Buckner Cave in Monroe County, Indiana is part of the Richard Blenz Nature Conservancy and one of 17 National Speleological Society Preserves. The cave consists of approximately 3 miles of known passages that have been visited by generations of cavers making it the quintessential “Indiana Classic”.
Historically, Buckner Cave has also been known as Blair Cave and Saltpeter Cave. In 1962, Richard Blenz who worked for the University of Chicago came down to Indiana with a friend to visit the friends family. While sitting on the porch, they saw vehicles enter the property that includes Buckner Cave so he decided to investigate and learned that the property had been for sale and since it had been on the market for a long time, the owner was going to sell logging rights. Richard asked how much the landowner would sell the property for and immediately agreed to purchase the land for $7,000… nearly $40,000 today with the cost of inflation. For the next 4 years Richard, who was a founding member of the Windy City Grotto made trips to Indiana until he eventually decided to make the permanent move and sought out and landed a job at the University of Indiana. For years the cave was a favorite for local Indiana cavers and at times saw as many as 5,000 visits per year. The Richard Blenz Nature Conservancy was formed and started managing the property as of 2005 and recently, Richard donated the property to the National Speleological Society, though the conservancy still manages the property.
For more stories, list to Matt Pelsor’s (Chairman of the Central Indiana Grotto) podcast episodes covering Richard Blenz and Buckner Cave below:
For this trip, we arrived at the Richard Blenz Nature Conservancy at 11:30 am on a snowy February day. The gate was clearly marked as being a National Speleological Society (NSS) property and on opening the gate, we drove in and signed the logbook before moving on to the parking area. On parking, we got out and introduced ourselves to the group leaders Raymond Moul and Wes Terrel as well as the rest of the group before gearing up and proceeding to the Buckner Cave entrance which was a brief 5 minute walk through the snow covered woods.
By noon we reached the cave’s entrance which is in an oval sinkhole with the caves opening being 15 ft tall and 20 ft wide with a gentle down-slope for approximately 50 ft leading into a large room. There is a crawl-way on the left side of the room with a locked metal gate for access to the rest of Buckner Cave. Crawling through this entrance you make your way through a brutal 600 foot army crawl to the “T-Room” that begins the caves famed “Circle Route”. The group this day was large so the first person passing through the gate started at approximately 12:20 pm and the last that reached the T-Room came through at 12:50 pm.
With the crawl-way to our back, we took a left to begin the circle route and headed towards the “Big Room”. Along the way, it was clearly evident that the cave has been heavily vandalized with spray paint and garbage, but you can also see the work of the ongoing effort of volunteers to restore the cave. Along with the graffiti, there were signatures both modern and historic. Near the “Big Room”, I’m told that there is was a signature by L.V. Cushing that was made in 1775, though we were not able to find it and may have been covered by the graffiti.
We reached the “Big Room” at 1:20 pm and took a 10 minute break before proceeding through a marathon of crawls, scrambles, squeezes, and shimmys (as Laura Demarest refers to them) that eventually lead to a room called the “Air Force Room”. I asked Raymond Moul why it was called this and was told that it was due to a historic signature that was found there, but sadly it’s either been scrubbed or graffiti was painted over it. At 1:30 pm we began the next bunch of crawls and arrived in the Monument Passage by approximately 2:05 pm.
The Monument Passage starts with a large breakdown pile with small formations to the right. Descending the breakdown pile towards the left, it opens to a large borehole passage. After 15 minutes of walking we passed the hole in the passage ceiling that is known as Bulls-eye Pit, which is vertically accessible from the surface, though gated. Another 10 minutes later we reached the Submarine formation and then “The Window” at 2:50 pm.
Continuing along it took the large group until 3:35 pm to reach the pop up into the Volcano Room which gets it’s name for the caldera like structure that you enter the room through. We didn’t spend long here, but it was an impressive site. One group spent some additional time here while the other (my group) started making its way through the last section of the circle route and through the final crawl out of the cave.
Taking several breaks along the way, both parties eventually met back up in the final crawl and by 5:33 pm everyone made their way out of Buckner Cave and all cavers were present and accounted for before re-locking the gate.
Please note that caving can be a dangerous activity for the inexperienced. If you have an interest in exploring caves, check out a local grotto from the National Speleological Society website so you can connect with experienced cavers in your area who will show you the ropes. Also, remember that caves can be on either private property or government land so please always ensure that you either have permission from the landowner or the proper permits obtained before visiting a cave. While there, remember to…
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.