Caves and Caverns

We just returned from a family vacation that included a walking tour through the California Caverns in Mountain Ranch. For the rest of the week we pondered the question “What is the difference between a cave and a cavern?” As is typical in my family, everyone made up their own answer (“cavern is larger,” “cave is above ground,” “cavern is formed by calcite,” and so on.) I promised all that I would find the REAL answer and report it in my column, so here goes: the words are interchangeable!

Armchair Caver4 stars

British spelunker Arthur Vause guides us on a point-and-click photo tour of three English caves with this introduction: "Avoid the unpleasantness of actual caving with my armchair guides - clickable maps with photographs of the cave. ... For non-cavers, to simulate the caving experience, go into the garden and get changed into some old clothes. Then take your PC into the cupboard under the stairs and view these guides with the lights out. Periodically sprinkle cold water over yourself. After it's all over, smear some mud on your face."

Cave of the Winds Kid Page5 stars

Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs, Colorado has a great kids page with a glossary of cave terms (from "alabaster" to "stalagmite"), two fill-in-the-blank quizzes ("When rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air and from the soil, it forms ________ which can dissolve certain kinds of rock.") and several pages to print and color. Best clicks are the recipes for making crystal formations, the virtual photo tour and the photo-illustrated glossary.

Kentucky Caverns5 stars

"The process of forming caves in soluble rock is very slow. It all begins with rain. As rain falls through the atmosphere, it absorbs a small amount of carbon dioxide. It gathers additional carbon dioxide as it moves through the soil. Water mixed with carbon dioxide is weak carbonic acid solution. As this solution of water and carbon dioxide seeps through the cracks and crevices, it dissolves the soluble rock and forms cavities and channels as it moves downward and laterally. After thousands of years of solution, underground rooms and chambers can be formed." This informative site has not-to-be-missed sections on Cave Formation, Cave Ecology and Student Activities.

Luray Caverns5 stars

"On August 13, 1878, one of nature's most spectacular creations was uncovered: Luray Caverns. From a small draft of air, three local townsmen , Benton Stebbins, Billy Campbell, and Andrew Campbell , found what had taken 400 million years to create. It was a cavern that covered over 64 acres and descended 164 feet below the earth's surface." Now, with this beautifully designed site, the joy of discovery is yours. Best clicks are Time Line (a history of the caverns) and Discovery (a narrative peppered with quiz questions and interactive Shockwave experiments.)

Virtual Cave5 stars

"From the comfort of your keyboard, browse the mineral wonders unique to the cave environment! We've collected images from around the world and combined them to generate an 'ideal' cave -- one that contains an example of every major type of speleothem, or secondary mineral deposit. Simply click on the feature you wish to visit, and let your mouse do the crawling! Cave softly, and don't touch! Speleothems are quite delicate, and once damaged, may take thousands of years to grow back, if at all." This virtual cave is my pick-of-day. You can navigate with either the image map (my recommendation) or the alphabetic list of cave features.

Honorable Mentions

The following links are either new discoveries or sites that didn't make it into my newspaper column because of space constraints. Enjoy!

Bridal Cave Kids Page

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Cave Word Search

Mark Twain Cave

Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "Caves and Caverns." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 5 Jan. 2000. Web. 29 Aug. 2015. < >.

About This Page

By . Originally published January 5, 2000. Last modified January 5, 2000.

Caves and Caverns
Caves and Caverns
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