Explore caves and mine for gems at nostalgic roadside attraction in Delaware

One of the beloved aspects of traveling across America by automobile is the unexpected roadside attractions you see advertised on billboards and barns along your journey.

One such tourist spot I’ve seen promoted for many years in central Ohio is Olentangy Indian Caverns, located 20 minutes north of Columbus in Delaware. It took me more than 20 years to finally visit the roadside caves that I knew nothing about and expected about the same.

Happily, I was wrong.

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My family had a great time exploring an underground maze of passages, mining for gems and striding through the woods. Visitors also can play a round of miniature golf, romp on a playground, shop for souvenirs and learn about the history of Native Americans in Ohio.

The caverns were formed millions of years ago by the force of an underground river cutting through limestone strata. This was Columbus white and Delaware blue limestone, if you want to get technical.

What’s really interesting is that how the holes in the ground were used by the Wyandotte Indians for refuge and by lots of others as hiding places.

Narrated tours and self-guided tours are available depending on the time of year.

We took a self-guided tour, using a map to plot our way through underground passages that lead into open spaces. Some spots have audio.

An explorer by the name of J.M. Adams discovered the caverns in 1821. You can even view his engraving in the rock. As you wind your way underground, you’ll see the echo chamber, a natural air shaft that circulates air every half hour; the Crystal Room, with an impressive “beehive stalagmite” looming overhead; and Cathedral Hall, a 500-foot passage that features fossils on the walls and a 50-foot tower that once was a waterfall.

Evidence shows that Wyandotte Indians used the caverns as shelter from the weather and protection from their enemies – the Delaware Indians. Native Americans used the caverns until the early 1800s, and hundreds of arrowheads and stone tools were found.

My husband liked learning about the culture of Ohio’s Native Americans in the Cave House Museum. The kids really liked romping around the meadow and mining for stones we purchased, complete with silt, in the gift shop. They placed them in a sluice with running water and “panned” for the colorful stones through the muck.

Olentangy Indian Caverns is located at 1779 Home Rd., Delaware.

The cavern is open daily from April through October and on weekends in November. Cost to tour the caverns is $9.50 for adults and $6.95 for children. Children ages 6 and younger are free. Cost of gem mining starts at $4.50 for a small bag of unpolished gems. Golf costs $5.

Be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and a jacket, as the caves remain a constant 50-degree temperature. Bottled water is permitted.

For more information, visit www.olentangyindiancaverns.com or call 740-548-7917.

View the cave map here: www.olentangyindiancaverns.com/cave-map.

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