Olentangy Indian Caverns

Melissa Kossler Dutton

The kids were excited about visiting Olentangy Indian Caverns near Delaware.

They wanted to know how the caves would compare to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The underground caverns can't compete in size to Mammoth Cave, which is the longest known cave system in the world. But the property is much more extensive than the above-the-ground recess of Old Man's Cavethat recluse Richard Rowe called home in Logan.

We arrived just after a tour started. The boys (Nick, 9, and Alex, 8) were thrilled when I said they could mine for gems. They ran over to the sluice, grabbed a pan and dumped out their bags. They were well-occupied until it was time for the next tour. They spent about a half-hour poring over the contents of their bags and then began investigating the leftovers from previous prospectors.

At one point, Alex shouted: "I hit the jackpot. I found gold."

To which Nick replied, "You're a fool."

Indeed, Alex had turned up a piece of pyrite, aka "fool's gold." After using the water flowing through the flume to clean up their rocks, the boys enjoyed identifying them with the card that came with the bag of stones.

When it was time to head into the cavern, I was a little nervous because I occasionally experience claustrophobia. The caverns were so large and well-lighted, I didn't have any problems.

Things were different when the Wyandot tribe used the caverns in the 1600s. Back then, it would have been so dark they would not have been able to make out their hand in front of their face, the tour guide said. The tribe likely used the cave sparingly to store food, hide from enemies and escape excessive weather.

We traveled down 58 stairs to get to the caves. Native Americans would have climbed down the original rocky shaft or thrown a tree into the opening to use as a makeshift ladder.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 50-minute tour. The tour guide was friendly and informative. She interacted with all of the children and patiently answered their questions and entertained their comments.

She used a laser pointer to draw our attention to rocks that have formed into interesting shapes. She pointed out a bear, canoe and an elephant. We also saw living rock formations, fossils and places where human hands have damaged the natural wonder.

The boys were tickled to learn a stagecoach robber had used the caves as a hideout.

After the tour, we headed into the museum. It houses an interesting collection of fossils, Native American artifacts and geodes.

In addition to gem mining, the attraction offers miniature golf, a playground and a nature trail. Visitors are welcome to picnic at the shelter house or relax on the front porch of the extensive gift shop.

Located about 20 miles north of Columbus, Olentangy Indian Caverns is great educational and recreational day trip.