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Touring the Cave

Thursday April 9, 2015
Florida Caverns State Park
Marianna, Florida


So today is the day we finally will see these Caverns for which the park is named.  We bike over and arrive at 20 minutes until 9.  The ticket office opens at 8:45 we were told.

But when we arrive, the office is open, people already have tickets for the 9:00 tour and we are told that the next available tour is at 10:30.  WHAT?  The tours run every half an hour.  So already the first 3 are completely full?  On Monday there were about 8 people for the 9:00 tour.  Boy did we miss our chance to be part of a small tour by going to see the VC first.  Oh well. 

They tell us that there are two school groups and that they are allowed to sign up 3 weeks in advance and take up an entire tour slot.  No one mentioned this on Monday.  We sign up for the tour and rather than bike back 5 miles back to Winnona and then back here again, we walk the Beech/Magnolia trail again.  Nothing new to report there but it is a lovely way to pass the time.


Looks like since they are closed Tuesday and Wednesday, the very best bet for a not full tour is Monday at 9:00.  Tours are limited to 25.  Well sort of.  They don’t seem to keep very good records and when our guide starts collecting tickets it seems they have sold 28.  She tries not to show that she’s a bit irritated at that.

She tells us a little about the history of the caverns where both human and bear bones have been found.

As the Civil War raged, Confederates explored the caves as a possible source of nitre for making gunpowder as was done in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky , but found them too wet.

In the 20th Century, Dr. J.C. Patterson of nearby Malone visited Virginia's Luray Caverns and immediately realized the potential of the caves. He bought 494 acres at the site in 1935 and led a civic drive that called for the formation of today's state park. Dr. Patterson's dream was realized and the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) soon started work building many of the facilities seen at the park today. These workers not only built roads, trails and buildings, they discovered the main cavern now used as the tour cave.

We walk over to the entrance, she opens the door and down we go.



On the ceiling just inside the door is an eastern pipistrelle bat, the most common one in these caves.




The ranger has a flashlight that she uses to point out specific things as she explains the formations.    She turns the cave lights on in each section when we arrive and off when we leave so that the cave creatures can continue in the dark habitat which they need and so that algae won’t grow on the formations.  But with cave tours every half hour 5 days a week, I wonder how well this works.




Florida Caverns State Park came into the Florida Park System in 1935. The CCC and WPA constructed the park facilities and roadways. The original entrance to the cave was actually discovered by accident. In March of 1937 a government surveyor, Oliver Chalifeaux, found a tree that had fallen over during a storm had exposed a new cavern. The roots took up the earth with the tree and left a hole in the ground. When he crawled into hole he discovered the beautiful formations that we see today.

After this discovery, the CCC began the excavation and development of the tour cave. Their work continued until 1942. The tour part of the cave, covering an area of nearly 2 acres under the park, has been open for public enjoyment since that year.

The lights in the cave were originally put in by the CCC.  They were not very bright so the men cleverly mounted their dinner plates above the fixtures to create brighter light.  Some of the plates are still there over 70 years later.  The more modern lights are brighter and you can see the algae around them.




This is the back of the plate in the ceiling.  The brown stains around the edges have accumulated over the years.




The cave has dazzling formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones, and draperies.

This formation is a flowstone known as the wedding cake.  Many people have gotten married here over years and the ranger says they still have several weddings a year.






  There are ribbon and soda straw formations.




There are glassy lakes.




Even the floor is lovely.


The colors of the flowstone formations are quite varied.




Stalactites and columns












There are several rooms in the caverns however the beauty of the Florida Caverns is not viewed only across a large room as in some caves. It is right beside you where you can see the detail.




The CCC excavated the cave using only pick axes and hand tools, for almost five years, creating the paths that visitors walk today. 






The ranger is very clear with us and reminds us frequently that touching any of the formations will cause them to stop growing due to the oils in our hands.  Arms carefully at my sides.




It’s one of the prettiest caves I’ve seen and reminds me of some of the tours at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.


The lakes look like winter wonderlands.



This is the one formation that you are allowed to touch in order to see what it feels like.  It’s clear in the middle that it has turned dark from the oil of many hands.  It is no longer growing.



Important cave fauna in the park include colonies of 2 bat species (1 endangered), as well as blind cave salamanders and crayfish in this water-filled cave. The level below our tour is filled with water. Sometimes after very heavy rains parts of this tour have to be closed off due to water.



Some of the passages require tall folks to bend down.



I really love the ribbons and draperies.  You can see the drops of water on the ends of the ribbons.  At several points while we were listening to the ranger, drops fell on my forehead.  It made me laugh out loud.







Stalactites (C for ceiling) and Stalagmites (G for ground) grow together to form columns.






David only bumped his head once! <grin>






The tour is 45 minutes long but it seems much shorter than that when we climb out.  I could definitely turn right around and go through again.  It’s really lovely. 





In the afternoon I walk back over to the spring for a dip and bring my chair this time to do a little reading.  David joins me later and takes these pictures.  They’ve almost finished the spring run bridge.



The swimming spring.


The second spring.


