The Mississippi was in flood the day we arrived in Hannibal, Missouri. The “Big Muddy” was definitely swollen, fast, and muddy. Hannibal is famous as the hometown of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), but we had another interest in the region. The area around Hannibal is known for its maze caves, and as cavers ourselves we were eager to have a look. There was a campground at Mark Twain Cave, so we made that our base.
Climbing the high bluff overlooking the city of Hannibal we passed a sign to “Lover's Leap.” We turned around to check it out. Perched high on a flag-straight-out windy bluff over the Mississippi River, Lover's Leap is an outstanding vantage point to see a several mile reach of the Mississippi. There is a monument to the legend of the ill-fated Indian lovers for whom the site was named. It offered the account of one romantic version of the legend, but a bit of research revealed many different versions of the legend. The is also a monument to the tragic story of three young boys that went missing in 1967 – apparently exploring caves. Roger remembered that time when cavers from all over the country joined in the search of the many caves in the area, hoping to find the boys. Fifty years later is is still a mystery. No trace of the boys was ever found.
We continued to Mark Twain Cave and Campground, where we found we had just missed a special afternoon performance of a one man Mark Twain show. The attendees said it was outstanding. We got a ticket to a upcoming tour of Mark Twain Cave. Unfortunately, Cameron Cave, its larger companion nearby across the valley is not open for tours until after Memorial Day. As a bat cave, it is closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Cameron Cave does not have artificial lighting, so tours are by lantern light.
Mark Twain Cave (originally called McDowell's Cave) was frequently visited by Samuel Clemens and his childhood friends. He was intimately familiar with the cave and used it as his model for MacDougal's Cave in the novel Tom Sawyer. Our guide pointed out places from the book, like where Tom reacted in horror when he saw Injun Joe. The cave is a classic maze cave, mostly walking, all on one level with junctions everywhere. The plan of a maze cave resembles a checker board rather than a river. Mark Twain Cave is not nearly as extensive as Cameron Cave (where Roger was briefly lost) and would be hard to stay lost in for very long.
Like the majority of show caves in Missouri, Mark Twain Cave claims to have served as a hideout for Jesse James after a robbery. The cave does have a wall signature of Jesse James – perhaps a real one – so maybe there is some truth to the story?
Toward the end of the tour, the use of colored lights made for some very flamboyant looking cave. It didn't really even look like a cave! Although we have sometimes seen commercial caves using colored lights, the effect is quite startling.
Mark Twain Cave has an interesting history and is a easy (and level) tour. Even non-cave aficionados would even this short cave trip. If you have never seen a maze cave, this is a good example of one. We would like to return and visit Cameron Cave during the summer months.