Monday, April 13, 2015


Missouri’s topography is karst.

Long ago, what we know as Missouri was covered by seawater. That sea deposited some of Missouri’s oldest cavernous rocks and limestone. Limestone accumulates on calm, shallow sea floors. Limestone is made up of sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate. It is this limestone that created a karst landscape in Missouri.

A karst landscape is characterized by the presence of caves, natural bridges, springs, sinkholes and losing streams—that’s where the surface stream loses a significant amount of its water flow below ground through bedrock openings. There can be, more or less, as much water below ground as there is above.

Section of Meremac Show caverns
Missouri is known as The Cave State because of its large number of caves. There are 6,900 known caves and more than 6,000 caves recorded in the Missouri Speleological Survey's files in Rolla, with more being discovered every year. In the nation, only Tennessee has more caves.

Our caves are among the largest and most impressive in the nation. There are caves in 78 of our 114 counties, mostly in the Ozarks. We have 20 show caves through out the state. Our show caves are open for public tour and governed by strict safety codes and are inspected at least once or twice a year. Show caves are great for those who don’t feel comfortable in exploring a cave on their own so they are in a tour group. Many of these caves are well lit with created paths, stairs, and railings—while maintaining and preserving the ecology of the cave.

The largest continuous karst terrain is in south-central Missouri. I live in the Missouri highlands on the Salem Plateau.  One of the largest cave systems is within the Salem Plateau. It’s like the cave factory with some of the oldest caves with Paleocene components in the Gasconade and Eminence dolomites. It dates back millions of years.

Our largest is Crevice Cave and is the longest in the state with over 30 plus miles of it having been surveyed and more to go. This surveying and exploration is made by trained cavers and further explored and cataloged by the members of the scientific community
An entrance to Crevice cave system
as well. We also have many visiting scientist from all over the world because the caves have some very unique features and some rare cave dwellers not to mention fossils. Because our caves have some very fragile resources they are protected (both those on private and public land) by some tough rules and regulations and some caves are only open to the scientific community.

A section of Berome-Moore cave stalactites
“Next door” to Crevice is Berome-Moore Cave. It's actually a series of caves. It was discovered in 1961 as a result of cavers finding breathing hole. Once they got that hole (only about 12 by 6 inches) expanded enough to crawl in they eventually came upon a cavern so vast their lights could not penetrate the darkness. Berome-Moore is an extensive system in which ancient cat tracks, an extinct Pleistocene Jaguar, have been found. There are so many tracks in one section they’ve named it Cat Track Passage.

Pleistocene Jaguar tracks
Missouri’s caves have been in use since ancient times. The Native American cultures have used hundreds of our caves for shelter, burial and other religious ceremonies, as well as for a source of water, clay, flint, and minerals. Human burials, artifacts and rock art still bear silent witness to the way the Indians used Missouri caves over a period of some 10,000 years.

Missourians have used caves more than 200 years. People have used Missouri caves as taverns, barns, spring houses, beer and wine cellars and sites for social gatherings, political events and religious services. This was because the caves were available and conveniently warm in winter and cool in the summer (temperatures range from 58-60 degrees year round). Settlers harnessed spring-fed cave streams to provide power for paper mills, woolen mills, sawmills and gristmills.

Our rich karst landscape has created some fabulous attractions and given rise to a substantial tourism trade, both above and below ground. Visitors come for our fishing and hunting, to explore our vast waterways, to hike and camp, and of course, for our extensive cave systems. 

Missouri truly is a beautiful state with much to explore and do. 

Photographs: Missouri Department of Conservation, MSS Cavers Reports


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia - what a great post on your Missouri Karst .. I've loved learning about it .. incredible variety of caves etc .. and I bet there's loads of science to be traced still, tracked, recorded, DNAed etc etc .. wonderful. The world is an amazing place .. especially seeing these caves and learning they're used in places as gathering places, but many are very protected from the public ...

I love learning geology so I bet there's lots to do .. sounds gorgeous ... cheers Hilary

Natalie Aguirre said...

I love caves, though I'd definitely explore on a tour. Awesome that Missouri has so many.

Melanie Schulz said...

