May 3, 2010

Meramec Caverns

Sunday was spent exploring the Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri. The caverns - located below the hills of Meramac Valley and discovered in 1720 - were once used as a hideout by the notorious bank and train robber Jesse James.

The caves also figured in the American Civil War, as saltpeter - primary ingredient for gunpowder - was mined from the caves in the 19th century, and a Union gunpowder facility was destroyed by Confederate guerillas led by Jesse James.

The cave system contains 26 miles of underground passages with some caves stretching seven stories high. It also contains thousands of stalactites and stalagmites, and even one rare structure, called Wine Table, that only forms underwater.

The most spectacular part of the caverns is the Stage Curtain, a mineral deposit 70 feet high, 60 feet wide and 35 ft thick (top photo). Stage Curtain is used as a backdrop for a light and sound presentation shown at the end of the tour.

The caves were opened to the public in 1933.

How to Get There: from St. Louis take I-44 west, drive for about 60 miles to Exit 230 (Stanton, MO), then take a left passing over the railroad tracks and continue for 3 miles.

Rates: adults ($19), children 5-11 ($9.50), below 5, free. Website here

pics, from top: the Stage Curtain, the entrance to the caverns, Civil War-era guns found in the caves, the Wine Table formation

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