A rainy spring turned into a wet first summer weekend in Missouri on Saturday and Sunday. During such times those looking to stay in or cancel trips into the Ozarks should think again as rainfall makes for some of the best times to visit one of the state’s many show caves. When rain trickles down from above, caves wake to show the true wonder of their creation. By entering one of their passageways at that time, visitors will feel that life in drips on one’s head, the sound of distant rushing water and sight of glistening smooth rocks dangling from the ceiling or towering up from the floor.
The Salem News took its own advice Sunday by joining a photo tour through both Cathedral Cave and Onondaga Cave. Both are today features of the 1,300-acre Onondaga Cave State Park near Leasburg. Guides with Missouri State Parks offer the regular public cave tours daily from April 1 to Oct. 31. Special photography tours also take place each month lead by volunteers with the Onondaga Friends Association.
Here’s an insider tip, by joining a photo tour to each cave visitors will have more time to enjoy their sights and calibrate cameras to best capture the subterranean wonders present. Ironically, the sound of silence may be the photo tours best offering. Although extra informative, the public tours are well-attended and sometimes frightened children fill the air with sobs as their beleaguered parents realize their little ones are claustrophobic. However, with a photo tour the immortal tranquility of the caverns can be truly appreciated.
Cathedral Cave offers visitors a uniquely intimate underground experience as its not electrified. Since tours through it are lit only by flashlights, the shadow play created by its formations have an extra other-worldly flair. Surrounded by a cozy darkness, the sounds of echoing drips additionally puts each visitor’s mind in a peaceful meditative state.
It’s all a good preface to the tour’s finale. The last room holds the cave’s namesake formation standing dozens of feet high with a complexly textured face which descends as if a giant lit candle. One of the most surreal moments to be had it being surrounded darkness and then shining a light forward to reveal the Cathedral formation as a benevolent titan only feet away while keeping a timeless watch.
Onondaga Cave is more well-lit with many different light fixtures guiding its walkways. It is appropriate as it offers even more dazzling views of Missouri’s underground geology.
The cave’s Lily Pad Room and Rock of Ages Room give the most fader for a prospective photographer. In the case of the Lily Pad Room, there are rare sights of lateral formations which seemingly spread across the surface of water pools. The Rock of Ages room alternatively builds its power on reflections with shallow water creating the impression the deep chasms.
Between the Lily Pad Room and Rock of Ages Room are Onondaga Cave’s largest formations in the King’s Canopy and Queen’s Canopy. You’ll need a distant view to gasp their size as each are scores of feet tall. The best view between the two is from the perspective behind the King’s Canopy. From there, its trademark curtain-like tendrils look like alien visitors first reaching down to the Earth.
Joining a public tour of Cathedral Cave is $10 for adults with Onondaga Cave costing $15. The price for children ages 6 to 12 are $6 and $9, respectively, with children under 6 getting free admittance to both. A combo package is available for both caves for $20 for adults and $15 for children. Be warned, any tour to Cathedral Cave must begin after first completing an uphill hike of somewhere between a quarter mile to a half-mile trek.
The monthly photo tours of both caves are the same price. The next such photo tour opportunities will be July 27, Aug. 18, Sept. 21 and Oct. 5.
Information about booking photo tours and other special events such as paranormal tours, night tours and musical performances at Onondaga Cave State Park are available at www.onondagafriends.org and the Missouri State Parks website.