It all started in 1897 because 17-year-old farmhand Robert Noffsinger was curious. After a little digging in a low soft area of a field where rainwater seemed to be disappearing quickly, he discovered a crevice that led into a cavern, today known as The Ohio Caverns. It is located in the northeastern part of Salem Township, outside West Liberty. It’s not only the largest cavern in Ohio, but the most colorful of caverns in America.
Tours were offered the same year the cavern was discovered, but they were not guided and you were on your own. Only the most adventurous and brave took the early lantern lit, self guided tour. By 1922, more passageways were opened, electric lights lit your path and a tour guide led the way. In 1925 the original section was closed and a new section was opened which included even more beautiful scenery.
Today guided tours are offered at frequent intervals, and while waiting for your tour to begin you can browse the souvenir gift shop for rocks, fossils, gems, T-shirts and more. After your tour you could do a little gem or fossil mining or check out the lovely 35 acre park.
Tours provided include the Natural Wonder Tour with passages discovered after the 1920s excavation. A Historic Tour began in 1997 by reopening the old 1897 – 1925 section, to share the history of the Ohio Caverns. A Limestone tour is also offered and this one is completely wheel chair accessible. It starts with the Natural Wonder section and loops back to the start.
The Tree Tour, a free self-guided tour, allows visitors to walk the grounds with a map and discover 20 types of trees growing on the property. The trees are tagged for Identification.
The tour begins with a slow descend then you are thirty-five feet underground and the temperature is always a cool 54 degrees throughout the year. As you weave through the path, sometimes narrow, many natural wonders meet your eyes.
The Stalactites, which form from the ceiling down hang “tight” to the ceiling and the Stalagmites created from the drips of water above, hope they “might” reach the ceiling someday.
When a Stalactite and Stalagmite grow to meet each other, it is called a column. Duel formations can also be seen which means there is secondary growth. The Soda Straw, a small thin formation resembling a straw can be found. Another type of formation is called the Helictites, which form from the end of a straw growing at different angles, defying gravity. The beauty is breath taking!
Fifty-five feet, sixty-seven feet and at The Caveman’s Couch you reach the half-way point. The lowest you go is 103 feet, yet you wouldn’t guess that as you were walking. There is the Natural Bridge, Crystal Sea, The Old Town Pump and the Cert Rock Glasses. The following rooms are magnificent, The Fantasy Room, The Big Room Jewel Room, and The Palace of the Gods. Tucked into a recess is the oldest and most impressive formation of all, The Crystal King, which is over 200,000 years old, almost five feet tall and growing!
The colors seen throughout are amazing! There is a beautiful mixture of different hues all naturally made by the hand of God, like the Columbus Gray Limestone, Chert Rock and Blue Ohio Shale. Iron deposits make yellows, oranges and reds: while purples, blues and blacks are from Manganese deposits. Let’s not forget the brightness from the awesome milk white crystal formations.
The tour guides are knowledgeable and can explain what words like Calcite, Flowstone, Limestone, and Speleothem mean and point them out for you. There is water dripping here and there and you might even spot a bat hanging around. Be sure to ask your guide what the bats names are.
Pack your family in the car and go on a wonderful adventure to The Ohio Caverns. You will discover and experience the beauty beneath us. Call 937-465-4017 or check out their website, www.ohiocaverns.com.
Tami Wenger is a regular contributor to this newspaper.