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A Trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns
by George Everett

Despite the name, neither Lewis nor Clark ever found these caverns, although they did pass by on the Jefferson River in the valley below.

The caverns with their fantastic calcite formations created by mineral water seeping through cracks in the wall and dripping from the ceiling were given their name in honor of the expedition of the Corps of Discovery when the caverns became Montana's first state park in 1937.

Guided tours take about two hours to descend the hundreds of steps through the cave and open into rooms like the Cathedral Room and the Paradise Room where columns have formed of calcite dripstone from stalagmites meeting stalactites.

In places where water has flowed more freely, formations have been left behind in the form of ribbons or sheets. In other spots, cave popcorn have clustered on the walls where water has slowly seeped through the walls.

At times you might want to blow raspberries at the stale Disneyish tales told to provoke the imagination to see something in the shapes. The formations are enough in themselves to fascinate the dullest tourist. You can almost forgive the silliness when you hear the real life adventures of Dan Morrison, the man who developed the cave for tours. He built a wooden staircase down into the cave and took candlelight tours down for 30 years even after the Northern Pacific Railroad claimed the property and deeded it to the federal government. The cave still bears the mark of Morrison's tours as he would allow his guests to pull off stalactites from the ceiling to take home as souvenirs.

In the late 1930s, the CCC built the 3.5 mile road to the cave and poured concrete steps, installed handrails, explored to find new rooms, and essentially developed the cave to accommodate visitors today. The tour is not for the handicapped or the physically impaired. There is a gift shop and an information center and picnic areas all the way up the mountain for those who would rather wait.

It's a healthy hike up to the mouth of the cave and hundreds of steps, some steep and wet, can bring out the klutz in the best of us. Small children might find the tour a little long, too, and the low overhead in some rooms makes it difficult to carry a small child and maintain your balance at the same time.

A small comfort as you descend on narrow steps is that no person has ever died on a tour inside the cave. When the temperature soars to 90 and above, the caverns become even more attractive.

With a constant temperature of about 50 degrees, visitors are encouraged to bring a sweater to stay warm inside even on the hottest August afternoon.

Part of any visit, too, is the incredible drive that winds through the LaHood Canyon along the Jefferson River from Cardwell or Three Forks.

Admission is $10 for each adult, $5 for children age 6 to 11, and children under that are free. For more information, contact Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Box 489, Whitehall, MT 59759; (406) 287-3541.

This site is designed and maintained by George Everett.
© 2009 by George Everett. All rights reserved.
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