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HARMONY, MN — Our first Destination: Vacation takes us to Harmony, Minnesota. This small southeast Minnesota town fills up pretty fast in the summer time.
In addition to Amish country tours, there’s also a bike trail that connects up with the Root River Trail system, and some pretty awesome antiquing. What makes this town truly unique is not what’s on Main Street, but what’s beneath our feet.
Niagara Cave was discovered by farmers in the early 1900s. Shortly after, they opened it up to the public, and recently, it was ranked among the best in the United States.
“I had a lady come into the cave and say, congratulations on being named one of the top ten caves in the country. And I said, really?” said the owner of the cave, Mark Bishop.
Bishop’s family has been running the cave for nearly two decades. We had the privilege of taking a private tour with him. He said, the first thing to keep in mind is, no matter what the weather is like outside, it’s always chilly underground.
“48 degrees year round. So a jacket, good walking shoes are a good idea,” Bishop said.
Once you’re ready to go, you walk through a door and descend deep into the ground.
“You do descend over 200 feet on the tour and it’s about a mile walk round trip,” said Bishop.
The first stop on the tour is the waterfall. Bishop explained, a waterfall like this is rare to find underground.
It’s also an indicator of what’s happening above ground. During last summer’s drought, the waterfall was more like a water trickle. Now, after weeks of rain and snow, the water is roaring.
“We like to educate people on how sensitive the earth is, and how the area formed,” said Bishop.
After the waterfall, we head into the deepest part of the cave. It’s much more quiet, but Bishop says, the walls are just as interesting.
“Even some of the ones that look boring have some really awesome fossils in it,” he told us.
“So there’s no boring corner?” we asked.
“No, no boring corner in the cave!” Bishop said.
Possibly nothing compares to the last corner of the tour. It’s a half mile walk… and worth every step.
“Right now we’re in the lowest part of the cave. We’re over 200 feet below the surface, and we’re in the most active room in the cave. It’s called our stalactite room,” said Bishop.
The ceiling is covered with formations… some which took as many as 100,000 years to form. Bishop said, young people, and the young at heart, can’t help but find the formations fascinating.
“They come in and they’re like… Wow. They really enjoy it. They have referenced the Alien movies or Indiana Jones. Quite an adventure for them,” he said.
On this adventure, there’s one question that nearly everyone asks: What’s the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite?
“A stalactite is spelled with a c, and it holds “tight” to the ceiling. A stalagmite has the g for ground. And it also “might” grow to the ceiling someday,” Bishop explained.
This is exactly what makes the cave such a great place to visit on vacation. Not only is it fun — you’re bound to learn something before you get back to the surface.
“Something you can’t experience above ground, something you can’t experience virtually on a computer. You have to be in it to really feel lit. It’s just a unique experience,” Bishop added.
Depending on where you’re coming from, it should cost you less than $30 to get here. You’ll spend less than $10 per child for the cave tour, it’s about $12 for parents. As for how much you’ll spend on antiques — that’s up to you.