hold on tight (to the ceiling), stalagmites might someday reach up far enough to touch a stalactite.

Since it was a cold October day, we only had five people in our tour group.  This was fine with me - that meant I could pepper the ranger with questions.  Has white-nose syndrome reached the cave's bats yet?  (No, not yet, but they are taking precautions by asking all visitors to wash their shoes before and after visiting the cave).  Why is the ceiling so nice and flat?  (The rocks above formed in layers, and when the weaker sandstone layers fell it left a very smooth layer of shale, making it look like a constructed ceiling).  How do the lights get changed?  (It is the cave manager's job to change lightbulbs, he is very good at crawling around below the walkway and up into corners to get to them).

Cave formation Cthulu

The ceiling really was very nice and flat.  I commented at one point that it was like a Disney version of a cave - no disrespect to the cave!  It was just so amazing that we were comfortably able to walk through it and get a real good look at the rock formations, pools, and wildlife.  The cave was once on the bottom of the sea - proven by this nice 450 million year old cephalopod conveniently located on the ceiling.

Hello, I am a cephalopod

Most of the caves 2,000 bats were living in another part of the cave for the season, but a few little brown bats preferred to sleep in the section that we visited.  This little guy was about 4 inches long and absolutely adorable.  We also saw one that was right overhead, gently swaying back and forth as if he were snoring in his sleep.

Snoozing bat

The highlight of the tour was the beautiful Turquoise Lake.  The ranger did a great job of herding us into a dark passage before dramatically throwing the lights on to reveal the sight before us.

ooh ahh

We took the regular old Scenic tour, which was the only kind they offered during the weekend we visited.  Neither Joe nor I are keen on taking the Wild Caving or Flashlight tours, but we would have been interested in taking a longer tour like the Geology one or the Photography one.  Oh well - we can come back some other time.  I would highly, highly recommend visiting this cave if you're in the area.  I also think it's a really good First Cave if you want to introduce youngsters to caving in a way that's less intimidating: the path is smooth, it's not really that scary, and it just looks so darn cool.

Posts for this trip will be a bit out of order - but don't worry, we'll get to all of them. :-)


  1. Oooh, stone cephalopods in a cave!

    I'll have to add this place to my list of places to visit!

    1. The cephalopod was pretty cool. The ranger said that there are more to be seen on some of the other tours they offer - it'd be fun to go back and see some more. :-)

  2. I love caves, but am pretty hesitant about them now. When I was young, I took the Mark Twain cave tour in Missouri a couple times. When I was real young, we went to Carlsbad Caverns in whahevertheheckitis Southwest state. Then there's Crystal Cave across the border in WI that I enjoyed a couple times in the past 20 years. I loved them all. Sadly, I've developed some claustrophobia. During a winter camping trip to the Boundary Waters maybe 9 years ago, we didn't have much snow to build snow shelters with. So we used tarps stretched over circular mounds of snow. When we climbed in though, the tarp was probably only six inches from my nose. It was cold, I couldn't sleep, and as the night wore on, I started feeling really uncomfortable about the lack of space. I was completely aware that I was being irrational about it, but finally got to the point that I had to tell my shelter-mates that if they didn't let me out (I was one or two people away from the entrance), that I was going to climb out through the wall. I hated it. The rest of the night was spent freezing in a snow bank. Crappiest camping experience ever. Though I've not panicked since, I've felt waves of discomfort in confined spaces. I'm hoping that since I've been able to crawl after James and Thomas in the ant tunnels in the Children's Museum that maybe I'm mostly over it, but I can't say for sure. I hate the idea of not going caving again.

    Oh, and your pictures are great. This doesn't have to be all about me. HA.

    1. LOL! Okay, I think there's a big difference between spending the night in a snow coffin and spending an hour walking through a Disney-like version of a cave. I would have hated the snow coffin and probably would have opted to shiver outdoors as well. If you decide to brave a cave, this one would be a good one for ya.

      When I was in college I would sometimes go caving in Maquoketa, Iowa.
      Some of the caves are large enough to stand up in, but most of them are the crawl-through-on-your-stomach types of caves. It was fun back in the day, but I'm pretty sure I'm too claustrophobic for them now. I remember my friends having to pull me out of one that I got stuck in, all Winnie-the-Pooh style. I thought it was funny back then. Now, I probably would have had a full-on panic attack and severely injure myself in an attempt to get out. And then have PTSD about the whole experience for the rest of my life.