After our busy visit in Missoula we headed east on I-90. We were headed for a campground Chuck found online that was 30 miles south of the freeway. When we took the exit there was a sign for Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park only 7 miles away so we decided to check it out instead. It turned out to be a nice little park in a valley. There were views of the hills all around and a nearby river with occasional trains running along it. Even though the park is reservable, we were able to find a spot for a few days mid-week. We enjoyed biking around the campground and took a short hike, but we never did make it down to check out that river. This quiet campground made for a nice place to relax.
The big draw of the park are the cave tours so we decided to check it out. We drove the road up to the visitor center. On the way we got some great views of the valley and beyond.
We purchased tickets for the next tour and looked through the small exhibits on the caverns. Apparently Dan Morrison started developing the caves and leading tours around 1900, but the railroad said it was their land and a court battle ensued. The railroad won, but that didn’t stop Morrison. In 1908 the caves were put under the jurisdiction of Yellowstone National Park and they put a gate and lock on the entrance to the cave. Morrison cut off the lock, installed his own and kept leading tours. Once a year a ranger came by and put a new lock on and Morrison would just cut it off again. This kept going until his death. Later, like so may other parks we’ve been to, the Civilian Conservation Corps made huge improvements to make the caves accessible for tours and built infrastructure . In 1938 the federal government gave the park to the state.
Back to the tour. So after hearing about the bats living here and how they have managed to escape white-nose disease, we headed up the steep 1/2 mile trail that climbs to the entrance. Once all 31 people in our tour had made it to the top we went inside. The first section is fairly open with light coming in from the entrance and another opening. Then we descended a dark stairway into a smaller room and as we were crowded together the tour guide said “If you’re feeling closed in this is your last chance to head back the way we came. Otherwise you’re stuck with me for another hour and a half.” Well that was enough for me. I’m slightly claustrophobic and I was having flashbacks to that confined MRI tunnel and thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be crowded in here with all these people in ever smaller spaces. So I said I’m heading back. I felt bad I had ruined it for Chuck, but luckily caves aren’t that interesting to him and the funky smells weren’t so appealing to him either so it worked out. We later heard that you have to crawl or scoot on your bottom at one point through a 12 foot long tunnel and I knew I had made the right decision.
Even without the tour we enjoyed our time in this quiet park, and if there hadn’t been a music festival going on down the road we might have been able to get a site and stay a bit longer. But alas ,we’re off to continue east on our journey.