In 1720 lead ore was discovered by French miners about sixty miles south of present day St. Louis (which was founded by French fur traders in 1764). The miners named their camp “Bonne Terre” (good earth) which grew into a village. Mining operations in the little town continued under several business entities until 1962, when no more lead ore could be economically pulled from the depleted mines.
One of those mines is open to the public. Now in the hands of private owners, the St. Joseph Lead Mine, more commonly known as the Bonne Terre Mine, conducts tours of various kinds in the underground below the town. Much of the mine is flooded: while some parts can be walked, many visitors choose to take boat tours through the vast complex of tunnels and chambers. However, there’s an even more interesting way to explore the mine. The water is very deep, covering all the machinery and buildings left behind when mining stopped. Scuba diving is the best way to tour the mines, and people who’ve done it say it’s surreal to swim past or through an office, or a repair shop, or a locomotive, or any number of other artifacts that appear to be exactly the way they were left when last used.
The owners claim the mine is the world’s largest man-made cavern and the largest man-made lake where you can scuba dive underground. Scuba training and certification appear to be offered as well. Jacques Cousteau (also French – a coincidence? I think not) once visited the mine with a film team and spent five full days exploring the subterranean lake waters.
If you’re looking for an unusual summer activity, you could take an ‘exploration vacation’ in the middle of the country and maybe learn to scuba dive. On this vacation, you won’t need to bring sunscreen, and you don’t need to be fluent in French (anymore).
“The Essence of Bonne Terre Mine” (6:40):
Question of the Night: What are you going to do (or want to do) next summer? (Or on your next big adventure vacation, if you typically vacation at a different time of year other than summer).