Route 66 - Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns Entrance
We arrived in Stanton, Missouri about 5:15 in the afternoon, just in time to buy tickets for the last tour of the caverns that day. The price surprised me a bit - $34 for the 2 of us. I was expecting around $20 - $25, but ok, pay it and hope you feel it's worth it at the end.

Meramec Caverns was opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1935, but it has been forming for over 400 million years and Pre-Columbian Native American artifacts have been found inside the cave so humans have known about it for a really long time. During the civil war, the Yankees had a powder mill set up inside the cave from 1862 until 1864 when a band of Confederate guerrillas found and destroyed it. One of the members of the guerrillas was Jesse James. He would later put his experience in the cave to good use.

The Stage Curtain - a 70-foot high, 60-foot
wide 35-foot thick mineral deposit, one of the
largest in the world.
In the early 1870's Jesse and his gang used the caverns as a hideout. On one occasion, after a bank robbery, the sheriff and a posse trailed Jesse and his men into the cave. They camped at the mouth of the cave for 3 days, but when they finally went inside, they found Jesse had discovered another way out by swimming under water into another room which eventually led to a small, hidden opening to the outside. He and his gang had escaped with the stolen loot. They left behind a wooden chest, a Civil War cavalry sabre, and several guns.

In the 1930s, a cave enthusiast, Lester Dill, leased the cave from the owner, Charley Rueppele, with an option to buy it. Along with his partner, Ed Schuler, they built the access road and entrance to the cave, renamed it "Meramec Caverns ” and opened it to the public in 1935.

The Stage Curtain lit up during the light and
music show at the end of the tour.
Dill uncovered miles of new passages and spectacular views and began to market the cave to the many travelers of Route 66. Marketing efforts included the use of "bumper signs” before the advent of "bumper stickers,” as well as painting the sides and roofs of barns all along Route 66. Soon, the cave became known as one of the most famous stops along the Mother Road.

Youngest-daughter really enjoyed the tour and I thought it was pretty cool also. I didn't much care for the young "Ranger" tour guide, a teenage nerd given a uniform and flashlight and with the power invested in him by those items, the self-importance wherewithal to tell a group of adults in an overly stern voice to "follow me," "hurry up," "don't fall behind" and "stop here and listen up!" Condescending little twerp. But that doesn't take away from the cavern itself, which was interesting. Was it worth $34? Close enough that I didn't feel cheated afterwards. And now Youngest-daughter and I can say we've been to Meramec Caverns!

In the souvenir store after the tour -
Youngest-daughter doing one of her
most favorite things - shopping!
As we emerged and walked out to the parking lot, we saw several police cars, firetrucks and an ambulance parked along the river right behind our truck. There were a lot of people in swimsuits just kind of milling around so we walked over and asked one what was going on. Apparently, while we were touring the cave, somebody had drowned and the rescue squad was dragging the river for the body.

After all the walking in the cave we had done, my broken toe was barking at me and besides, I didn't particularly want to stand around ghoulishly waiting to see some unfortunate person be dragged out of the river (may they RIP).  No need for my daughter to see such a thing if she doesn't have too either, so with the sun setting behind the hills and both of us in a somber, contemplative mood, we got in the truck, maneuvered around the emergency vehicles and headed toward a Hampton Inn in Rolla, Missouri.


Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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