Fun Places to Visit (though currently closed to the public)
Wyandotte Cave, Indiana
By April S. Kenyon — December 13, 2010
Located in beautiful Crawford County in southern Indiana, Wyandotte Cave was once considered to be one of the largest limestone caverns in North America. Often referred to in the plural form, Wyandotte Caves are actually made up of two separate caverns. The smaller cave, discovered in 1851, is called Sibert’s Cave. The larger and more interesting is the older, better known Wyandotte Cave. The caverns are situated below the scenic hills of the Harrison-Crawford State Forest near the Ohio River in the O’Bannon Woods State Park. This (formerly) popular tourist attraction is just 12 miles from the historic town of Corydon, Indiana and approximately 5.2 miles (10 minutes) northeast of Leavenworth. In 1972, Wyandotte Caves were established as a National Natural Landmark. The two caverns make up one of the five largest cave systems in Indiana.
what's called “breakdown” (rubble collapsing from the roof of this chamber) in wyandotte cave formed the “monument mountain,” the largest cave feature of its kind in the world, at 135 feet (41.148 m) in height.
(Photo © Indiana Division of Communications)
Sometimes referred to as the “New Cave” or “Little Wyandotte,” Sibert’s Cave was discovered in 1851. The land that bordered Wyandotte Cave was at that time owned by the Sibert Family. The story of its discovery actually revolves around Mr. Sibert’s energetic dog. The canine was apparently chasing a rabbit when it fell into the entrance of a sinkhole. Together with his neighbors, the Rothrocks, Mr. Sibert gathered ropes and lanterns to rescue the trapped pooch. It was during this rescue that the small cave was discovered. The Rothrocks, who also owned Wyandotte Cave, later purchased the smaller cavern from the Siberts in 1947 and the Wyandotte Cave system was established.
In contrast to the larger Wyandotte Cave, this small cavern is more accessible to tourists of various ages, as there are no extended staircases to maneuver. Sibert’s Cave features an impressive display of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and columns. However, this collection of speleothems seems to pale in comparison to the magnificent features and formations found in the larger Wyandotte Cave. While both caves are located in very close proximity to each other and temperatures are maintained at 52 degrees Fahrenheit in both, the similarities end there.
With magnificently large rooms and impressive formations, the historical Wyandotte Cave is the much more widely toured of the two caverns that make up the cave system.
Old (circa 1970) photo of entrance to wyandotte cave. (photo placed in the public domain by charles edward)
Located approximately 200 meters from Sibert’s Cave, the entrance of Wyandotte features multiple steps leading down into the spacious rooms and long corridors of the cave. Wyandotte encompasses 5 levels of rooms and supposedly more than 9 miles of passageways. Actually, this figure hasn't quite been nailed down, according to Carol Groves, one of our readers, who writes,
Wyandotte was once thought to be one of the longer caves in Indiana. A survey from the 1920s was said to show a length of 23 miles, a figure touted for decades. It was resurveyed by the USGS (Dick Powell) in 1966 and determined to be over 5 miles in length. The longest caves in Indiana were discovered more recently—Binkley’s Cave in nearby Corydon is nearing 22 miles long, while Blue Springs and Lost River are over 20 miles long.
Wyandotte Caves began forming nearly 2 million years ago during the Pliocene Period, when water began dissolving and eroding portions of the limestone bedrock most of Southern Indiana rests upon. Though the glaciers of that era and the following Pleistocene Period did not extend as far as the area where the caves are located, they played a large part in the development of the caverns.
While it is not known exactly when Wyandotte Cave was first discovered, it has been verified that this extraordinary cavern was used as a shelter by Native Americans for many centuries before the Europeans came to the area. Records gathered through the use of carbon dating reveal artifacts and evidence of human activity dating back as far as 8000 BC. The Native Americans likely used bark torches constructed from hickory and grape vines to light the way through the long dark passages of the cave. Chert was used for making arrowheads and various other stone tools, Epsom salts were highly valued for their medicinal properties, and aragonite was mined to construct pipes and necklaces.
It is believed that the first exploration of the large cave by Europeans occurred sometime around 1798 when saltpeter and the valuable Epsom salts were discovered. The cavern was named “Epsom Salts Cave” before being renamed “Wyandotte” in 1854 after the Wyandotte Native American tribe that lived in the area.
Among Wyandotte Cave’s many interesting and outstanding formations is Monument Mountain. Known as the largest underground mountain in the world, Monument Mountain stands at an amazing 135 feet (41.148 meters) (although other sources claim that Monument Mountain is actually about 105 feet in height).
Pillar of the Constitution
The world’s largest formation of stalagmite can also be seen in the hollowed out halls of Wyandotte. The Pillar of the Constitution stands at 35 feet tall and was among one of the first fascinating features of Wyandotte Cave to be discovered. This formation can be found in the room referred to as The Senate Chamber and can only be observed via a crawling tour.
Garden of Helictites
Historic Wyandotte Cave is also the home of a magnificent display of helictites. This type of speleothem is considered to be extremely rare and is perhaps one of the most fragile cave formations known.
Rare Helictites formations in Wyandotte cave, southern Indiana.
(photo placed in the public domain by charles edward)
The Garden of Helictites lies just between a passageway called Bandit Hall and the Crater Room, which houses a large number of beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Life in the Cave
Both Wyandotte Caves are home to more than 20 known animal species. Among those who make the caves their home are cave salamanders, crayfish and crickets, as well as a number of blind cavefish in the smaller Sibert’s cave. Very few fish can be seen in the larger Wyandotte Cave, as the conditions in that cave are much dryer. Many cave crayfish can be seen in both caves. If an observer happens upon one of these interesting insects, he might be surprised to find that the creature has no eyes. After all, it does not need to see in a dark cave.
Wyandotte also houses nine of the 12 species of bats native to Indiana, including the endangered Myotis sodalist, also referred to as the Indiana Bat. Though endangered, the Indiana Bat is of the largest population of bats currently living in Wyandotte Caves. Among the other bats living in the caves are little brown bats, big brown bats, red bats and silver-haired bats.
Protecting the Bat Population
From the time of its purchase of Wyandotte Caves in 1966 from the Rothrocks, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) used to allow tours of Wyandotte Caves for eight months out of the year. The caves are closed from early November to late February in an effort to leave the bat population undisturbed during the hibernation season. However, as of June 2010, Wyandotte Caves have been closed indefinitely in an effort to protect the bat population against White Nose Syndrome, a disease that has steadily been spreading across the United States and killing off bats in large numbers. According to one of our readers, Carol Groves: "Marengo ceased to be involved in WYC administration 1/09 when the state closed the cave. Prior to 2002 the Historic Cave was open all year, starting in 02 tours of this historic cave were available 4 months of the year, while Sibert’s was open March thru Oct."
The last we heard, the Wyandotte cave visitors' center was still operational as an information/educational facility, despite the fact that the caves have been closed indefinitely while the "white nose Syndrome" among bats is studied.
(Photo placed in the public domain)
While the exact cause of White Nose Syndrome is not known, Wyandotte Caves and all other caves in the area that are owned by the DNR have been closed to the public in an effort to protect and preserve the surviving bat population.
April S. Kenyon lives in the small city of Salem, situated in the scenic hills of southern Indiana. She received a BA in English from Indiana University in 1997 and has been pursuing a full-time career in freelance writing since the beginning of 2010. April writes for a number of online content sites, providing articles and research on a wide variety of topics for clients worldwide. Some of her favorite subjects to write about include those of an environmental and historic nature.