America’s Cave—Meramec Caverns—Is No Mere Tourist Spot

The sides of barns from Oklahoma to Illinois demand you visit her. Billboards beckon you for miles at a time along Route 66 and Interstates 55, 44 and 70 to explore her insides. She’s one of the first landmarks in the world to advertise her name on the backs of cars courtesy of the bumper sticker. Mermec Caverns is no mere cave—it’s origins as a shelter harken back to the Osage tribes who used her to stay warm during harsh winters or keep dry during severe storms well before Europeans came to steal, rape and rob the lands.

The ballroom of Meramec Caverns. Don't let the neon and the tiled floor fool you—the tour is an impressive spectacle of the power of nature.

The ballroom of Meramec Caverns. Don’t let the neon and the tiled floor fool you—the tour is an impressive spectacle of the power of nature.

When French explorer Philipp Renault came to the New World, the Osage told him about a cave whose walls were lined with veins of gold. in typical colonial fashion, Renault when to the cave to claim his riches, only to find the gold veins were really saltpeter. So, O.K., it wasn’t gold, but saltpeter could just as easily be mined for it’s high demand in the use of creating gunpowder. In 1720 Renault named the place Saltpeter Cave and for over a century Saltpeter Cave was used to produce gunpowder.

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