By John Sittler
Indiana Caverns is Indiana's newest commercial cave, having opened on June 15. A "commercial" cave means there have been man-made additions – lights, stairs, etc. – to make the cave more accessible to the general public. The cave tour takes visitors into the Binkley Cave System, the 11thlongest in the nation, and the biggest in Indiana.
The Binkley Cave System was explored by members of the Indiana Speleological Survey. Gary Roberson – one of the survey's original members – had the vision for Indiana Caverns and is now a partner and developer of the project.
"When I was in college we started exploring the Binkley Cave System in 1967 and it's been an ongoing thing for the last 46 years," Roberson said. "Three years ago we found a part of the cave that was accessible for developing."
The tour lasts approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes and is highlighted by a 25-minute boat ride along an underground river.
The tour begins by walking down a ramp and through a futuristic airlock, designed to keep the cave temperature and humidity as natural as possible. We then walked down a spiral staircase before coming to the first stop, a waterfall.
The flow of water cascading down the rock was not in itself unusual, but it was beautiful the way the water made the rock shine as it tumbled down almost 30 feet.
We continued walking along the metal walkway, listening to our tour guide point out different cave formations from stalagmites and stalactites to "cave bacon." At this point we were in the biggest room on the tour – the Big Bone Mountain Room.
The name gives away the unique factor that separates Indiana Caverns from other commercial caves. Thousands of Ice Age bones have been found here, including megafauna species such as Pleistocene Black Bears and Bison, and the Flat Headed Peccary – a distant relative of the pig.
Many of these bones can be seen on the tour, resting on the cave floor just as they have for the past 15,000 years. No major excavation has taken place yet, but it is expected that many more species will be discovered.
Life in Indiana Caverns is not limited to extinct animals, however. Within the Binkley Cave System, there are 21 species of Troglobites – animals adapted specifically for life underground. This sometimes means that the animals have evolved to have no eyes, useless in the pitch black darkness of a cave. In Binkley there are eyeless fish, crayfish, and spiders.
Halfway through the tour, we boarded a small pontoon boat for a short cruise along an underground river. I thought this was one of the coolest parts, because I had never seen an underground river, let alone ridden a boat down one.
Indiana Caverns is definitely a can't-miss adventure for Hoosiers of all ages. The tour is a great deal at only $18 for adults and $9 for children under 12.
A small amount of walking is required, with the tour covering less than a mile. There are also several ramps and staircases totaling an elevation gain of 110 feet. That means some 300 steps.
Indiana Caverns is open year-round, because the temperature inside the cave hovers around 57 degrees, regardless of the weather outside. With that in mind, visitors might want to bring a light jacket or wind shirt.
For anyone with an interest in natural history, or anyone who simply wants to get out and explore, this is the adventure for you.
See you out there.