by Dwight Weaver
Most Missourians are aware that the state has abundant cave resources, but cave locations in Missouri are considered proprietary data because most of the caves are on private property or in protected areas and accessible only by permit; therefore it can sometimes be difficult to obtain individual cave locations.
For a general discussion, however, it is possible to explore the subject of cave regions within the state and to evaluate the nature of the caves within each region.
Missouri has 12 cave regions that include 82 of Missouri’s 114 counties. Counties currently without recorded caves are located in the glaciated portions of northern Missouri. Definitions of what constitutes a cave vary somewhat between scientific disciplines but for practical purposes, a recordable cave is generally considered a void (tunnel, crevice or other natural opening in the bedrock) that is extensive enough for a human to penetrate beyond the reach of natural daylight. A man-made void or cavity in the rock is not by definition considered a cave although media sometimes portrays them as such. Missouri’s catalog of caves therefore includes caves of many different lengths and dimensions ranging from 10 to 20 feet long to massive cave systems containing 10 to 20 miles of intertwined underground corridors that may be on more than one level.
Cave records for Missouri are collected, stored and maintained by the Missouri Speleological Survey, Inc., (MSS) a private umbrella organization that cooperates with various state and federal land management agencies and individual Missouri caving groups. The MSS has been in existence since 1956 and through its cooperators and members has created one of the largest cave data base collections in the United States. Missouri currently has more than 6,300 recorded caves but the statistics change almost weekly as more caves and new data is added to the data base. The collection includes information from multiple disciplines and sources and consists of cave maps, detailed descriptions of caves, research papers, cave photographs, and a wide range of other types of material.
Missouri libraries are woefully inadequate for would be cave researchers because few books have been or continue to be written about Missouri caves and most cave literature appears in small publications, newsletters and journals produced by caving organizations. The MSS produces a monthly newsletter called the MSS Liaison for coordinating the activities of its member groups, and a journal called Missouri Speleology that publishes cave studies, descriptions and maps. These periodicals are available to the public but are rarely subscribed to and shelved by public libraries. Today, the internet is a valuable resource for anyone wanting information about Missouri caves. First, check out mospeleo.org and then use the search words “Missouri caves.”
To learn about the history and legends associated with Missouri caves as well as the 12 cave regions of Missouri, see the book “Missouri Caves in History and Legend” by H. Dwight Weaver. Published by the University of Missouri Press in 2008, the book is widely available in book stores, on the internet, and at
the author’s website: lakeoftheozarksbooks.com