Crystal Lake Cave of Dubuque, Iowa

The Crystal Lake Cave of Dubuque, Iowa: obviously I didn’t know what to expect. I arrived imagining a lonely venture deep into the cave. I came to find one ticket would purchase a 45-minute guided group tour. Thinking I was prepared for spelunking in my polyester running shorts and tank top, I realized quickly the entirety of the tour would take place in the depths of a balmy, 52-degree cave. That’s the first fact-o-cave: despite a possible tundra-like scene above ground in late January or a humid settled air roasting under a high sun in mid-July, Crystal Lake Cave is constantly 52 degrees.

The cave was discovered in 1868 by lead miners. In the 1930’s a business-savvy Bernard Markus dug tunnels through the cave and paved walkways in order to charge for guided tours.

The cave is a spectacle of many different cave-hallmarks. First we were introduced to perhaps the most commonly known cave features: stalagmites and stalactites. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember: stalagmite has a “g” for ground up, while stalactite has a “c” for ceiling down. Eventually, many stalagmites and stalactites will touch and form a column – and by eventually, I mean millions and millions of years.

A stalagmite reaches up to a stalactite.

A stalagmite reaches up to a stalactite.

The tour includes a peek at different cave formations named for items they vaguely resemble, like the chandelier, the pipe organ, and the Titanic. My personal favorite formation was “Lot’s Wife Turned Into A Pillar Of Salt,” otherwise known as a very great exercise of creative freedom in naming a large stalagmite.

Standing under the chandelier.

Standing under the chandelier.


The Titanic.

The Titanic.

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

One formation, “Coral Avenue,” featured a formation only found in three caves in the U.S., yet another impressive Iowa feat.
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If you do make your way to Crystal Lake Cave I highly suggest some full-coverage shoes. As the cave is still 80% active, running water causes very damp floors (It also makes it the longest living cavern in Iowa). Also, I’d advise against tank tops, unless you’re blessed with that thick Minnesota skin.

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Until next time, my Iowa miners of adventure!

Until next time, my Iowa miners of adventure!


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