There is only one state park in Florida where the public can book a tour and explore a network of huge, airy limestone caves: the Florida Caverns in Marianna. Ducking into these subterranean caverns reveals stalagmites, stalactites, and flowstones, making the caves feel like museums full of natural works of art.
The caverns formed about 38 million years ago. The site was once submerged beneath the ocean. When the water level fell, the coral, shells, and other sediments littering the sea floor hardened and became limestone. Over the many years, the groundwater dissolved parts of the soft rock, carving out the large caverns.
While walking through the cave, it’s possible to spot fossils like a nautilus, shark tooth, and fish vertebrae trapped within the limestone walls.
The park and its nine-hole golf course were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the New Deal, and officially opened in 1942. But people had been frequenting the area since long before.
According to local legends, a strange “Rip Van Winkle” occurrence happened within one of the caves before the Civil War. A group of young adults was picnicking in one of the main caverns and discovered what seemed like a hollow wall. When one of the men pounded the wall, the stone crumbled to reveal a hidden chamber with a mysterious old man sleeping on the floor. The man, who spoke with a strange accent, told the bewildered picnickers he’d been sleeping for 100 years before bolting from the cave, never to be seen again.