From the mountains to the forests and sky to the seas, nature’s masterpieces are on display for anyone who takes the time to notice. Plant life from moss to oak trees, clouds, sand, waterways, prairies, soil, hills, insects, birds, and land animals show off their hues, shapes, music, and fragrances.
Go deeper, and we also can find nature’s magnificence below ground level. My boyfriend and I recently took a trip to Blue Mound, Wisconsin to experience the treasure of Cave of the Mounds. The natural structures, textures, and colors left me in awe.
The area’s history dates back more than 400 million years ago when warm waterways covered it and the discarded calcium carbonate seashells compacted into limestone. Over the next few million years, carbon dioxide created in rain and melting snow, and then becoming diluted carbonic acid, seeped through the surface soils, dissolved the limestone, and created cavities. Simultaneously, the water table lowered causing streams to deeply erode the stone and allow air to fill in the developing cave.
Water droplets and dissolved calcium carbonate and minerals continued, and still continue, to drip though the cave and build on each other forming structures called speleothems.
Stalactites are speleothems growing down from the ceiling.
Stalagmites are structures forming from the ground up.
Helictites grow sideways and downward. And round oolites are considered cave pearls.
The rate of growth of these speleothems is tremendously slow taking 50 to 150 years to build one cubic centimeter of cave onyx, depending on the speed of the dripping water and the amount of calcium carbonate it contains.
The colors of the trails of crystals formed by these droplets varies with the minerals they carry. For example, reddish brown crystals contain rust—oxides of iron; black, purple, blue, and grey contain manganese compounds; and those with calcite appear as translucent or white crystals.
Nearly all of the more than 400 known caves in Wisconsin are privately owned. Cave of the Mounds is noted as a National Natural Landmark in a public-private partnership with the National Park service. It is located on a family owned property that was used for dairy farming. In 1939, the family also contracted out a portion of the land for quarry blasting. The cave was discovered when one of those contractors blasted an opening to the hidden world below.
Cave of the Mounds is open year-round and maintains temperatures in the 50s. Located outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Midwesterners have easy access to this natural gem.
Guests can meander through the cave on their own, spending as much or as little time as desired. Typically, it takes about an hour to view as it is only about 1/5 of a mile long and from 40 to 57 feet below ground. Guides are on hand at the beginning of and about half-way through the tour to answer questions. At this time, tickets for adults are under $20. Trails surround the cave and also are open to the public.
I expected the cave to be dark, dank, dirty, and buggy. Instead, it was quite clean without visible creatures, well-lit, and had a smooth, concrete pathway on which to walk. The air quality varies with the barometric pressure but also was comfortable. I understand that water drips in the cave on rainy days and those with melting snow.
If you aren’t able to visit Cave of the Mounds, check out their virtual tour. You lose the close-up experience of being surrounded by nature’s sculptures but will get a sample of what to find there.
*Pilgrimages offer countless benefits, and you don’t have to travel far. Find out how in this post, “Stillgrimage-Taking a Pilgrimage Near Home“.