Continuing with our cave exploration, after Maquoketa caves, we headed towards Niagara caves located in Harmony, Minnesota. It was about 3 ½ hrs. drive along US 52 S. It is said to be one of the most fascinating and unique geological attractions in the United States. There is a story behind its discovery in 1924. A farmer lost a few pigs. His sons eventually found them in a sink hole which later became one of the first chambers of the cave. A couple of years later cavers came to take a closer look and eventually opened it to the public in 1934. At its deepest point, it’s 150 feet below the ground.
There is a one hour guided tour, which is the only way to get to the cave, in which one can see a very impressive 60-foot waterfall, stalactites and stalagmites and fossils galore. There is even a wedding chapel which conducts half a dozen of weddings each year.
As we descended the first stairs through the canyon like passages, we could feel the change of temperatures. It was about 48 degrees down in the caves(that remains steady throughout the year) whereas outside it must have been above 80 degrees. The passage was pretty narrow and tall in some places and in some the ceiling is low but very well lit without creating any inconvenience for visitors
The walls made of limestones are dotted with pre-historic fossils, ranging from gastropods to cephalapods to sponges and trilobites. There were some stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Some were called carrot stalactites. There is a profile of an elephant that is about six feet tall that sticks out of the wall into the walkway between rooms. Another interesting but creepy feature is a skeleton hand sticking out of one of the walls.
The unique structures of stalactites and stalagmites formed from limestones are really astonishing. There were some unusual formations with unusual names as the “Wishing Well”, “Paul Bunyan’s Bed”, the “Echo Chamber”, “Shark’s Teeth” and “Grandfather Stalactite.”
There are a lot of stairs to traverse which requires some physical exertion and so people suffering from claustrophobia and heart problems need to be careful while visiting this cave. It is also very wet so you need to good walking shoes are recommended. Fortunately we had them on. Moreover due to difference in temperatures from outside, a light jacket is also recommended.
The cave is privately owned and the owners have really maintained it pretty well by taking care to the needs of the visitors. There is a gift shop at the entrance of the cave and the tour guides are well versed with the required information of the cave.