Florida is known for beaches and palm trees, but did you know Florida also has caves and caverns? A road trip to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna is the place to visit for a unique and fascinating Florida adventure.
Florida Caverns, The Wedding Cake
Florida’s elevation is generally flat … we thought you needed mountains (or at least big hills) for there to be caves? Well, not exactly …
In the northern part of Florida’s Panhandle, you’ll find one of the state’s most unique parks, the Florida Caverns State Park. Located northwest of Tallahassee off Interstate 10 in Marianna, you can experience first-hand this one-of-a-kind Florida park.
Let’s begin with some basic geology to help you understand why Florida has caves. Millions of years ago, Florida was covered with water. In fact, the Southeastern coastal plains (which included Florida) were completely submerged while sea levels were rising and falling. The ebb and flow of the oceans created layers of sediment from the remains of sea creatures. We call that sediment limestone.
Also known as calcium carbonate, limestone forms Florida’s geological foundation – a 1000-foot limestone plateau. The landscape found on top of limestone can often include caves, sinkholes, springs and sinking streams created by water that dissolved limestone over a period of tens of thousands of years.
When water from the surface drains (usually from rain), it picks up carbon dioxide. Once on the ground surface, water gathers more carbon dioxide from the soil forming a mild solution of carbonic acid. Over long periods, the limestone bedrock dissolves creating openings in the limestone rock, leading to subsurface caves. This water combined with the air in the cave creates stunning mineral deposits known as stalagmites, stalactites, soda straws, columns, rimstones, flowstones and draperies.
The Cavern Tour
Guests gather at the Florida Caverns Visitors Center for the 45-minute cave tour. From there, the group will descend down a flight of steps that is moderately challenging, but not difficult. The cave passage is usually intermittently lit throughout the walk (although right now, due to damage from Hurricane Michael, the tour depends on flashlights).
The seasoned guide will point out the interesting geology within the cave particularly the geological formations called the wedding cake, the cathedral, and “South America” rimstone pool. It’s really cool … we mean that literally, too. The mean year-around temperature in the cave is 65 degrees. And it is dark. This will be one opportunity where you can experience “total and complete darkness”.