It’s hot outside? Go underground.


It is going to be stinkin’ hot in the Midwest over the next few days. What, oh what can you do but escape to where it is a cool 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. (And I’m not talking about my office.) There are caves in the Midwest! Flashlight tours of caves! Boat tours through caves! Cave tours that are capped by a light show and a rendition of “God Bless America!”

Next to the Ballroom

If you haven’t heard of Meramec Caverns, you probably haven’t spent enough time driving through the Midwest or mid-south to spot one of their roadside signs. Credit: Jinx via Flickr.


Here’s a roundup of some cool, dark places you can check out during the heat wave, or the next one. Because this is going to be a hot summer.

Indiana has three caves open to visitors: Marengo, Bluespring Caverns and Squire Boone Caverns. The Indiana Caves website has all your basic information if you’re interested in popping by any one of them. What appeals to me about Bluespring Caverns is you can tour the cave aboard a little boat. It’s about an hour long. Perfect time length for those of us with younger children. These limestone caverns are in Bedford, about 30 miles south of Bloomington. They’re open daily this time of year and admission is $8 for children and $14 for adults.

Marengo Cave, probably the best-known of the caves in the area, has walking and canoeing tours. Canoeing in 103 degree heat does not appeal to me. Walking for about 40 minutes to 1 hour and learning how stalactites and stalagmites formed over hundreds of years is much more do-able. You can find Marengo in far southern Indiana, about an hour west of Louisville, Ky. A National Natural Landmark, Marengo Cave also is open daily and walking tours cost the same as at Bluesprings.

If you haven’t heard of Meramec Caverns, you have not spent enough time driving the two-lane highways through the Midwest and mid-south. It seems every other red barn alongside Route 66 through Missouri has a painted sign advertising Meramec Caverns. The attraction — think of it as the Dollywood of caves– is about an hour southwest of St. Louis. This is where you’re treated to a light show and rendition of “God Bless America” when the tour concludes. Meramec Caverns, about 30 minute drive southwest of St. Louis, also is open daily. Prices are $9.75 for children and $19.50 for adults.

The entire grounds of Cave of the Mounds in southern Wisconsin is nice for exploring. In addition to the cave itself (also a National Natural Landmark) there’s a little fossil dig for children, rock shop and butterfly garden. Not to mention, about 30 to 40 minutes to the north is the lovely Wollersheim Winery so if the opportunity presents itself, why not drop by there as well? Cave of the Mounds is open daily now and costs $ 7.50 for children and $15 for adults.


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Almost like a mammogram, but much more thrilling: A middle-age mom reviews the new roller coaster at Six Flags


Recently I learned a co-worker of mine had taken her almost-teen daughter to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL. Since twirling in the living room with my four-year-old makes me dizzy and watching a video of the new X Flight roller coaster was enough to send me looking for a wastebasket, a trip there is not in my immediate future. She was kind enough to write up a review of the park and its new coaster.

Here’s guest poster Mary Schenk’s review of the mega amusement park.

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Ahhhhhhhhh!!!! The X Flight at Six Flags Great America. Credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy via Flikr.

Neither myself, the middle-age mom, nor Natalie, the almost -teen daughter had ever been to this park before but being lovers of loops, turns, speed and swirls, we were giddy from the get-go.

Our group of six – five seventh-graders and one adult by age only – tried to find rides that appealed to most of us that didn’t have long lines. While others skipped right past the double-decker merry-go-round, we made it our first stop. It didn’t disappoint. We took the upper level to get a bird’s eye view of where things were. The ride was nice, providing a lovely breeze on a hot May day; the view was limited.

From there, we headed to The Whizzer, an older roller coaster that still packs a punch. It starts upward in a coil, taking you higher and higher before beginning its steep descents and spirals. (I regularly see a chiropractor, and would have preferred a little less jerking, the very thing that appealed to Natalie.)

Roarin Rapids, the “guaranteed to soak you” ride, lived up to its name.  We knew going in that we’d get wet while getting bounced around on a simulated raging river and we did, laughing and squealing the whole ride. It would have been nice to be able to take off tennis shoes to avoid slogging in the heavy weights afterward, but rules didn’t allow. In not too long, though, a warm breeze dried us. We don’t recommend this ride if you’re wearing long jeans unless you’re into your thighs rubbing together uncomfortably.

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Look, Ma! I’m flying! The Superman at Six Flags. Credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy via Flikr.

I sat out Superman, a ride that Natalie loved, loved, loved. She described being strapped in securely, arms and feet, then being turned with face toward the ground to mimic the flying superhero on another roller coaster adventure.

We both went on The Dark Knight, a roller coaster that, as the name implies, was mostly in the dark with flashes of cosmic lighting. I found it a bit too jerky and a bit schlocky but Natalie liked the feeling of not knowing what was coming next because of the shroud of darkness.

We both agreed that our favorite was the newest featured ride at the park: X-Flight.

It also had the longest wait.  This thrill ride features two hanging gondolas on either side of a main rail. Once you’re seated and secured with a bar, the ride heads upward and soon there is no platform beneath, leaving your feet dangling.

For those afraid of heights, you might pass. I confess that I had my eyes closed for most of the 90-second ride and couldn’t keep track of all the coils and upside down turns. I spent most of the time waiting in line convincing Natalie not to be afraid, only to have Natalie handle the loops and turns at break-neck speeds much better than she did.

We both felt totally secure in our seats and didn’t lose anything from our pockets, a constant worry for me since I had stored my cell phone in my pocket rather than use a fanny pack. Women who have had mammograms might find the bar that covers the chest a familiar feeling. Check it out for yourself.

We had no time for any of the entertainment and skipped out on the hucksters trying to lure us into the carnival games like whack-a-mole. Those seemed to cheapen the atmosphere.

While we’ve been to prettier, newer amusement parks, we agreed we’d go back. The employees were mostly very friendly and helpful, even if a bit robotic in their canned responses.

Our main complaint was the price of refreshments. While the entrance charge seemed reasonable enough, water was $3.50 and the number of water fountains were limited to those immediately outside restrooms. A small soft drink was about $4. The one child in our group who hadn’t brought her lunch wanted a chicken strip basket that was more than $11. She settled on a hot dog for $6. Come on management, is that really necessary?







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