Hidden beneath green grass and surrounded by corn fields, Ohio Caverns contain surprising beauty. Take the Natural Wonder Tour to see a multitude of beautiful formations or the Historic Tour to see colorful passages and history of the caverns.
The caverns were discovered by a farmhand named Robert Noffsinger on August 17, 1897. A large sinkhole on the farm owned by William Reams filled up with rainwater one night but the water rapidly disappeared. Mr Reams ordered the farmhand to begin excavating the sinkhole. While digging, Robert Noffsinger broke through into the caverns and became the first person to explore them.
William Reams became the second person to explore them and 10 days later, he opened them up to friends and family. Shortly after that, he opened them up for public tours. They weren't exactly guided tours at that time. More like “Here's a lamp and good luck!” Unfortunately, most of the visitors left graffiti and took a speleothem as a souvenir. That's why there are very few cave formations in that section today.
In 1922 Mr. Reams sold the land to the Smith brothers. They excavated the rest of the caverns over three and a half years, digging out the mud left by an underground river. In 1925 they opened the caverns for properly guided tours.
The most beautiful part of the Ohio Caverns is the Natural Wonder Tour. The entrance is a short walk from the main building and there are no stairs to go down. The first hundred feet or so are not spectacular but there are some small formations like these baby stalactites.
As the tour progresses, you'll see more and more beautiful formations. There are so many, I think the best way to show you a sample of them is through this gallery. Just click on any of the photographs to get the show going.
It's worthy to note that these caverns are very rich in iron oxide and manganese dioxide. This means you'll see formations that you'll see in very few other places in the world. For example, this iron oxide formation.
And here is a very rare “hybrid” formation where a calcite stalactite is growing on an iron oxide stalactite.
The tour takes about an hour and ends all too quickly. If you only have time to take one tour, I recommend this one. At the end of the tour, you can have your picture taken in the caverns and receive a nicely mounted print as a souvenir.
The Historic Tour was opened in 1997 in celebration of the discovery of the caverns 100 years earlier. Your adventure begins on a shuttle bus for a quick ride to the site of the original sinkhole opening.
On this tour you descend some steps to a gravel path lit by bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. This is the same as it was back in 1925 when the caverns re-opened for tours.
While this tour lacks the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of the Natural Wonder Tour, it makes up for it in very colorful walls and ceilings. The iron oxide and manganese dioxide deposits form patterns that are beautiful in their own way.
You'll also see some of the historic graffiti that the earlier visitors left behind.
Towards the end of this tour are some interesting formations. This column reminds me of a giant stack of potato chips!
I recommend doing both tours if you can. They each have their unique qualities. There is also a tour for people with limited mobility called the Limestone Tour. It's a shorter version of the Natural Wonder Tour.
Ohio Caverns were an unexpected surprise in rural Ohio. I highly recommend a visit.
Location: 2210 East State Route 245 West Liberty, Ohio 4335
GPS Coordinates: N40°14.299'
Hours: The Natural Wonder Tour is available year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are 9am to 5pm, April 1 to October 31 and they close at 4pm, November 1 to March 31. The Historic Tour is only available April 1 to October 31.
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