As one of the official stops on the Indiana Cave Trail, Squire Boone Caverns should be on every serious spelunkers bucket list. This cave boasts a handful of rare rock formations not found in many other places, including the largest rimstone dam of any show cave in the United States. Full of rushing streams and several waterfalls, this cave packs more punch in its 1/4 mile tour than some caves twice as long can muster. Having begun my journey over a year ago to visit every cave on the list including; Indiana Caverns, Bluespring Caverns, and Marengo Cave, I anxiously awaited for the perfect opportunity to plan my trip.
A visit to marvel at the natural wonders of Squire Boone Caverns is akin to stepping back in time, to the early days of America’s westward expansion. With a fully restored grist mill and pioneer village on the grounds surrounding the cave, one gets a quick education in the ways early settlers fought tooth and nail to scratch out a living in the harsh conditions of the frontier.
The fully operational mill, which is part of the Indiana Register of Historic Sites and Structures, was originally built around 1804 and sits along the drive headed up to the cave entrance. Its 18-foot wheel is powered by the very stream that runs through the cave complex as it exits out the side of a hill.
The cave itself was discovered in 1790 by famed frontiersmen, Squire and Daniel Boone. Not long after famously leading some of the first American settlers across the Cumberland Gap, they slowly made their way across Kentucky and into the knobs of southern Indiana. As the story goes, the younger brother Squire, sought refuge in the cave as he was evading a band of pursuing Native Americans during a raid which nearly cost him his life.
Considering his escape to be a divine intervention, he regarded the land to be holy ground and decided to settle here with his wife, four sons, and their families. During the early years, as the family was building the surrounding homestead, they even went as far as living inside the cave for a short period of time.
One of my favorite parts about this tour is the fact that everyone is handed a receiver and headphones just before departing. This way everyone can hear the guide throughout the entire tour, which can be difficult if you get stuck towards the back of the group. The tour begins at the back of the visitors cottage, where we head off on a short stroll through the woods, up a hill to the cave entrance. The concrete structure with solid steel doors looks eerily similar to a Cold War bomb shelter. Passing through a series of doorways, we are led into the first section of the cave, the Lunar Terrace.
This once flowing creek bed is now a moonscape of miniature rimstone dams, full of craters and ridges only a few inches tall. It took thousands of years of mineral deposits accumulating on the floors surface, as the water worked its way down into the cavern to create this lunar effect. From here we walk onto a steel ramp suspended over the Big Room.
At 400 feet across, it is among one of the largest cave rooms in the eastern half of the country and only about 30 feet smaller than the Big Room in Tuckaleechee Caverns. Directly below us we can hear the sounds of the Lost River rushing by. During one period of the caves history, three separate rivers ran throughout the cave, creating various passageways.
At this point we descend a spiral staircase which drops us off at the entrance of the Guilded Grotto. This room has one of the highest concentrations of pristine stalactite formations that you can find anywhere. Drapes, cave bacon, soda straws, cave popcorn all layered over one another.
The density of so many mineral deposits in one place gives the room a shimmering affect much like the Crystal Palace in Marengo Cave. It is simply stunning. Several inches below us is the Lost River, named so because its source has yet to be determined despite numerous investigations. Just around a bend we can see the top of a series of waterfalls created by the famous rimstone dams.
Squeezing through a tight corridor we round a corner and walk out onto a suspended platform right in front of the gorgeous waterfall. Colorful blue lighting, hidden just below the waters surface, does an incredible job of highlighting each individual dam. The upper falls is created by the smaller dam.
Standing at three feet six inches, the rimstone dam creating the lower falls is the largest “still wet” in the country. Apparently, there are one or two larger ones out there, but they are no longer covered by running water, whereas the dams in Squire Boone Caverns are still living and growing.
Consider the fact, that these rock formations grow at a rate of one cubic inch every 100 years! Its mind blowing to think that throughout our tour we have walked past pieces of rock that are millions of years old. Leaving the falls we continue our walk suspended over the Lost River until reaching a dark pit in the cave floor just beneath our feet.
This is the point where the stream plummets 300 feet below ground into an area known as the Basement. A rarely explored section of the cave, the basement eventually leads out to a small opening underneath the homestead where it allows the river to exit and power the grist mill.
