Written by: Anna Sibal
08/19/2012 10:10 AM
Caves are some of the most fascinating of Nature's wonders. Caves are worlds of their own, uniquely shaped by the same forces that formed our world above. Many of these caves contain some of the most beautiful landscapes known to humans. Most importantly, they support life that often cannot be found elsewhere.
The United States is blessed by many beautiful caves and caverns. Some of them are still in the wild state, while some have evolved into what are known as "show caves." But whether a cave is wild or developed for tourists, there is never a cave that isn't worth exploring. Right below are our ten picks for the best caves to explore in order of State.
1. Kartchner Caverns, Arizona
Kartchner Caverns is approximately a million years old. With the extensive preservation efforts carried out by the Arizona state government, it is likely that these caverns will last at least a million years more. There are two factors that make Kartchner Caverns a part of this list: 1) its tall soda straw stalactites, the longest ones in the world, in fact; and 2) its concentration of moonmilk formations, also the largest in the world. Kartchner Caverns are unoccupied, but they serve as nesting ground for bats from summer to autumn.
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2. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. With an estimated length of 350 miles, it is twice the known length of Jewel Cave, the third longest cave in the world and the second longest cave in the US. Aside from its record-breaking length, Mammoth Cave is also known for its wondrous limestone and sandstone formations as well as for its deep caverns. Continued preservation of Mammoth Cave is the reason Mammoth Cave National Park is formed. Through the on-going explorations of the park's rangers, more and more passages are discovered in Mammoth Cave every year.
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3. Niagara Cave, Minnesota
Minnesota's Niagara Cave was formed by underground streams millions of years ago. Today, some of these streams still exist and are still actively transforming the cave. One of these streams drop 60 feet down to one of the deepest caverns in this cave system, leading the cave's discoverers to name it after Niagara Falls. Aside from the underground waterfall, Niagara Cave is also famous for being the home of ancient fossils, many of which are much older than the dinosaurs. The Cave also has a wedding chapel and an area where guests can dig for precious stones.
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4. Meramec Caverns, Missouri
There are 6,000 known caves in Missouri; the largest and the most famous of these caves is none other than the Meramec Caverns. Formed out of limestone deposits, the Meramec Caverns once served as a saltpeter mine for the Union during the American Civil War. Meramec also became notorious for being a former hideout of Jesse James. Today, Meramec is a show cave attracting thousands of tourists every year. It even has its own underground restaurant and ice cream store underground.
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5. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
The Carlsbad Caverns are the centerpieces of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. The Caverns contain some of the biggest cave chambers in the world, including the Big Room, which is approximately 4,000 feet long, 635 feet wide, and 255 feet high. The most striking features of Carlsbad Caverns are their limestone formations and the remains of coral reefs buried there. The presence of the reefs suggests that the caverns formed part of an inland sea that existed millions of years ago. You can also watch bats swarming out of the caves to feed at night from spring to autumn.
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6. Jewel Cave, South Dakota
To date, Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world. Yet only 121 miles of it has been surveyed, and explorers suspect that there's still a lot more space inside the cave waiting to be discovered. Aside from its length, Jewel Cave is also famous for the sparkling calcites adorning its walls. These calcites gave the cave its name. Jewel Cave is now a National Monument that draws both leisurely cave explorers and wild cavers. The Cave is also home to many different species of bats in winter.
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7. The Lost Sea Caverns, Tennessee
Also known as Craighead Caverns, the Lost Sea Caverns is famous for its underground lake, the largest of its kind found in the US. Just how big this underground lake is, no one has figured out just yet. Cave explorers have measured the lake to be 800 feet long and 220 feet wide, but there are still rooms filled with water that are yet to be explored. Aside from the lake, the Lost Sea Caverns is also remarkable for its collection of cave flowers or anthodites, which are delicate and spiky crystal formations.
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8. Caverns of Sonora, Texas
For many cave explorers who have been there, the Caverns of Sonora are the most beautiful caves in the world. The Caverns are famous for their exquisite calcite crystal formations as well as the rare helictites that can be found in abundance there. One cavern is even so densely packed with these helictites that it earned the name "Snake Pit". What is even more marvelous is that the crystals found in the caverns are still actively growing. An extremely rare formation of helictites called "The Butterfly" is one of the main attractions of the Caverns and made the place world-famous. However, in 2006, it was discovered that a visitor to the Caverns vandalized The Butterfly and tore off the top half of its right wing.
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9. Luray Caverns, Virginia
Virginia's Luray Caverns contain some of the most beautiful cave formations in the country, including some of the best-formed cave draperies. One of its most notable features is Dream Lake, a lake whose crystal-clear waters perfectly reflect the cave's ceiling, making the stalactites hanging there appear as stalagmites on the cave floor. The fame of these caverns is further enhanced by the installation of the Great Stalacpipe Organ, where rubber mallets are attached to some stalactites in the cave, thus producing sounds similar to those of a xylophone when operated.
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10. Ape Cave, Washington
With a tunnel two and a half miles long, Ape Cave is the longest lava tube in the Western Hemisphere. The cave was created some 1,900 years ago in one of Mount St. Helens' eruptions. The cave was then discovered in 1947 by a group of Boy Scouts named the St. Helens Apes, in whose honor the cave was named. Today, Ape Cave is one of the main attractions of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and is notable for its unique stalactites and other cave formations created from cooled lava.
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These are just some of the best caves found in the US. Take your family exploring in these caves on your next road trip.
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