Nature’s wonders abound at Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wis. Kids are welcome to sift through bags of sand to find fossils and semi-precious gems, and the good news for their more cynical parents is, they’ll find plenty while sluicing beside a slanting water-rushing container. Treasures will come in many shapes and colors, from tiny black obsidian to larger more colorful treasures. Nature trails through prairie flowers, a forest and hillside perch also are available but it’s the cave discovered Aug. 4, 1939 that is the star of the show.
Cave viewers purchase a ticket in the gift shop and then enter with a guide and about 20 others. The ambient air temperature of the cave is in the mid-fifties so be prepared with long pants and a jacket. Once inside, the cave’s history and views of stalactites and stalagmites will inspire.
The cave was discovered by accident while blasting a hole which the owner hoped would lead to a stockpile of lead. Instead, Cave of the Mounds, named after two nearby hills, was found. Lead mining never resumed.
Opened to the public in May 1940, the cave was slowly excavated and developed with lighting until the full hour-long concrete pathway was made. Adults do not have to stoop to enjoy the cave, and in some places, the “ceiling” is 20 feet high!
The geology of the cave is shared on the walking tour. Its website says, “The cave was formed within limestone, a sedimentary rock formed from compacted seashells and other marine sediments. This rock dates back over 400 million years to the Ordovician Period of the Earth's geologic history. During the Ordovician Period, warm shallow seas covered the continent where we find Wisconsin today. Abundant shell life could thrive in these seas. Layers and layers of calcium carbonate shell debris accumulated and slowly hardened into the limestone we see today. Thousands of feet of limestone and other sedimentary rocks were laid down during this Ordovician Period. Millions of years ago, the seas receded leaving these layers of rock behind, and erosion began to wear them down. Today the exposed rock in Blue Mounds is a limestone called Galena dolomite, which is a specific kind of limestone containing at least 20 percent magnesium.” The magnesium lends cave formations its signature reddish rust color.
Declared a National Natural Landmark in 1988, Cave of the Mounds is open year-round. The designation signifies "exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment."
For more information, call 608-437-3038 or visit www.caveofthemounds.com. For information about the plentiful attractions in the surrounding southwest Wisconsin area, visit http://www.southwestwi.com/.