One weekend last August we decided to pack up the camper and head out to Robertsville State Park. Anyone who has ever suffered through a St. Louis summer knows that August can be hot, humid and downright miserable. I’m not a big fan of heat and humidity so rather than spend the evening in front of a campfire, we nestled into the cozy air conditioned haven of my little Koala camper, drank some beers and listened to oldies on my iPod.
The next morning we were in store for yet another hot, humid and downright miserable day. What to do? We really wanted to go hiking and enjoy the outdoors, but Mother Nature had decided to turn St. Louis into her own personal blast furnace for the weekend. Lucky for us, Missouri is also known as the Cave State, and caves are a comfortable 57 degrees year round. What a wonderful respite from the oppressive summer heat!
We headed west down highway 44 towards one of the most spectacular caves in the US. Onondaga Cave is a national natural landmark located in Leasburg, MO. The state park was less than hour drive from the campground.
After a brief informational program and a lesson on White-nose Syndrome, a disease that is affecting cave bats, we were allowed to descend into the cave for a tour that would cover a mile of underground passageways and last a little over an hour.
What I liked most about this cave was that its natural beauty was allowed to speak for itself. There were no cheesy laser light shows or holograms projected on the walls. Just amazing natural formations that have been shaping and evolving under the surface of the earth for centuries. There were stalactites hanging from the ceiling, stalagmites growing from the floor, and the columns that are created when these two formations eventually meet up and merge together. The path meandered along a crystal clear underground stream where we viewed flowstone, dripstone and something our guide called ‘cave bacon’. All of this was really quite lovely, but the most extraordinary thing of all was a place called the ‘Lily Pad room’. Wow! I’ve toured a lot of caves and I have never seen anything like it. It was an underground aquatic wonderland. It gave me a sense of being magically transported to another world with a foreign, yet fascinating landscape. Lily pads made of stone seemed to float on the surface of the water; beneath the surface cave coral grew in brilliant shades of greens and blues. We hung around, taking pictures in this stunning venue until the guide pretty much turned out the lights on us.
After about an hour of exploring the subterranean scenery we emerged top side into the bright sunshine of a Missouri summer day. We rounded out our visit to Onondaga Cave State Park by photographing the beautiful native butterflies as they flitted around the gardens outside of the visitor’s center.
Soon we were at the campground and back in the air conditioned comfort of my cozy little camper. Scrolling through the photographs and reminiscing about our day, we decided we had come up with the perfect way to beat the sultry St. Louis heat and still enjoy a nice nature hike.