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Rekindle your pioneer spirit at Squire Boone Caverns and Village

August 20, 2008
Gas prices got you down? Don't know of any way to beat the heat? Think affordable family fun is a thing of the past? Well, if you're in need of some welcome distractions, look no further than your own backyard. Residents of Crawford, Floyd and Harrison counties will be pleased to learn that there are plenty of interesting places to visit within the tri-county area that don't require a lot of money for admission or traveling. In a new weekly column, the Clarion News will feature places that you can take your family for a good time on the cheap. This week we'll be featuring Squire Boone Caverns and Village.

Squire Boone Village waterwheel
Since the 1970s, Mauckport has been drawing in underground adventurers and history buffs alike with its featured attraction of Squire Boone Caverns and Village. The combination of an hour-long tour through the depths of the caverns with a pioneer village complete with period activities and demonstrations, such as candle dipping and corn grinding, is a fine example of a successful combination of education and fun. Parents and children alike can experience and learn about life in the 1800s while catering to their more adventurous side in an exploration of what lies beneath the hills of Southern Indiana.

The journey into Squire Boone Caverns starts at this wagon. Here, guests are explained the rules of the cave and provided with some interesting facts and precautions before they descend. (Photos by Nick Simpson)
Though there is no set way to go about experiencing Squire Boone, most guests tend to do the cave tour first before they head out to the village. Through the summer months, the cave tours leave every 30 minutes and last around an hour.

Each cave tour is given by an experienced guide who will tell you all about what you're seeing in the cave and answer most of the questions you have. Their first duty, however, is to inform you of the three rules of the cave: No eating or drinking, no smoking, and no touching.

While the first and second rule is common in many places, the third may not be so intuitive. The reason guests are not allowed to touch anything in the caves is because of the oil on our hands. Touching a stalactite or a stalagmite in the cave leaves trace amounts of oil which causes a chemical reaction that stops the "speleothem," or cave formation, from growing.

Guide Jordan Griffey explained that at Squire Boone they like to use the word "speleothem" when speaking of different mineral deposits within the cave instead of "formation" because, technically, the entire cave system is a formation.

Unlike caves that are formed by flowing water, the caves that compose Squire Boone Caverns are solutional caves. This means that the caves were formed by carbonic acid seeping through the ground and eating away at the limestone. Carbonic acid is made naturally when rainwater interacts with the carbon dioxide from plants in the upper layers of the soil.

To enter the caverns, guests must descend 73 steps on a spiraling staircase that descends 60 feet into the earth. The deeper you go, the cooler it gets. Upon reaching the entrance, some guests may begin missing the summer heat when they learn the cave maintains a constant temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason caves are often cooler than the weather outside, especially in the summer months, is because they reflect the average temperature of the environments above them. In this case, 54 degrees just happens to be the average temperature of Southern Indiana.

"If this cave was in Florida, it would be warmer," Griffey said.

Above is a shot of the rimstone dam at the turn-around point of the tour. This particular dam is the largest active one of its kind in the United States. The pool pictured stands at around four-feet deep with a constant flow of water spilling over its sides.
The first room you enter in the cavern has been dubbed "Death Valley," not for any morbid reason other than the fact that no speleothems are growing in the area because no water is seeping or dripping from the ceiling in this part of the cave.

In the next room guests are shown the "Soda Fountain." Griffey explained that the same acid that formed the caverns in the first place now forms the speleothems within the caves. All of these formations began as thin and hollow stalactites known as "soda straws."

They're named this for both their resemblance to straws and the fact that they are formed by carbonic acid, the main ingredient in soda pop. The "Soda Fountain" features hundreds of tiny soda straws that are as fragile as they are beautiful. Griffey explained that these formations are the only ones that can break under their own weight and "even a strong wind" could snap them.

Over a long and slow process, growing an average of one inch every 100 years, a soda straw eventually becomes a stalactite. After this is formed, the water that drips from the stalactite forms a stalagmite on the cave floor.

This 18-foot waterwheel is part of the gristmill in the Squire Boone Village. The mill was built in the early 1800s by Squire Boone and has been restored to look and function exactly as it did at that time. Corn-grinding demonstrations are performed throughout the day at the mill, with the grindstone powered by the water flowing from Squire Boone Caverns.
One of the most eye-catching features of the caverns comes at the midpoint, or turn-around point, of the tour. Guests are shown the largest active rimstone dam in America. This natural dam slows the flow of the creek that runs through the cave and creates a pool of water as well as a natural spillway that showcases some beautiful flowstone, a formation caused by running water flowing over the limestone. The dam is lit by soft blue lights that give the water a haunting glow while accentuating the formation's naturally bright orange color. The same water that flows through this dam powers the waterwheel at the grist mill near the park's entrance.

At 90 feet below the surface, the rimstone dam is the deepest point that cave enthusiasts get to travel on the tour before they circle back.

On the return trip, guests are treated with a more in-depth explanation of what they are seeing. All the different speleothems are pointed out as well as the four minerals that compose the cave. It's true that explorers of Squire Boone Caverns can get a healthy dose of cave education while still enjoying first-hand the breathtaking sites that compose one of nature's most well-hidden secrets.

In addition to viewing the interesting formations, one of the more exciting parts of the cave tour is actually what you don't see. In a segment called the "Total Darkness Experience," guests are treated to what the cave would actually look like without all the lighting. The result is complete darkness. You can't even see your fingers held just inches from your eyes. It's rare to find this kind of darkness on the surface, and experiencing it is both exciting and strangely calming at the same time.

The main feature of the cave is the giant "Rock of Ages" that is estimated to be around one million years old. The formation, which stands about 30 feet tall, is a combination of all the speleothems within the cave. Guests are given a great view of this formation on the return trip from the top of a large staircase.

Illustration by Alisha Sonner
The last part of the tour features Squire Boone's coffin. Guests are given a brief history of Squire Boone, Daniel Boone's less famous but no less important brother, and how he came to discover the caverns. The story is also told of how his remains were found in the 1970s and moved into the cave to fulfill his dying wish of being buried in the cave.

After your hour-long tour through the caverns, the Squire Boone experience is far from over as there is a whole village to visit. Whether you care to indulge your sweet tooth at the candy shop or to try your luck at mining gems in a way old prospectors used to, you're guaranteed to have fun spending another few hours exploring the park with your family.

* * *

Hours: Daily from Memorial Day through mid-August.

Weekends through Labor Day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guided one-hour tours leave every 30 minutes.

The Village is closed after Labor Day.

Cost: Adults - $14.50, Children (6-11) - $8.00, Seniors - $12.50

For fall hours and more information, visit www.squireboonecaverns.com.

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