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Missouri: Serious Fun in America’s Gateway to the Great Outdoors

Chain of Rock Bridge

By Selene Muldowney

Adventure awaits the eager explorer in Missouri as the natural world shines on her beauty. Missouri beckons the adventurer with everything from bustling city life to underwater caves filled with mysterious pasts.  This Midwestern state, covered by grassy plains and the forested Ozark Mountains boasts an incredible array of outdoor activities whether hiking, biking, or just taking in the breathtaking scenery. The natural beauty of Missouri is on full display at her many parks, while historic sites offer glimpses into her history and the people, places, and industry who helped shape her topography and demographics. 

Kansas City, the largest city in Missouri, located on the Kansas border, offers visitors looking to explore city life a variety of jazz clubs, the National Word War I Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  Others seeking a large city with small town hospitality visit Springfield, known as the pulse of the Ozarks. This regional hub is rooted in the celebration of family, friends and life’s genuine moments. Springfield offers intriguing attractions, diverse culinary delights, and shopping appealing to classic American heritage. 

Outdoor enthusiasts can take in the beautiful scenery and family oriented recreation and attractions found throughout the state at an affordable price. Walk along the pristine parks, trails and river systems found in the Ozarks or jump into the deep cerulean blue waters of Bonne Terre Mine. This gateway to the great outdoors has activities for all lifestyles including hunting, fishing, and scuba diving. Float down the rivers and streams leisurely taking in the serene landscape and fresh air. 

Elephant Rocks State Park treats visitors to the remarkable billion-year-old granite formations while Ha Ha Tonka State Park gives the explorer a peak at the mysterious ruins of an early 20thcentury castle. In St. Louis, Forest Park offers delights for every member of the family from the St Louis Zoo to the Missouri History Museum. Savvy bicyclists can take on Table Rock State Park located five miles west of Branson while more leisurely explorers can ride horseback through Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. One of the most exhilarating views can be taken in at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park situated on the highest point in Missouri at 1,772 feet. This park is home to the state’s highest wet-weather waterfall. 

After exploring all Missouri can offer on land, scuba divers can dive into her caves and explore the beauty that lies beneath the water’s surface.   Most divers would seek to explore the deep seas in search for underwater adventure yet Missouri has everything to offer from expert to beginner diving locations and adventures. Fortunately, the state offers a goldmine of fascinating cave formations. Theses mesmerizing reflective bodies of water hold secrets to time long gone and with over 6,000 caves in all, divers have a multitude of options. 

You are on an open water dive, you gaze about, marveling at the sheer rock walls and shadowy crevices that surround you on all sides, while the deep cerulean water mesmerizes you. It is silent and still except for a few patches of bubbles: signs of the other intrepid divers with you in this deep blue. You can faintly distinguish the fractured remains of old and empty ore carts and abandoned mining equipment. It is eerily quiet – the faint gurgle of bubbles the only sound where pick axes and machinery once split the air and thundered over the walls. Artificial light illuminates the gigantic archways before you and you begin to understand the scope of this wondrous diving adventure you have embarked on – it’s one you will not soon forget. 

This is the Bonne Terre Mine: an immense excavation beneath the town of Bonne Terre, Missouri. Larger than the town itself, there are also a number of smaller caverns and tunnels riddling the area. Opened in 1860, it would eventually become the world’s leading producer of lead ore. In 1962 the mine shut down and the pumps were turned off, allowing groundwater to pour in. Called Billion Dollar Lake Resort, the mine has been transformed into a 17-mile lake with, you guessed it, one billion gallons of water, making it the largest freshwater scuba venue in the world. There’s more than 100 feet of visibility at all times, thanks to the 500,000 watts of lighting, and the water is always 58 degrees. Experienced guides take groups through the mine’s 24 dive trails, where you can see mammoth archways, calcium falls and a variety of mining artifacts, including the elevator shaft. For non-divers, there are walking and boat tours available. The mine is made more captivating thanks to the calcium deposits and other minerals that have converged together leaving impressive formations. 

Another impressive dive location is Roubidoux Spring Cave located in Waynesville, Missouri. This cave is rather enchanting for many divers’ due to its unusual entrance. Entry is only possible after going to the police station and getting the gate keys. These keys will have to be retuned when you have left the premises. The entry begins with a gravel pit cavern giving access to a lower tunnel approximately 150 feet deep. There is also another room called the Second Big Room which requires advanced cave diving experience. Visibility is guaranteed at 20 to 70 feet and temperatures can range from 50 degrees.

Perhaps one of the more challenging cave explorations is at Cannonball Cave. This particular dive is for more experienced divers, due to tunnels being smaller and more restrictive in movement. The dive begins with navigating past a restriction then once cleared it branches off into several other tunnels. Exploring this cave requires some preparation and advanced skills. 

The last cavern on our list is the LaMotte Mine. This flooded mine has a wide range of abandoned tools and equipment scattered about as well as geological formations to feast eyes on. There are a number of tunnels and entry points which could appear quite confusing; however, there are many permanent lines that have been installed to make entry and exit easy.  

Besides the great on land attractions and underwater mysteries to explore, Missouri offers the wandering scuba diver plenty of friendly and knowledgeable scuba and watersports retailers to help make the adventure an exciting and safe one including TD Scuba Center, West End Diving, Divers Equipment, and Y-Kiki Divers.