Exploring the cavesSorin’s Bluff, also known as Memorial Park, offers 268 acres of hiking, biking, picnicking and some of the best views to be found in the area. The park was developed in the 1920s as a World War I memorial. Sorin’s Bluff was donated to the city after mining of the limestone was halted due to the destruction of the bluff.
By: Tim Alms, The Republican Eagle
Sorin’s Bluff, also known as Memorial Park, offers 268 acres of hiking, biking, picnicking and some of the best views to be found in the area. The park was developed in the 1920s as a World War I memorial. Sorin’s Bluff was donated to the city after mining of the limestone was halted due to the destruction of the bluff.
I was fortunate to live at the base of the bluff growing up and had what would amount to the largest backyard in town. Just a few steps from my back door I could access the bluff from a number of different paths. This would be any kid’s dream.
The bluff gave us many options to keep us busy, from building tree forts in the many large old oak trees to exploring the various paths. But the biggest thrill was exploring the caves.
I had not been to the caves in many years, so I had the idea to re-visit them this spring.
The first cave is probably the most popular. It is called Overlook Cave or as I remember it, Cool Cave. It is located about 70 feet directly below the scenic overlook.
The origins of Cool Cave are not agreed upon. Some believe it is a natural cave and others think early settlers dug it out as a shelter.
It extends approximately 185 feet and varies from 3 to 18 feet wide and 2.5 to 13 feet high. The cave is also the home for several species of bats, the most common being the large brown bat.
The entrance is adorned with graffiti and carvings. It is easily accessible. Once inside the cave you will notice “the shelf,” a large open area approximately 7 feet from the floor and big enough for several people to fit in. There are also carvings and other messages from earlier visitors.
As you proceed into the cave you will notice that the side walls narrow and the ceiling height also is lower. Once you reach the back of the cave you will find the height has decreased to the point that you would have to crawl through to reach the final destination, which is a small but much taller room.
If you are to attempt a trip down to Cool Cave, you should use extreme caution as the path down is steep and can become slippery.
On the complete opposite side of the bluff is Horseshoe Cave. This cave is obviously manmade. Horseshoe is actually an old limestone kiln.
From the 1870s until the early 1900s lime producing kilns were a big business in Red Wing. It is believed that G. A. Carlson owned this mine and several others in and around Red Wing.
Horseshoe Cave housed two kilns. They are still in relatively good shape. There was a vertical shaft between the two kilns that is now all filled in with rubble and debris. It is estimated to be around 50 feet in height and acted as a chimney for the wood-fired kilns.
To find Horseshoe Cave you will pass through the main limestone quarries. If you look you can see the point at which the mining was stopped and this beautiful park was saved for generations to enjoy.
There are a couple of paths down to the cave. You may want to check out which one is the safest for you.
Horseshoe Cave is approximately 110 feet in and another 85 feet out the other direction. The width remains about the same but the ceiling height varies from 4.5 to almost 9 feet excluding the small exit which is only about 20 inches high.
There are two ways into Horseshoe Cave, the biggest or main entrance is 4.5 to 5 feet in height. As you enter you will see the perfectly placed bricks and boulders used to form the rounded ceiling and act as structural support for the cave.
Proceeding into the cave you will notice the first of two kiln rooms. The bricks used for the kilns are still in good shape.
Before the second kiln room is a pile of rubble which was used to fill the old chimney. The second kiln is straight ahead and is also in good condition for its age.
If you turn right you will be heading out in the direction of the second entrance, it has filled in through the years and actually has a gigantic tree growing around the entrance from the outside, but can still be used if you want to crawl through.
If these walls could talk it would be fascinating to learn of the real uses and exact origination of these wonderful landmarks.