Pausing the tour within a long corridor just past the dams, our guide reaches over to grab the cave mascot, Herbie the Rock. Its the only piece of cave that we are allowed to touch. The ceiling here is covered in stalactites following a symmetrical grid pattern, much like a city grid.
Formed by fractures in the cave, these small gaps allow the rock to shift and adjust throughout the year. These types of fractures are perfectly safe. Even during a magnitude 3 and 4 earthquake which rolled through the region, the events went unnoticed by the group touring the cave.
As we continue our walking tour, we noticed small portions of rubble that appear to have fallen from the cave wall and ceiling. Whats left exposed from those falls is a living calendar of regional flood lines etched into stone, dating back millions of years. Squire Boone Caverns is whats known as a solutions cave. In solutions caves, bedrock is dissolved by natural acid in groundwater that seeps through bedding-planes, faults, and joints in the bedrock.
These openings expand as the walls are dissolved to become caves, leaving any area below the local water table susceptible to periodic flooding. Each line represents a period in history where a major flood swept through Southern Indiana, depositing silt and mud which overtime compressed into neat little layers.
Glancing around at the vast array of rock formations all around us we spot one of the most adorable stalagmites we’ve possibly ever seen. The Fried Egg is a remnant of a broken totem pole that is attempting to rebuild itself. By measuring the height of the “yolk” its presumed that the egg is 75 years old. Heading down another flight of steps we find ourselves 90 feet underground in a room centered around another waterfall.
The water, emanating from a fault in the ceiling, streaks down the tip of a stalactite and crashes down into a series of wading pools on the cave floor. Wandering around blindly in two of the pools are several cave crayfish sifting for their next meal. During the rainy season, this waterfall grows from a thin streak into a torrential downpour, engulfing the entire staircase and requiring visitors to don rain gear.
Directly behind us is the Rock of Ages. This 35 foot tall flowstone is believed to be well over 1 million years old. At this point we go through a quintessential scene in every cave tour, TOTAL DARKNESS. As all of the lights are turned off one by one we become completely immersed in darkness.
As you might imagine, I can’t even see my hand as I’m waving it right in front of my face. Within a few moments, a singular beam of light shines across the room to illuminate a rocky ledge. The shadow directly behind it, has an uncanny resemblance to the Batman symbol.
Leaving this area, we approach the entrance to the last and most important room in all of Squire Boone Caverns, the final resting place of Squire Boone. It was commonly believed that upon his death in 1815, Squire Boone had his remains interred within the cave itself. Looking to score big, relic hunters spent the better part of 100 years searching for the bones with little luck. In the 1970’s, as the cave was undergoing construction to build the tour, workers stumbled onto a pit cave containing human remains. The skull and 27 bones found within the pit, were sent over to the nearby University of Louisville for forensic identification.
Using the modern technology of the time to put an age on the remains, researches began comparing the bones to a few historical accounts of Squire Boones life. For starters, they began looking for evidence of a damaged arm bone. During the Siege of Boonesborough, a battle taking place during the American Revolutionary War, Squire was shot twice in the right arm in what many accounts believe to be the first shot of the entire battle. Despite the crude medical practices of the time he survived, but was left with an arm that healed an inch and a half shorter than his other one.
Next they examined the skull. In another prevalent historical account, during what later became known as the “Corn Affair”, Squire faced off in a one on one fight with a Native American. In the ensuing struggle, he was struck in the head by a tomahawk, leaving a long fracture in his skull. After weeks of detailed analyses, researches concluded that these were in fact the remains of Squire Boone. Following a small ceremony, his remains were carried through the cave and laid to rest here. It was his wish to spend the rest of eternity within the caverns he loved so much, which we now get to enjoy.
Now comes the most strenuous part of the entire tour. In order to exit the cave, we have to climb a 60 step spiral staircase straight up. The first 20 steps are fun, 20-40 you start to feel the burning sensation in your thighs, 40-50 you think “this sucks”, and just when you think theres no way you can ever finish the last 10 steps, BOOM….You find yourself stepping through a doorway and landing inside the visitors cottage gift shop. I never would have guessed it! If you love caves and are into historic roadside attractions PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make your way over to Corydon, Indiana and visit this incredible place. Better yet, hop on the Indiana Cave Trail and visit all 4 caverns. They are all only 15-45 minutes away from one another and would make for a great spelunking weekend!