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GEOLOGISTS are scientists who study the earth and how it was formed. Geologists are like detectives looking for clues as too how something happened and sometimes they look for clues that are millions of years old. Whenever they see a river, a mountain or even a cave these scientists begin to search around to see what made them.

CAVES are natural holes or passageways in the earth. A geologist would probably wonder two things about a cave, what made the tunnel and what kind of rock is the cave found in. This scientist looks around at the rock and she notices some FOSSIL shells. Fossils are the evidence of past life like a bone, foot print or shells. Not all rocks have fossils in them but this does. These fossils are the remains of ancient sea creatures and tell geologists that a shallow ocean used to be where she now stands. She imagines all the animals that at one time swam in that sea and when they died their bodies floated down on top of each other. Eventually, these layers of shells and dirt were squeezed into a rock called LIMESTONE.

This geologist has tested limestone in her laboratory before and she knows that it can be dissolved by ACIDS. Acids are chemicals that dissolve or eat away at rocks, metal, and other things.

Some acids are very dangerous and should only be handled by an adult, but some acids are harmless and can be found in juices, soda pop, or even water.

A stream flows out of the cave entrance and the scientist wonders where the water comes from. She knows limestone often has cracks in it and that rain water has an easy time going through it. Because of this, she decides that when it rains on the rock layers above the cave, some of that water must flow out the entrance in front of the geologist. This researcher also remembers that rain water often picks up CARBON DIOXIDE when it hits the earth and goes through the soil as it travels downward. Carbon dioxide is a type of gas and this is the gas that makes soda pop bubble. As water and carbon dioxide mix they make a very weak acid called CARBONIC ACID. Carbonic acid can dissolve away limestone but it takes thousands of years.

So the geologist believes after putting together all the clues, that this cave was carved out of solid rock by carbonic acid in the ground water as the water flowed down through the layers of limestone.

iStock-529681138WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THERE?

Many times people, even grown-ups are scared of what they are not used to. Sometimes people are afraid of caves because caves are different from the outside world. Now, being different is not always a bad thing or a scary thing. As a matter of fact, it can be a good thing. Well, what are caves really like?

As you probably know, caves are underground and no sunlight can reach very far into them, so they are dark inside. To see in a cave you have to bring your own lights in or go to a cave where people go on guide tours like Bridal Cave. Caves are dark but that does not make them bad just different from what you are used too. Caves are dark, just like lakes are wet and mountains are high. Imagine what it would be like if you lived all your life in a cave and that is what seems normal to you. If you saw sunlight you might actually be scared of it because you would not know what it was.

Caves are usually wet because water seeps through the cave roof and falls on the floor and walls. That does not make the cave scary either.

Some people do not like caves because they think that caves are cold. Actually, most caves in Missouri are around 55 degrees all year round which feels cool if you visit them in the warm summertime. On the other hand, caves feel nice and warm if you go inside one on a cold winter day.

The only thing scary about caves is when kids go wild cave exploring without grown-ups and the proper equipment. Caves should only be explored carefully to protect yourself and the special things inside the cave.

Just remember all caves are different and come in all shapes and sizes, just like people.

iStock-537901940DO ROCKS GROW?

Yes, some rocks grow and caves are one of the few places you can see it happen. Of course, rocks do not grow like you do and they get bigger over thousands of years. You could watch all day and not see any growth.

The rocks that grow in the cave are made by dripping water. This dripping water started out as rain that fell on the surface. Imagine that the limestone layers above the cave are a like giant sponge that soaks up water from rain and melting snow. As the water goes through holes and cracks in the rock it slowly dissolves a mineral out of the limestone called CALCIUM CARBONATE. If you have ever made lemonade you have seen how water can dissolve sugar. Well over time water can dissolve away rocks and minerals too. Calcium Carbonate is a very common mineral on earth because it is found in so many things like sea shells, limestone, the growing cave rocks and even your bones and teeth. Well, this Calcium Carbonate stays in the water until the water drips into the cave. At that point any place where water drips a tiny amount of Calcium Carbonate comes out of the water and crystallizes into a rock called CALCITE. As more water drips in the cave, more Calcite is formed and so new rocks start and the older ones keep growing. These growing cave rocks are often called CAVE DEPOSITES because they are made of layer apon layer of Calcite that the water deposited.

STALACTITES are a Cave Deposite that grow down from the ceilings of caves and STALAGMITES are Deposites that grow up from cave floors. The two depostites sound so much alike it is easy to confuse them so just remember this, “Stalactites have to hang on ‘tite’ or they would fall from the roof and Stalagmites ‘mite’ reach the roof if they keep growing”. If these two cave deposites grow together they will form one formation called a COLUMN. Another common cave formation is called a DRAPERY. Draperies are deposites that grown down cave walls and so they look like the draperies you might have in your home.

Many people who visit caves are surprised by all the different colors in the cave deposites. All of these colors are from IRON and other CHEMICALS FROM THE SOIL. Water can dissolve these out too and it also mixes them with the white or clear Calcite to create many beautiful colors.

iStock-542011796CAVE LIFE

Any moving or growing thing like a toy, an animal or even you needs energy. Flashlights and remote controlled cars get their energy from batteries. Plants and animals get their energy from the sun. Plants use the direct light energy from the sun to grow. Animals use the sun’s energy indirectly by eating plants or by eating another animal that eats plants.

If caves are underground where sunlight can not go how can anything live in them?

Scientists have found two basic kinds of animals that live in caves, animals that are in the cave all the time and animals that use the cave only as a shelter and go outside to eat. Bats are a good example of animals who sleep in caves but hunt for food outside. Animals that live in a cave all the time like salamanders or cave fish have to get their food energy from things brought in from the outside world.

Caves act like natural drain pipes by allowing water to flow in and out of them. Often rain water washes in leaves and bits of wood into a cave system. These bits of matter are called ORGANIC DEBRIS because they once came from a living plant or animal. Some animals like bats and crickets leave behind their bodily waste called GUANO. Guano is another type of Organic Debris found in caves and it makes a good garden fertilizer. There are simple forms of life such as MOLDS and BACTERIA found in caves that actually grow on Organic Debris and use it as a food source. These Molds are then eaten by animals like salamanders and crickets. So even though there is no sunlight in a cave, animals can still survive by finding things to eat.

iStock-525801144 (1)From MAX THE BAT

Greetings, my human dudes!

My name is Max the Brown Bat. Max stands for “Maximum” because to be a bat is to be ultra cool. Many Humans are afraid of bats and think we are gross and I say “No way man, get a real job” Bats are really most excellent for the things we do and don’t do. First of all, bats DO NOT fly in peoples hair. Give me a break, I’ve got better things to do. Some folks think we are dirty which is a really un-cool thing to say because you have to be a clean machine to do all the flying I do. Now let me tell you the things that we can do. I am a bodacious flyer and did you know that bats are the only mammal that can truly fly. I eat bugs that fly at night so I have to be a good flyer. I can do the most radical turns and loops in mid-air to snag them. Not all bats eat insects. Believe it or not, some bats eat fruit and pollinate plants like a honey bee does. Eating fruits and veggies isn’t my style because there is nothing I like more than a big juicy mosquito. On a good night I can catch over 3,000 bugs in a single hour. That’s the reason some humans put up bat houses to encourage us to hang around.

Despite what a lot of humans think, we bats are not blind. We can see just fine but since we hunt at night when there is no light we use a little thing called ECHO-LOCATION. Echo-Location is the ultimate way to navigate. Instead of using my eyes to see I use my ears. I make these high pitched squeaks and I can tell by the way the sound bounces back where I am and where everything is around me. It is kinda of like how planes use radar.

Flying around takes mega amounts of energy so I either have to eat a lot or stay still. As a matter of fact I have to hibernate in a cave or hollow tree in the Winter because there are no bugs to eat. I stay in this deep sleep until the bugs start flying around in the Spring.

Well dudes, I gotta cruise. See ya man!

Max – the Brown Bat

iStock-529142878 (1)CAVE SAFETY

Wild caves can be fun places to explore full of beautiful rock formations and interesting animals. Caves can also be dangerous if the explorer does not use common sense. Have you ever seen skydivers jump out of planes without parachutes or mountain climbers not use special equipment? Of course not! Cavers have to follow safety rules too.

To learn more about caving safety complete the exercises below.

Arrange the letters in the underlined words to complete the sentences.

(1) Never go cave exploring eaoln in case you get hurt or lost.

(2) Since caves are always dark, always bring at least hteer kinds of light with you.

(3) Choose the letter of the sentence that makes the most safety sense

A) Because adults are boring, children should never go cave exploring with them.

B) Children should have adults with them when they explore because caves can be dangerous.

(4) Choose the letter of the sentence that makes the most safety sense.

A) Let people know you will be cave exploring by telling them which cave you will be at and when you will be done.

B) Always surprise people and never tell them when or where you are cave exploring.

(5) Which of the following is not a good idea before you go caving? (Multiple choice. Circle the letter of the most correct answer.)

A) Make you sure you have permission from the cave owner.

B) Make sure you wear a hard hat and sturdy boots.

C) When cave exploring always hop on one leg and hum show tunes.


Multiple Choice – Please select the letter of the most correct answer.

1) Organic debris is?

a) An alternative rock band from Seattle Washington.

b) Material that came from living things.

c) A rock deposit in a cave.

2) Molds and bacteria are.

a) The bodily wastes of bats and crickets.

b) The secret ingredient of most snack cakes.

c) A simple form of life.

3) Carbonic acid is?

a) The type of rock that most caves are found in.

b) A weak acid in ground water that over time can create caves.

c) The lead singer from the Organic Debris.

4) Fossils are?

a) A common name for parents.

b) Tennis shoes designed for very old basketball players

c) The evidence of past life.

5) Columns are?

a) A simple plant found in caves.

b) A cave deposit formed when a stalactite and a stalagmite grow together.

c) An acid found in vinegar.

Fill in the Blank:

Take words from the word list below and fill in the blanks in the paragraph about caves.

  • Calcite
  • Geologists
  • Caves
  • Mold
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Crickets
  • Cave Deposits
  • Echo Location
  • Bats
  • Limestone
  • Iron and chemicals from the soil

Fill in the Blank:

________________ are scientists who study how the Earth was formed. They think that ________________ are made when the carbonic acid in groundwater carved out tunnels and passageways in ________________ rock thousands of years ago. ______________ are formed when ground water going through limestone layers dissolves out calcium carbonate and deposits ________________ crystals inside the cave. Some of the cave deposits are white, but others get their different colors from _____________________________________________________________________________________.



How do rocks get turned into dirt? Thunder Mountain is getting worn down into dirt in several ways. You have already learned that acids in ground water can dissolve away rock. Water can also seep into cracks in rock layers and then freeze. The freezing water acts like a wedge and splits the stone into smaller and smaller pieces. Here is a simple experiment you can try at home and discover the effect that plants have on the rocks of the Ozark Mountains.

For this experiment you will need the following:

  • 6 beans soaked in water overnight
  • 1 Styrofoam cup
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Potting Soil
  • Water

Directions: Fill your Styrofoam cup 3/4 full of potting soil. Next, place the pre-soaked beans on top of the potting soil and add water till the soil is moist. Then cover the beans with a layer of plaster of Paris and place the cup near a window.

Will the beans be able to break through the plaster of Paris “rock layer”?

Hint: Visit the nature trail on Thunder Mountain and look for the old Cedar Tree..

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