Lewis and Clark Caverns
|Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park|
Illuminated interior of Lewis and Clark Caverns
|Location||Jefferson County, Montana|
|Area||3,015 acres (1,220.1 ha)|
|Operated by||Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks|
The caverns have been familiar to Native Americans since long before their discovery by Europeans. The Lewis and Clark Expedition camped within sight of the caverns on July 31, 1805, when they camped along Antelope Creek. The cavern was first discovered by non-Native Americans in 1882 by two people from Whitehall, Montana, Charles Brooke and Mexican John. However, they told few people and at the time their discovery did not become well known. In 1892, local ranchers Tom Williams and Bert (or Burt) Pannel saw steam coming from the caverns while hunting. In 1898, Williams finally explored the caverns. Williams wanted to begin giving tours to the caverns but in 1900 a court battle over ownership ensued and the railroad won. In 1908, the railroad gave the land to the federal government.
The cave was first developed for tours around 1900 by Dan A. Morrison, who called it Limespur Cave. The site was first officially established as "Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument" on May 11, 1908, but was not fully surveyed and declared until May 16, 1911, by President Taft as 160 acres (0.65 km2). The limestone cave is named after the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark since the cavern overlooks over 50 miles (80 km) of the trail from the Lewis and Clark Expedition along the Jefferson River, although Lewis and Clark never saw the cavern. Lewis and Clark did however pass through portions of the modern day park. It is located approximately 45 miles (72 km) west of Bozeman, Montana, and 60 miles (97 km) northwest from the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. The caverns are also notable in that much of the work done to make the cave system accessible to tourists was performed by the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
Lewis and Clark Caverns was dissolved by slightly acidic groundwater in tilted beds of the Madison Limestone of Mississippian age. Most of the cave was probably excavated during the ice ages, a time of much greater water supply than today. This limestone was formed by calcium rich organisms that died in a sea that was present around 325 and 365 million years ago. Layer upon layer of organisms stacked on each other and compacted to form this rock group. Reddish sandstone, known as the Amsden, laid down in the Pennsylvanian age was uplifted to current heights during the Laramide Orogeny around 70 million years ago. This uplift constructed joints in the Madison Limestone that would later become caves, such as the Lewis and Clark Caverns.
Western big-eared bats
There used to be thousands of western big-eared bats in the caverns but now there are only about 100 females, which nest inside the caverns. The males are believed to live in other caves nearby. These bats eat thousands of bugs every day. Bats have opposable thumbs and are "the only mammals capable of true flight." The year 2012 was declared the "Year of the Bat" at the caverns, with a special celebration from August 7–11. The guano of these bats was collected by the Civilian Conservation Corps during World War II and used to make TNT. There are also lots of springtails in the caves.
The park is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Available activities and amenities include: amphitheater, bicycling, bird watching, camping, restrooms, camper dump station, fire rings, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, kennels, kiosk and information station, cabins, parking, photography, picnicking with tables, playgrounds, retail firewood, ice, trails, freshwater, and wildlife. Guided tours of the caverns are available from May 1-September 30, are 2 miles (3.2 km) in distance, and last 2 hours.
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- Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks