Caves are incredibly cool! They are natural formations found underground and have fascinated humans for centuries. Caves provide a unique and mysterious environment, with their dark and hidden passageways, stunning rock formations, and underground rivers and lakes. They are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Caves also hold valuable geological and archaeological information, providing insights into the Earth’s history and ancient civilizations. People visit caves for adventure, exploration, and scientific research. So, if you’re looking for a cool and fascinating experience, caves are the way to go!
Imagine this. It’s centuries ago, and you’re hunting in the forests of what is now the eastern part of Kentucky. You spot a bear and start to follow it. You trail it through thick clusters of trees, across fields, and up and down hills.
Then, it suddenly disappears. It seems to have vanished. Where could it have gone? You follow its footprints and soon stumble upon something even more extraordinary than a wild bear. It’s a massive opening in the ground. What is it? A cave entrance!
That may have been exactly how the world’s longest cave system—known as Mammoth Cave—was discovered. Today, geologists are aware that Mammoth Cave stretches almost 400 miles with sections that have yet to be explored!
Kentucky is a fantastic place to visit caves. Did you know there’s a special term for the activity of exploring caves? It’s called spelunking! Isn’t that an amusing word? Would you like to be a spelunker?
Of course, there are numerous other wonderful places for spelunking in the U.S. Two of these are Tennessee and Missouri. Tennessee has almost 10,000 caves and Missouri has over 6,000. Around the world, there are millions to be found.
Have you ever WONDERed how caves are formed? They tend to be found in areas with limestone or dolomite rock and underground streams. Scientists refer to these areas as karst areas. When it rains in karst areas, water seeps through cracks in the rock. Then, it combines with carbon dioxide to create a weak type of acid.
Over long periods of time (sometimes millions of years), this acid erodes the rock and creates hollow spaces. These hollow spaces become larger and eventually connect to form caves.
Of course, caves can also form in other ways. Along coastlines, the constant impact of waves against the base of a cliff can erode soft rock and create sea caves. Special caves called lava tubes can form when the edges of a lava flow cool faster than the center, resulting in a crust over the top shaped like a tube. Caves can also appear in areas where bacteria feed on oil deposits to produce a gas that combines with oxygen to form a strong acid that erodes rock.
If you decide to go spelunking, it might be a good idea to bring a jacket. Caves can be cold inside. How cold? That depends on the location of the cave. The temperature in caves tends to remain constant throughout the year, as they are underground and not affected by surface weather patterns.
The temperature of a cave is typically close to the average annual temperature for the region where it’s located. For example, caves in Texas can be as warm as 70º F. Caves in Missouri might range between 55º F and 60º F. Caves in Wisconsin might be a chilly 50º F. Brrr! Wherever you go spelunking, make sure to do your own research and be prepared!
Give It a Try
Ready to venture underground to explore caves in more detail? Ask a friend or family member to join you as you try out one or more of the following activities:
- Are there any caves in your area? Ask an adult friend or family member to take you on a trip to a local cave. Maybe your class could even go on a school trip to a cave someday. Before you go, do some research on the internet to learn more about the cave you’ll be visiting. What are its main features? How big is it? What can you expect to see? Also, find out the average annual temperature for your region. Use that temperature as a reference and compare it to the temperature inside the cave you visit. Is it similar? Talk to cave tour guides about the cave’s temperature. How does it vary throughout the year? Would it be comfortable to live in the cave all year round? Compare its temperature to the extreme temperatures you experience throughout the year. Would it be a cool place to relax during the summer heat? What about the winter? Would it be a warm place to cozy up on the coldest nights?
- Take a look at some stunning caves online. Visit National Geographic to see their Cave Exploration photo gallery. Aren’t the pictures amazing? Do they make you want to explore caves? Why or why not? What would excite you? What might scare you? What do you think you would find in the caves shown in the pictures? Discuss this with a friend or family member.
- The world beneath the surface can be fascinating and inspiring. Go online and check out The Ten Most Beautiful Caves in the World. From an Italian grotto to an indoor starry sky, you will be amazed by the incredible wonders that can be found underground. Which of these caves would you most like to visit? Why? Do you think there are even more spectacular and exciting caves yet to be discovered underground? If you could go exploring anywhere in search of new magnificent caves, where would you go? Write a paragraph explaining your choice.