Cave of the Mounds: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Southern Wisconsin

Last weekend we drove to Madison, WI to see Mumford & Sons perform at their second-to-last stop on the U.S. Delta tour. I’ve never been to Madison, and Travis hasn’t been back since college. It’s an easy four-hour drive from The Cities. We ate well, drank well, and spent a few quiet hours at the fantastic Chazen Museum of Art. But, let’s just talk about Cave of the Mounds for a minute, shall we?

Cave of the Mounds

First, Madison is built on an isthmus—a word I hadn’t heard or used since 7th grade geography class. An isthmus is “a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land.” Madison has two lakes on either side of it, which I have no doubt is lovely in the summer, but since it was in the high 30s (and windy), we weren’t up for spending too much time outside.

On Saturday, after brunch, the museum, and walking around the university campus a bit, we found ourselves with a few hours to kill before the concert. I had read about Cave of the Mounds, 30 minutes away, as one of the best things to do in Madison. A guided tour lasts an hour and cost $18.95. And it’s a steady 50 degrees down under. Perfect.

The experience starts with a short video in a small theatre right off the gift shop talking about the history of the cave and how it was accidentally discovered in 1938. It was all very interesting, but the best part was the people interviewed for the film, who were so excited about this cave, calling it the best thing that’s happened to southern Wisconsin since 1938! It was kind of funny, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amped up.

A door on the other side of the screening room opens up and—VOILA—you’re inside the cave. A tour guide takes you through dark and sometimes narrow pathways. You’re not supposed to touch the cave AT ALL since it’s living and breathing, growing and changing. There’s one part she said we could touch.

Our guide gave all sorts of fun facts about caves and the formations and explained the difference between a stalacite and stalagmite. As we walked through, she flipped on lights and turned them off as we left areas. At one point, all the lights went off as we sat in total darkness as she explained there are only two places on earth where you can find complete and total darkness: a cave and the bottom of the ocean.

In short: caves are crazy cool. Nature is wild. And I’m still not sure how they know the gift shop and parking lot won’t collapse into the cave one day…

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