Going underground By Chris Harris ~ Southeast Missourian
The water is muddy and frigid. The only light comes from flashlights or headgear. And sometimes you have to empty all the air from your lungs in order to squeeze through the tighter spots of a cramped underground passage. These hardships just make the discovery of another rock formation or a 50-foot tall subsurface cavern all the more gratifying to the men and women who belong to the Southeast Missouri Grotto. The group, now based out of Perryville, Mo., spends every weekend exploring or mapping caves in Southeast Missouri. Most of the caves they explore are in Perry County, where roughly 700 caves dwell under the farmlands and rolling hills.
The Missouri Speleological Survey Inc. estimates there are more than 5,000 caves in Missouri, and some put the number closer to 6,000. Missouri is second only to Tennessee in number of underground exploration experiences.
"Less than one percent of people gets to see what we get to see," said Kris Hartman, SEMO Grotto's president. "It's beautiful."
Cavers often find underground streams, giant rooms and large passageways. Sometimes they crawl in water with less than two feet of room to squeeze through; other times they could be walking upright in a passageway where the ceiling is completely out of reach.