Once I was caving in Greene County, Missouri, with a group of friends and acquaintances.
Some passageways of the cavern were pretty tight and we had to crawl on our bellies. We emerged from one such tunnel into a good-sized room.
It was nearing dusk outside and we were considering whether or not to continue into one of two or three tunnels that opened before us when we heard a sound like a strong wind, followed by high-pitched screeching.
What the heck? I think the answer dawned on us all at the same instant: bats!
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of bats poured out of the tunnels and flew over our heads and past our faces.
We scrambled and clumsily ran back the way we came, flailing our arms about us like one of those big inflatable guys you see at used car lots.
We ducked into the narrow tunnel we had just slithered out of, and did our best impersonations of Marines under heavy fire as we crawled on our bellies as fast as we could in the very limited space of the tunnel.
The army of bats were with us all the way. They flew through our hair and brushed against our heads and bodies as they followed their ancient daily routine of waking up to feed for the evening.
We finally poured out of the mouth of the cave, amidst a dark cloud of furry flying mammals. It gave us the willies at first, but it wasn’t long before we were all laughing so hard we cried.
If you think that sounds fun – and it was – there are lots of places you can go spelunking; some rougher and woollier than others.
In fact, there are around 6,400 known caves in Missouri. Depending on what you like, you can take a guided tour, or if you’re feeling adventurous, find a not-so-public cave, like we did in the above story.
Just be sure to get permission from the landowner first. Some of the wild caverns, as opposed to show caves, are located on public land.
Unfortunately, my understanding is those caves are closed to public access for the time being to protect the native bats from certain diseases. Therefore, the show caves may be a better bet at the moment, to scratch your spelunking itch.
However, many of these commercial show caves – such as Fantastic Caverns in Greene County and Bluff Dwellers Cave in McDonald County – are fairly well known, so I’ll focus on the lesser-known, wild natural caves.
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A 19.6-mile public walking trail of the same name will lead you past a number of small limestone caves, as well as one larger one. However, they may be temporarily closed to protect the bats, like I said.
Caves along the Current River alone include Medlock Cave, Welch Spring Cave, Cave Spring Cave, Devil’s Well, Rock House Cave, Pulltite Cave, Bat Cave, Little Gem Cave, Round Spring Cave, and Courthouse Cave.
Caves to be seen, if not all fully accessible right now, along the connecting Jacks Fork River include Chimney Rock Cave, Bat Cave, Bear Cave, Jam Up Cave, Meeting House Cave, Bunker Hill Cave, and Sycamore Cave.
Other caves on public land, which may or may not be accessible at this time, include Doling Park (or Giboney) Cave in Greene County, Sequiota Park Cave in Greene County, Lowell Cave in Wright County, Turner Mill Spring Cave in Oregon County, and many others.
Some privately-held caves include Sarcoxie Cave in Jasper County, Crystal Caverns in Barry County, Perkins Cave in Camden County, Skaggs Cave in Pulaski County, Dream Cave in Ozark County, Lewis Cave in Ripley County, and Cleveland Cave in St. Clair County.