After starting Route 66 in Chicago Illinois, my next main attraction on my itinerary was the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield Missouri. I found this to be fitting since Missouri is known as the cave state. Therefore, no trip to Missouri is complete without exploring some caves!
I went on a tour through the mine with about 20 other people in a minecart. We ducked down as we went under low-lying protrusions of stalactite rocks. In the cave, there was a strong smell of limestone clay as well as water that was dripping from the ceiling which occasionally landed on our heads. Limestone clay is known for giving off an odor similar to that of rotten eggs. This is precisely how I would describe the smell of the cave.
Contrasting Between Light and Dark
After we had traveled deep into the cave, the tour guide decided to turn off all the lights. She then instructed us to close our eyes, and everyone complied. She next told us to open our eyes and experience how having them opened and closed was exactly the same. This experience is called the Bathypelagic or midnight zone where, due to crossing a certain boundary, no light from the outside can penetrate in. With this, we were able to experience complete darkness.
I mention this because people should be forewarned of all potential dangers before crossing any boundaries. However, I did not make that suggestion.
She then lit a match that was surprisingly bright. I never realized how one single match can light an entire area so powerfully in the absence of any other light source. Experiencing this was profound and it was not something that could be garnered from reading about it.
Without darkness, the candle when lit cannot reveal the surrounding beauty. On many occasions, experiences in life have a deeper meaning that can be applied to external events once assimilated by an incisive individual. It is through my documenting the post-pandemic changes in America that I will shine a light on positive experiences that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
In continuing with our tour of the cave, our guide then took an old coffee can and placed a small tea candle inside of the open end. When she lit this with the match, it cast a beam of light similar to a flashlight. It worked!
The First Explorers of the Cave
The most interesting fact about the mine is the team that first explored it, the Springfield Athletic Club. The entrance to the cave was first discovered in the mid-1800s by a man named John Knox and his dog when they were out hunting. While this was on John’s property, he did not explore the cave since he did not know if it was safe. After keeping this discovery a secret for several years, the landowner decided that he wanted to have it professionally surveyed to ensure that it was safe for tourists.
He then contacted a group of cave explorers, the Springfield Athletic Club, in request for them to explore the cave. He contacted this specific group because he had heard that they had extensive experience searching and exploring caves. When the team arrived, he was surprised to find that it consisted of about a dozen teenage girls aged 12 through 19. They did explore the cave and declared it safe for tourism. While in there, they each wrote their names on one of the innermost walls where the inscription remains today.
The significance of the fact that it was teenage girls who first explored this cave is that John did not turn them away due to their age or gender. Instead, he recognized that they had skill and experience in the field of cave exploration, and he had the utmost confidence in their ability to do their job. This was additionally demonstrated by the fact that, after they deemed it safe, he officially opened the cave to public tourism under their seal of approval. They were young innovators who left their mark on the wall where it remains to be seen today.
The Belly of the Beast
Going into the deep dark belly of the cave and reemerging into the sunlight is a universal and mythic theme. The mythological significance of this has to do with transformation and being reborn to a new way of life. The dark cave serves as a representation of both adventure and energy. The theme often relates to unlocking one’s unconscious metaphorically. Emerging into the light is symbolic of a rebirth of sorts.
I rang the bell for you and now you can play a song for me ;)