See crystal stalactites and stalagmites year round, no matter the weather
This year we took our son, Max, to a cave for his sixth birthday. Not because he’d been naughty, but because he likes to explore. And, it was raining.
Weather is irrelevant in a cave, where it’s always a reasonable 54 degrees and relatively dry no matter the outside conditions. So we set out for Ohio Caverns, an hour northwest of Columbus near West Liberty. Ohio Caverns is the largest of all the cave systems in Ohio, with 2 miles of surveyed passageways ranging from 30-feet to 103-feet deep. And, it’s open year round.
These caverns are part of a 35-acre park in Champaign County and a member of the National Caving Association. I’m not sure what that means, but they’re a popular tourist destination that’s been operated by the same family for four generations, since opening as a tourist attraction in 1897.
Ohio Caverns offers several tour options focusing on the geology and history of the area. We took one called the “Natural Wonder Tour” that took us on an hourlong journey through sections of the cave that have white crystal formations.
We learned that the caverns were formed thousands of years ago when an underground river cut through ancient limestone and created vast rooms and passageways that later filled with beautiful crystal stalactites (which go downward) and stalagmites (which go upward).
We also learned not to touch the walls, as our group walked single file through the passageways. Most of the stalactite and stalagmite formations are still active. It can take 500 years for a cubic inch of calcite crystal to form. Touching them can stop the process, as we were warned (maybe a little too often).
Touching them also can discolor the crystals, as we discovered in an area called the Big Room, which has hundreds of formations. One crystal used to be called the “Good Luck Crystal.” As people passed, they’d touch it, leaving behind an ugly brown stain that’s still visible today. In 1926, a no-touching rule was established in the caverns, and the crystal was renamed the “Dirty Crystal.”
We also entered an area called Fantasy Land, where there are bunches of soda straws and helictites, including the Old Town Pump, which resembles a hand pump.
The best part of the tour, though, was seeing the Crystal King. Appearing like a giant, sparkling carrot, it’s the largest free-hanging stalactite in Ohio, measuring 4 feet, 10.5 inches long. It’s estimated to weigh more than 400 pounds and could be more than 200,000 years old.
The tour ends in the Jewel Room, which contains lots of colored crystals, from blue to orange to white to reddish black, making this area great for photos – so great in fact that a camera is set up to take your portrait.
The grand finale of every tour, we learned, is the playing of the song “Beautiful Ohio,” which has been entertaining guests since 1928.
Also on site is a shelter house with picnic tables, and a gift shop full of rocks, fossils and bags of rocks for mining in a sluice.
Daily tours are offered 9 a.m.-5 p.m., May through September, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m., October through April. The caves are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Natural Wonder Tour costs $17 for adults and $9 for children ages 5-12. There is no charge for children ages 4 and younger.
Ohio Caverns is located at 2210 E. State Route 245, West Liberty, Ohio. For more information, call 937-465-4017 or visit www.ohiocaverns.com.