I first heard about Bonne Terre Mines through a dive shop in Springdale, Arkansas, where my family and I were buying scuba gear in the 1980's. That dive shop was putting together a winter trip to go scuba diving in an abandoned mine in Missouri. I was intrigued, but never got around to actually planning a dive trip there. Fast forward almost three decades, and I find myself entering the double doors, seen in this photo, of DEEP EARTH DIVERS.
The parking lot of the location had the remains of an old ore car railroad track. The only reason I knew what it was is because I had seen a similar contraption when I stepped inside the Flooded Mine Train in Silver Dollar City, near Branson, Missouri.
The building shown in this photo, with the ore mine train in front, is where one buys their ticket to take a tour of the Bonne Terre Mine. At this point, I should mention that I found out just a couple of years ago, that the Bonne Terre Mine experience is not restricted to just scuba divers. These days, non-divers can also take a mine tour, provided they are able to walk.
This photo shows the entrance to the mine. At first, it is just a gentle slope downward, and you are covered by a metal shed, with dozens of antique mine equipment on display.
The gentle slope soon changes to a steep slope, and one must be able to navigate the 62 stair steps shown in this photo, if they want to see the mines.
This is a photo of the young mam who was the tour guide on the day I visited, and he is standing beside an old ore car, full of examples of the ore the miners were extracting.
No need to do a "StairMaster" exercise machine on the day you tour the mine, as your thighs will get an ample workout on the steps inside the mine!
The mine stays a constant 62 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so heavy clothing is not required, as illustrated by the lady wearing shorts and short sleeves, in this photograph.
This photo shows one of several elevated walkways that the visitor will encounter on their tour.
You may have heard of a "chasing waterfalls", in reference to trying to find hidden waterfalls in the woods; in contrast, this is an example of "chasing calcium falls", which is what the cascade of white is on the side of the earth in this photo.
Our guide pointed out the two shovels that had become embedded in this very large calcium falls.
The shapestaken on by the calcium falls can be reminiscent of the frozen icicles I have seen oozing out of bluffs along Ozark hillsides,
This photo was the first glimpse of water we got on the tour, Our guide told us that the water if 375 feet deep in some places! I read that my scuba diving hero, Jacques Cousteau, dove here, and I am curious about how deep he was able to get with the equipment that was available at the time of his dive, several years ago. I earned the specialty certification of "Deep Diver" during my training, but at the time, the deepest a recreational diver was supposed to go was 100 feet. However, new diving technology, and nitrox breathing mixtures, have extended the limits of the recreational diver in recent years.
This photo lets you see the columns that support the various levels of the mine. Some of the columns are 50 feet high.
Besides me, the only other people on this tour were the mother/daughter pair shown in this photo. The daughter told me that her mom used to live in this part of Missouri, and had always been curious about the mine, but had never toured it. It was interesting to hear her tell stories from long ago, about the people she knew who were associated with the mining operations.
Our tour guide also listened to her stories, and commented that many locals have concerns about the mine, and the possibility that if it collapsed, the town of Bonne Terre would be destroyed. Those concerns may have been compounded by a television show on the History Channel, that had a segment about Bonne Terre Mine. The title of the program was "Life After People: Depths of Destruction".
The guide also mentioned that some local residents are concerned that since the mine extracted lead, it might affect the town's drinking water in a bad way. The guide said tests have shown no lead contamination in city water. He said the blue color of the lake is due to reflections, and not contamination.
The marketing brochures advertise that the visitor will see gigantic cavernous rooms, supported by massive stone columns. This photo shows just such a room!
When we were about 120 feet below the parking lot, we came to the wooden deck that contained the scuba gear, as shown in this photo, as well as the blue tarp-covered structure that contained the scuba air compressors, and could be used for a staging area/dressing room, for the divers going into and out of the water.
This long storage box of dozens of scuba diving air tanks, is a reminder to say that Bonne Terre Mines is the world's LARGEST fresh-water dive resort! It is open all year, with a constant water temperature, and 100 foot visibility. When divers are underwater, they will see mammoth architecture, ore carts, scaffolding, grating, staircases, pillars, slurry pipes, calcium falls, and an elevator shaft.
But, as I mentioned earlier, many of these sights are visible to the above-the-water visitor as well. Such visitors get onto the pontoon boat shown in the photo, and (after putting on a life jacket), enjoy a cruise around Billion Gallon Lake. I was told the lake has one, and only one, fish!
This photo shows the pontoon boat we are in , with the floating dock from which we departed, located to the left.
There are 17 miles of navigable shoreline on this underground attraction!
The French phrase "Bonne Terre" means "good soil", and you can see some of that soil in this photo of an air shaft that we traveled under. If you know your Missouri history, you will remember that this part of the state was originally settled by the French in 1720, after lead ore was discovered. It was this lead ore that caused the mine to be a target of Confederate General Sterling Price, during the Civil War. The mine was a strategic icon for his goal of capturing Missouri for the Confederates.
Most of the visitors to the mine are not local, as the town of Bonne Terre, Missouri, only had a population of 6,864 people in the 2010 census. I think the town motto is very clever, because it says, "Good Earth, Good People"!
This photo shows our pontoonboat approaching the landing dock, as we finished our boat tour.
If you are a scuba diver, you will probably recognize the items in this photo as the lead weights that fit around the divers waist, to help them achieve "neutral buoyancy". One's buoyancy is affected by their body size, percent of body fat, and the thickness of their wet suit. I took the photo because to me, it was ironic to see such an extensive lineup of LEAD weight, in a LEAD mine!! I was curious if the lead in these weights actually came from this particular mine!
When I inquired about why the two columns shown in this photograph looked difference from the other columns, the reply the tour guide gave was not particularly "comforting". I understood him to say that those two columns had shown some structural "issues", so they had been encircled with steel cables for additional support. I suppose that is understandable since the building of the mine started in 1864! There is a long history of ore mining in Missouri---Bonne Terre Mine was the first in the network of St. Joe Minerals Lead Mine Company, which produced 70% of lead used in the USA!
There is an underground garden in the mine, made possible by the addition of "grow lights". Although it is small and experimental now, there is a very LARGE underground structure in London, England , that is being used to grow fresh greens for a population of millions. That is because the bomb shelters that were built to protect British citizens from Hitler's bombing raids, are now being used for a very beneficial purpose! They are an underground garden that supplies fresh produce for the people in the city above them! This concept serves the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20
There have also been at least two weddings in this underground garden, with one of them being the wedding of the couple that bought the mine. When Doug and Cathy Goergens bought the mine in the 1970's, water had filled about 88 miles of passages, with its three lowest levels being completely flooded. After extensive pumping, the walking surface is now at the floor of Level 2.
After the hour-long walking tour, and as we climbed the stairs to exit the mine, I pondered how many people must have used these steps since the mine closed in 1962. I was also curious if these steps were ever underwater when the mine flooded after the pumps were turned off in 1962! Thankfully, present day pumps maintain the lake level at a constant depth, to facilitate the boat and walking tours.
In answer to this scuba diver's question, "Who's with me?", the reply is "Bunches!". That is based on the fact that Bonne Terre Mine was named America's best underwater attraction by the readers of USA Today!
Bonne Terre Mine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and if you would like to add it to YOUR list of places visited, just call 1-888-843-3483, or log onto www.bonneterremine.com . I know it will give you "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia