I recently spent a few days camped in the Florida Caverns State Park, mainly to see the caverns. The park is located in the Florida Panhandle, just a short drive west of Tallahassee. Being from south/central Florida for many years, I was surprised at the vegetation in this area. They do have a swampy area with cypress trees and their collection of cypress knees. However, the area is mostly comprised of what they call a Temperate Hardwood Forest – containing trees such as Sweetgum, Witch Hazel, Beech, Spruce Pine, Ash, Black Walnut and Magnolia. Instead of the usual Floridian palm scrub and palmetto, you’ll find areas of grassy-type plants and wildflowers in some of the forested areas.
The campgrounds were great and the trails were nice, but the gem of the park is definitely the caverns. I was lucky to be one of 3 in a small tour group and our guide was full of information about the caverns and the history of the area. The caverns were discovered in the 1930’s and later developed by the CCC, enlarging the “rooms” and clearing out rocks. The caverns are filled with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, flowstones, cascading rimpools and more formations. The temperature in the caverns at 35-50 feet deep remains pretty much at 65. It might vary a few degrees either way, but due to the insulation quality of the limestone, they are kept at the average temperature of the region. If you go in the winter when it’s 40 out, the temperature in the caverns will still be about 65. In summer when it’s humid and hot, still 65.
Scientists have discovered that it takes about 100 years for the cavern formations to grow approximately 1 cubic inch. The caverns were underwater at one time, as evidenced by an embedded sharkstooth in the ceiling of one of the rooms, as well as other fossils present in the walls. Because the touch of human hands will stop any growth of the formations, no one is allowed to touch anything except one pillar formation, which we were allowed to feel. Cold and wet.
The formations start and/or grow with water coming in through the limestone from above. Many of them start as a hollow tube, called soda straws, built up by continuous drops. These will close as they get bigger and the water will drip down the sides of the formation. Different colors in the formations are caused by different chemicals in the water. There are white, which is calcite, the gray is manganese and iron causes a reddish cast. Being a natural structure, the caverns are made up of large areas called rooms, as well as small crawl spaces and tunnels of all heights. Some of the spaces are tight and we had to walk through bent over.
As hard as we looked, we couldn’t find a bat in any of the areas we were able to explore. I really wanted to get some new pictures of bats since they’re such misunderstood, but interesting, creatures. The guide told us they can eat as many as 500 mosquitos per night and they eat half their weight in insects each night. Still, with all their hard work, I think we need more bats!