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Day Trip: Discovery leads to national natural site

Winter or spring, Cave of the Mounds remains open

BLUE MOUNDS, Wis. – Spooky may describe some caves, but not Cave of the Mounds.

Welcoming lighted walkways and paved paths make for pleasant visits, but exercise caution as the trails can be slippery when wet. Below winter's snows and spring rains, the guided tours continue every season in 50-degree temperatures. Those visiting on warmer days will want to bring a jacket or sweater.

The tours take visitors on their 1,100-foot walk in about an hour. There are stairs, and the cave is not wheechair accessible. Walkers and strollers are prohibited.

Those going exploring will see stalactites and stalagmites, and will take home additional knowledge on geology. Highlights inside are the South Cavern, Glacier Room, Painted Waterfall, Totem Pole Room, Gem Room, and Dream River Room.

Cave of the Mounds was discovered in the summer of 1939. Workers taking out limestone from a quarry on a farm found the cave after blasting. In 1988, the privately-owned site was named a National Natural Landmark.

Guests at the cave have a number of above-ground options, too. As spring arrives, the gardens and hiking trails will hold appeal. A gift shop and exhibits are year-round attractions. Visitors can even go home with a bat hat.

Available when the season is right, visitors of any age can do some mining. Prospectors purchase bags of mining rough at a cost range of $5.95 to $11.95. The bag themes are pirate's treasure, arrowhead, fossils and gemstones.

At the gift shop, be prepared for a geological bounty. Shoppers have a wide range of gems, fossils, rocks and minerals they can take home. Geodes are sold, as well, and can be broken open there.

Those who get hungry exploring can seek nourishment at the snack bar at the visitors center. Coffee, sandwiches, drinks and sweet treats are available. The snack bar opens in the spring.

Also in warm weather, the Prairie and Savanna Restoration Gardens provide additional space to look around. One doesn't need to be an expert to recognize plants in the Prairie Demonstration Garden – they are labeled in both English and Latin.

Perennial flowers, especially those that hold water, are found in the Rock and Rain Gardens. Butterfly feeders and plants that attract these colorful creatures are, of course, in the Butterfly Garden.

Whether it is being in the sunshine or a sunless environment, Cave of the Mounds is worth a look.

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