He’s walking over the bridge between the two springs when he gets my picture.   I’ve already been in the water.






While he’s in the water, I snap this picture of a woman standing right in the walkway to the spring shouting into her cell phone.  I guess she’s using Skype or google hangout since she’s holding the phone up to talk to it.  I can hear every word of her conversation and have to stop reading until she is finished despite the fact that I am quite far away from her as you can see in the first picture. 





Tomorrow is our last day at Florida Caverns.  We will be heading straight back to Virginia beginning Saturday.  Our winter travels in Florida are coming to an end.


  1. What an experience I go through Malone and Maianna on my way to the beach and never never have realized these caves exsisted. Hopefully I can visit them next time Thank you

  2. Beautiful cave with its lakes and formations. Imagine being married underground...how different! Neat to see a bat! That cave does remind me of Mammoth. Glad you finally got on a tour and then had a nice day for reading out where there's natural light :)

  3. Great tour and photos. I hope you hae good traveling weather.

  4. The draperies are some of my favorite features in caves; especially when there is a light behind them to underscore how thin they can be.

  5. Great tour of the caverns, nice pictures. Another gem made possible by the CCC. Where would we be today without all their labors?

    Sorry you had to head straight back to VA after a wonderful time in Florida. That's quite a hike on boring highways after all the beauty of nature that you've enjoyed. Hope you get back to travels soon!

  6. I think caverns are so interesting.Thanks for the tour. I can't stand it when people have really loud telephone conversations in public!

  7. I remember going to those caverns. We enjoyed ourselves and wished we had more time to stay at the park but at that time we were headed to Jacksonville to pick up our daughter and her husband (then boyfriend) who were arriving within a day or two. Looks like we really missed out on a nice park. Thanks for showing us what the rest of the park was like. I really love the colours of the springs in Florida.


  8. We were also impressed with those caverns but can't remember seeing bats. Too bad you weren't told in advance about the school groups booking the tours in advance but at least you didn't have to join them!

  9. We love to visit caves. Thank you for the tour and the pictures. Sorry to hear that your time in FL is up, but hopefully you'll return sometime to visit more.

  10. I would never have imagined that there were caves in Florida. All of the caves that I've been in have been in hillier or mountainous areas. Very interesting.

  11. Wow it is just as beautiful underground as above!!! Really love the draperies and ribbons...so delicate. Thanks for all the great posts about wonderful places you have introduce to us this winter. Now we have so many new things for other winters!!!

    I don't have a cell phone but I have often wanted to pretend I did and just scream a made up conversation into my hand when someone thinks their phone conversation is the most important thing in the world. But then I guess they wouldn't get it and just think I was a crazy lady;o)))

  12. A lovely looking cave system. You've captured it beautifully!

  13. Yippee for the CCC. I can't believe your guide doesn't have her hair pulled up so as to loose less of it and provide a segway to how much lint and hair is left in a cave. Which is more likely to attract weird growth than some kinds of lights designed for caves. Love the dinner plate idea. Glad for the do not touch message. It's just a wet rock after all. Gorgeous formations and it is nice to be close enough to see them. Drops on your head means you've been kissed by the cave.

  14. Sherry, your photos of the cave formations came out great! Glad that there was some decent lighting. This cave looks so much like the one we use to take our third graders to after we studied the cave's development. One of the drapery photos towards the end of the post looks like the formation we called bacon. There was only one piece of bacon in our cave and it was right next to a light so it looked just like a crisp piece of bacon. The kids couldn't wait to see it. I'm glad that they have one piece people can touch. Helps keep those fingers close to the body. Great tour!! Thanks for sharing:) Safe travels to Virginia!!

  15. Wonderful pictures! Hope you had a safe trip home...and that all goes well with David's treatments.

  16. That cave is gorgeous! The formations are wonderful and so diverse. I think the soda straw formations are my favorites -- or the bacon. Thanks to your terrific photos, I felt like I was on the tour with you. I would love to visit the cave next winter when we're in Florida. On a Monday! Maybe you'll want to do it again with us. ;-)

  17. The guides must do a great job if there are no other dead columns besides the one. With school groups and wedding guests that's saying a lot! It is such a place of wonder, so completely different from the world above it. It's especially delightful for us shorter folks :-) Glad you got in another swim and some peaceful reading time before the rude interruption. I'm convinced there are people with no clue they share the planet with anyone else.

  18. I remember that cave tour, but not the plates. I'm sure they must have been there. Bad memory I guess. The thing I hate about cave tours is that they rush you. I always want to stay longer and marvel at the beauty.

    That picture of the floor reminds me of brain coral.

    Why some people talking on cell phones feel they need to scream is beyond me. We've been in restaurants and heard entire conversations too. People are oblivious.

  19. What a clever way of remembering ...Stalactites (C for ceiling) and Stalagmites (G for ground). Having been to Carlsbad Caverns recently, I can say that the Florida caverns can hold its own characteristics. And your photos captured their hidden beauty underground.
    You certainly have explored every nook and cranny of Florida and took us to some beautiful FL places we have never been to.
    Have a safe drive to Virginia.

  20. Really nice pictures in difficult light!


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