I had no idea Missouri has so many caves; when I thought of caves I always thought of Kentucky. I'll have to check them out next time I'm down there.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

cool cool

Julie Flanders said...

How interesting! And beautiful as well. Missouri's not a state I've ever thought of as a tourist destination but I see now how wrong I was.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sure when there was no air conditioning, those caves were a welcome respite for many.
The one with the cat tracks is cool.
Not sure I'd want to explore one on my own, but I'd take an open one with paths and stuff.

Jo said...

We've visited some of the caves in Virginia, fascinating. I certainly wouldn't do an spelunking though, too chicken. I think they are nuts, especially in the caves with lots of water. Matt has visited the Cheddar caves in England which are worth visiting apparently. I would certainly like to see some of the public caves in Missouri.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Karst is an interesting word, and I loved the fact-filled post with all the great pics you have here.

Mark Koopmans said...

I had no idea caves were such a big deal in Missouri... but now I feel a much deeper connection with your state :)

Thanks for sharing - and educating (and sorry for confusing you re. my comments location :)

Trying to keep everyone on their toes :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

HILARY--there are many caves that are partially open to the public and other parts are closed off for scientific parties only. Cavers are secretive about their discovered cave as well. They do report them as found but the locations are not made public.

I'm still learning about much of Missouri's history and geology. It is fascinating.

NATALIE--I know I wouldn't go into a raw cave. They're dark and have lots of slimy red clay. Very easy to get hurt or lost in one if not experienced.

MELANIE--most mountainous regions have some caves, kart landscape have many.

MAC--discovering the gems of Missouri have been very cool.

JULIE--we don't have a lot of large city centers but those we do have here do have museums, galleries, concerts, and whatnot. But it's a wild and gorgeous state with many things to do and see. So many stories are told by the landscape if we listen and look. :-)

ALEX--I was amazed at how many caves were used like that. It makes sence but who would have thought?

JO--I'm with you, I couldn't be a spelunker either. Having said that, I would be glad to see some after the initial exploration was done and relatively safe. I think it would be cool Dan and I are going to hike up to Miller Cave on Fort Leonardwood in a couple of weekends. It's big and it's close.

I think the cheddar caves would be cool to visit.

~Sia McKye~ said...

TYREAN--Karst is borrowed from the Germans but they borrowed it from someone else. Actually, it's thought the word came from Proto-Indo-European word karra, meaning root-rock. Which actually makes sense as we are talking about root rocks especially at the bottom of caves. Some of those rocks and formations are millions of years old.

MARK--Well it's the CAVE STATE, lol! But actually, we didn't have the tourist trade for seeing those caves until Mark Twain wrote his Tom Sawyer stories and there were caves in them. People came from all over wanting to see Tom Sawyer's caves.

On your blog, I had to be on toes to reach up for the comment button, lol! No prob now, I know where to find it. :-)

Elephant's Child said...

What an informative, and beautiful post.
I am torn about caves. I find them fascinating, but my claustrophobic self is not comfortable in them.
I love that the ecology and scientific integrity or these is protected though. Something there should be a great deal more of world wide.

Jemi Fraser said...

Very cool! I've never heard the word karst before. The cave system looks gorgeous - well worth a tour or two!!

Tamara Narayan said...

Great pictures. Caves are fascinating. I did a little research on sink holes for a short story and learned a bit. I haven't been in a cave like these since I was little and our family went to the "Bat Cave" in N.C.

Kristin said...

I knew Michigan was covered by glaciers but, even though I lived in Missouri for 3 years and have visited many times, I never realized it was a state full of caves.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Sia,

WOW... these caves a gorgeous! I never knew Missouri had such an amazing Karst!

The lighting filtering through the opening is spectacular. Wonderful pics.

Thanks for sharing such interesting information about your home state.

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Thanks for the info, Sia. I'll have to get there one day. I didn't know there were so many caves there. I'll have to read more on the geography.

Sandra Meek Wilkes said...

Never heard the word karst before. Learned something! It is amazing to me how I land "used to be". So many changes...and, of course, they will continue long after we are gone.

Michelle Wallace said...

The caves are really beautiful!
Now I'm wondering exactly what Karst means?

The Happy Whisk said...

I love caves, and trees, and nature and all that good stuff.

Cheers and boogie boogie.