By Ken de la Bastide
CNHI news service
---- — CORYDON – Just south of Indiana’s first state capital there is a unique opportunity to see what exists below the surface in a cave system that was formed more than 40,000 years ago.
The Binkley cave system was discovered in the 1960s by Gary Roberson, whostarted exploring the extensive system while a high school student. Roberson discovered the portion of the cave system that is now Indiana Caverns in 2010 and the caves were open to the public in June.
Roberson has also been involved in the exploration of the Squire Boone and Marengo caves and is normally on site to answer visitors’ questions.The remains of a Bison skeleton are identified during the 80-minute tour as well as places that have been identified where bears nested. The tour guides are knowledgeable about the rock formations and the wildlife associated with a cave. One of the first points of interest is a 40-foot waterfall.
A partner in the development of Indiana Caverns, Rob Houchens, grew up south of Russiaville and graduated from Clinton Central High School. He is a graduate from Anderson University.
“I wasn’t involved in the discovery of the cave, I’ve been involved in the development,” he said. “In this area there are 37 miles of mapped caves. The Indiana Speleological Society goes out most Saturdays and map passages to the cave.”
Houchens said the Binkley cave system is currently the 11th longest cave in the U.S., and as more passages are mapped and discovered is expected to move up the list.
As in most caves open to the public there are impressive rock formations showing how water eroded the structures over thousands of years. The Indiana Caverns includes a four-story waterfall and the 80-minute long tour includes a boat ride for visitors to explore more of the caverns.
Houchens said only a small portion of the cave is open to visitors, a distance of less than a mile including the boat ride. He said the area available for public tours could be expanded in the future.
“I call this cave plus,” Houchens said. “There are some caves with great formations, some caves with great boat rides. But in our case we have a cave with great formations, waterfall, boat ride and we have the ice agebones.
“Because the natural entrance was closed during the ice age, all of the bones sat in a giant refrigerator for more than 12,000 years,” he said. Houchens said a bone that was carbon dated measured 38,000 to 42,000 years old, so researchers consider the bones 40,000 years old.
Above Ground Indiana Caverns has several activities including gemstone and fossil panning, walking trail and picnic area. Since it opened more than10,000 people have visited the caves.