Thursday, November 4, 2021

Lewis and Clark Caverns delight, surprise

The eerie and colorful formations of the Lewis and Clark Caverns await inspection.

That's Cookie (with Nicky)
peering through the
Caverns entry billboard.

Cookie bundles up for a moist walk through
  Lewis and Clark Caverns near Whitehall, Mt.

STEP INTO a magical world inside a series of extraordinary caves. But, please, watch your head. And bring a sweater. You'll be bending and ducking -- and you might be chilly.  Even in summer, the Lewis and Clark Caverns are 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The breathtaking natural wonder is near Three Forks, Montana, a series of moist caves -- formed long ago by groundwater in beds of limestone.

THE CAVES date to the Mississippian age -- from a sea present in the area around an astonishing 325 to 365 million years ago. Fast forward past this mind-boggling data, through years of shifting and seismic change, to the late 19th Century.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park receives visitors
from all over the world, who usually take in Yellowstone
National Park as well as other northern Rockies sights.

Charles Brooke and Mexican John, both from Whitehall, discovered the cave entrance in 1882. They had heard of the great caves from local Indian legend and set out to look for them. They did not tell many people about their find, so it is not an "official" discovery.
Ten years later, two hunters  noticed a plume of steam coming out of the cave. 
They were Tom Williams and Burt Pannell, who are credited with discovering the wonder in the relatively recent year of 1892. Although famed explorers Lewis and Clark had been very near in both 1805 and 1806, they did not discover the mysterious, magical caverns, within a couple hours' horseback ride from their encampments. 
Lively commentary from well
informed guides makes the cavern
journey one of learning as well as fun.
But because they were so near -- along nearby Antelope Creek, a Jefferson River tributary -- the accomplishments of their remarkable journey impressed President Theodore Roosevelt and he named them in their honor. He noted that their journey took them within a few miles of the historic place east of Whitehall, Montana.
THE EXPLORERS would probably be happy to know that the caverns they came so near became Montana's first state park.  Montanans have been exploring the caves for over 100 years, proud to claim the largest known limestone cavern systems in the northwest and one of the few in the U.S.  
WE BASED our expedition at the nearby Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks, knowing that the spectacular 
 geological stop would tie in with our visit to Yellowstone National Park.  We enjoyed the ride on US 287 through the backroads of the Madison Valley. 
THEN JACKETS over our arms, we journeyed into the impressive geological features: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and columns, some named for people and characters 
The caverns are fascinating and elaborate, with a guided
tour offered several times a day. Sign up is required.
While the naming of Montana's  Lewis and Clark Caverns was inspired by the journey of the famous explorers, one feels like a modern day explorer entering the dark and moist caves. Viewing the caverns is a guided, two-mile breezy hike in an environment of natural underground air-conditioning. 
Tours are given daily throughout the summer. You may also camp, hike and bike on 10 miles of trails. You'll register through the park system which also boasts interpretive displays, two visitor centers, gift shop, and snack and beverage options. 
OUR WELL informed ranger took us on an interesting tour of the caverns, then we explored more of the additional 3,000 acres of this almost mile-high Jefferson County attraction.
 If you are afraid of enclosed places, sometimes slippery footing, or descending below the earth, this might not be the place for you. And if you're at all claustrophobic, you may want to pass on this outing and stick to the visitor centers or a pleasant hike above ground.  
Special holiday tours by candlelight offer a moody,
beautifully lit way to enjoy the caverns in December
FRIENDS WHO were reluctant to enter anything dark or "closed off," declined to take the tour with us.  But we felt comfortable entering the caves, feeling safe by staying close to the guide. Gripping my husband's belt with my hand, I didn't trip on the  little dips and bends in the walkway.
But we'd practiced for this -- in caverns in Malta, New Zealand, Vietnam, Scotland and other places.
 "Cool caves," we call them.
The park is open all year, except for a couple days. Closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
Special Holiday Candlelight Tours of Lewis and Clark Caverns will be offered Dec. 17, 18, and 19 and Dec. 21, 22 and 23.

Elvis Presley's legacy lives on in a one-woman presentation by
Priscilla Presley, who was married to the legendary singer
from 1967 to 1973. She appears this week in Palm Springs.
Mention the name and people are still fascinated by the legendary singer Elvis Presley. 
Oscar's, a lively Palm Springs cabaret, and its inventive producer/owner Dan Gore are celebrating his life in its continuing "Intimate Evening" series. Presley's only wife, actress Priscilla Presley, appears Nov. 11, to talk about her life with the singer, whom she married in May of 1967. Tickets are still available, at various levels, including a "meet and greet" with Ms. Presley, an actress and entrepreneur who made Graceland famous.  Then we spotlight the world's only LGBTQ mariachi band, touring from its Los Angeles base. We talk with the players, whom we enjoyed at a sell-out Oscar's performance. Mariachi Acoiris de Los Angeles is a ground-breaking ensemble with ambitious goals and a brave history. It is critically acclaimed for its authentic mariachi sound and precise musical renditions. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekly:





  1. So much to see close to home. We are enjoying your journeys near and far.

  2. Beautiful place, fun story and photos.

  3. We know the Malta caverns, and ones in New Zealand. These look fabulous. Maybe next summer.