In my adventurous lifetime I have climbed, rappelled, hiked, kayaked, and explored water falls and caves. But, it wasn’t until I was invited on the Deep Darkness Tour at Indiana Caverns that I did all of these things in one day, and 200 feet underground.
When driving through the farmlands of southern Indiana, cows and corn are what pop into view. It doesn’t occur to me that underneath the fields there could be something other than fertile soil. “Exploring the caves gives families an opportunity to make memories together, while seeing some of God’s most spectacular creations, “ says Laura Roberson, one of the proprietors and the first friendly face that greeted us at the check in desk. “Seeing the beauty of the underground is not something everyone gets the opportunity to do.”
Laura is right. Yet, for those of us who do get this opportunity, the views are magical. Seeing what goes on below the surface of the earth shifts ones perspective about planet Earth.
I have never seen Corydon, Indiana on anyone’s vacation bucket list, but part of being a curious, adventurous traveler is the ability to recognize unique and interesting experiences, whether they be in far away lands or close to home.
While Corydon is just a few hours from my home, its location close to I-64 for the United Stated road tripper traveling east-west, and I-65 for the north-south traveler, means visitors from all 50 states and 29 countries found this gem, long before I got there. Although it is in Indiana, the closest major city is Louisville, Kentucky, 40 miles east. The Louisville airport is the best bet for those flying to see this natural wonder.
The little town of Corydon became Indiana’s first state capitol in 1813 when 43 delegates met under an elm tree to draft the first state constitution. The Binkley cave system, located in Corydon, is the 7th longest cave in the United States and the 11th largest in the world. Indiana Caverns, a family friendly venue, exceeded my expectations for an experiential vacation adventure.
Indiana Caverns Deep Darkness Tour
There is a tour, including a pontoon boat ride on an underground river that is accessible and enjoyable for visitors of all ages and physical abilities. The Deep Darkness tour, a small group tour by reservation only, is for those looking for an extraordinary physical and mental experience that gets the adrenaline flowing, and challenges the senses. It will change what you think about what lies beneath you, the next time you are walking through the woods.
Dress for Success
With reservation made, the first order of business was to make sure we were properly dressed. The cave is muddy. I mean, really muddy. Muddy enough to destroy any washing machine. So, the suggestion is to wear clothes you never want to see again. Since I am not a very regular closet cleaner, it was not difficult to find old shirts, pants, socks and boots for this adventure.
Apparently the local Goodwill store does a good business of outfitting people with inexpensive disposable clothes, for those who arrive in town unprepared. Jeans are great, sweatpants are a no-no. Once you start wading through the underground river, you don’t get a chance to dry out until four hours later, when the tour is over. There is no sunshine in a cave. Everything gets muddy in the cave, so even undies need to be something you never want to wear again. We were fortunate to have old boots that were at the end of their life, so those too experienced a fond farewell at the end of the day.
Indiana Caverns provides the gloves, knee pads, and helmets. Our guide had small waterproof backpacks, which we shared. Less is more in a wild cave. Much of the cave is wide open spaces, but there are narrow passageways to get from room to room. A backpack or too much bulk can make the difference between an easy passage and a great big hassle. The only lights underground were the ones on our helmets. They provided plenty of light to see where we were going. Staying close together helped brighten our passage.
From the main building of Indiana Caverns, our group of four hiked, with belay ropes, to a hut in the woods. Upon entering the hut, there was a hole in the ground, with a ladder and pulley system. The first task was to climb down through the hole, one at a time, 93 feet into the cave. The hole was a man-made access. Because of the length, we were attached to a belay rope attached to a pulley system, as we individually made our way down the hole. Upon landing, we were in a large room of rock, mud and a beautiful waterfall.
Attaching to a pre-set single line belay system was the next challenge, as we individually belayed down a 100’ mountain. “Now crawl behind the waterfall,” our guide Sarah called out to us, as she was completing her decent. I couldn’t see how to get behind the waterfall until I was directly in front of it. Once past the waterfall, the physical challenges lessened, as we waded through a river and several cave rooms to a group of kayaks on shore.
I interpreted this as a sign that humans had been here before, so making it through this trip was possible. We launched the kayaks and continued, one by one, paddling through the cave river. The ceiling of the cave fluctuated from high cathedral-like ceilings to so low that we paddled lying down.
When we got back to the waterfall, crawled behind it to reach the bottom of the underground mountain, climbed the mountain along our rappel lines and saw the ladder that would take us to the opening, I felt as if I had expended my last bit of energy. But, adrenaline is a very useful hormone. After a brief rest, we began climbing out of the cave, up the ladder, one at a time.
It took a few rest stops, but seeing daylight after four hours of darkness was worth the effort. Our garbage bags of warm, dry clothes and lots of wet wipes we were advised to pack were waiting for us at the top. Our muddy attire went straight into the garbage bags. The adrenaline stayed with me for several hours, but I had no trouble falling into a deep sleep that night.
Sometimes exotic adventures mean traveling far from home. But, Dorothy was right in The Wizard of Oz when she said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I shouldn’t look any farther than my own back yard.”
All photos are courtesy of Indiana Caverns.
Explore other U.S. Caves and Caverns at the National Caves Association web site.