Looking for some mystery and adventure this summer? How about a reprieve from the heat? That’s exactly what we found at Mystery Cave in Spring Valley this week. My wife Katie and I took our two kids, Liam and Aurora down to the Forestville/Mystery Cave state park for a scenic tour of the longest cave system in Minnesota.
When we arrived, we took our place among the motley troop of eager spelunkers. Our tour guide Greg appeared, in full green-and-khaki DNRuniform. He wasted no time, and after a quick head count, we trekked across the plain to the cave entrance. He was a walking Encarta—or for a more contemporary metaphor, a living PokéDex—casually offering historical or geographical facts at every turn.
After crossing the Root River, we arrived at the cave entrance. It was guarded by a titan of a door, resembling a vault at Gringott’s Wizarding Bank. Liam and Aurora put on apprehensive faces. I knew this was a critical juncture. If we didn’t get them past this door, this tour was going to be overquickly for us.
“It’s fine, guys! You’re going to have fun!” we offered. (It was only at the end of the tour Katie would confess her own urge to turn around at that point.)
“Is it going to be scary?” trembled Aurora.
“No, it’s just going to be fun!” I assured her (and Katie).
The group disappeared down into the entrance, and we slinked in behind them.
“Can the last person shut the door behind us, please?” Greg requested.
Katie hesitantly complied, and I could feel her eyes dart me a last desperate glance. We were in. No turning back now.
“Can anyone tell me what the opening above the door is for?” Greg quizzed. “No? It’s for all the bats to fly in and out. There are about 2,000 bats that reside in the cave during the colder months.”
I felt the collective tensing of my family’s muscles at the mention of those flying mammals. Aurora buried her face in my sweatshirt.
Once we entered the cave proper, though, the tension started to dissolve. This was legitimately awesome. All those National Geographic specials from childhood sprang to my mind. I could almost hear David Attenborough’s voice narrating our journey. Although he lacked the theatrical flourish, our fearless guide Greg rivaled Sir Attenborough in his endless cave knowledge. He illumined each cephalopod fossil, identified each cave formation and its origin, and highlighted every pertinent historical moment.
By the end of the tour, the kids were eagerly telling Greg their favorite parts of the cave. It had been a quick conversion from the dread at the beginning of the tour. Once fearful surface-dwellers, we emerged through the same titanic door, brave spelunkers.
“See? Wasn’t that fun? Not as scary as you thought, huh?” I encouraged.
The kids enthusiastically agreed, chattering between themselves about all the cool things they saw.
“Oh, look! They have advanced caving tours!” I offered, glancing at Katie.
“Yeah… I’m pretty sure I still don’t like caves.”
Fortunately, the A&W on the way back was a hit with everyone. This trip, like our last documented trip, ended with the universal appeal of ice cream. I, for one, might need another dose of Mystery Cave. Maybe I’ll see you there next time!