Bear Cave - Buchanan, Michigan
Bear Cave - www.thousandtrails.com
Bear Cave is located on the St. Joseph River just a few miles north of Buchanon in Southwest Michigan. The cave was formed over 10,000 years ago as a result of the glacial drift and is the only cavern in Michigan. The glacier receding left behind Tufa and boulders which make up the construction of the cave. This is not a gigantic cavern such as those found at Mammoth Cave or the Carlsbad Caverns. Rather this is a small natural cave with multiple rooms. The whole thing is only about 150 feet.
There are many details and unusual formations throughout the caverns. There are fossils embedded in the ceiling and walls, glacial boulders, and Cave Pearls. As you decend down the winding stairs into the cavern, you will see a Kansas Boulder thought to be tens of thousands of years old. The passage is about six to eight feet wide, damp, and more than ten feet high. The Tufa deposits that make up the cave walls are about 18 feet thick. While damp, the way is well lit and the various formations are well marked to add to the experience. Toward the back of the cave is a secondary passage that leads to a low ceilinged room with a large clear pool of water. Beyond the low ceiling and pool is another hidden room. This room is known as the "Slave Room" because it was used to hide slaves making their way to freedom on the "underground railroad". This room also is home to the largest population of Eastern Pipistrelle Bats in lower Michigan. It doesn't happen often, but you might see a
bat during your walk through the cave.
A visit to the cave wouldn't be complete without taking a short walk across the ravine to visit the "Tulip Tree". The tulip tree is enormous and sits on a high bluff above the river. The size of this tree alone makes it worth a visit, but like everything else around the area, there is some interesting history associated with this tree. Local legend says that this particular tree was an important meeting spot for councils of the Potawatomi Indians. The location of the tree would make it an ideal spot for watching traffic, friendly and otherwise, on the river. This would also make the spot a good location for tribal conferences since it would be easy to find for travelers. The huge limbs of the tulip tree seem to be bent in unusual ways. Some say that the branches were bent by generations of braves sitting or standing on them while keeping watch over the approaches to the sacred gathering spot. Another possible
explanation for the bent branches is that they were bent and twisted deliberately by the tribe. There are trees with deliberatly bent branches near Horton Bay that form a circle that was used as a sacred council place. On Beaver Island are trees that have similarly bent branches that were bent that way as directional markers by nomadic tribes travelling the archipelago.