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Bonne Terre Scuba Diving Trip (Part II)

After an adventurous drive down, and a well needed rest, we awoke the next morning and got a good look at the inn we were staying at in Bonne Terre.  All in all, it was a very neat place.

Bonne Terre Depot Bed & Breakfast

Bonne Terre Depot Bed & Breakfast

The Bonne Terre Depot features a Bed & Breakfast and has 4 guest rooms and 2 detached train car suites and the nostalgic Whistle Stop Saloon. The national historic depot was constructed in 1909 by St. Joseph Lead as the hallmark of the MR & BT railroad. The depot was completely restored by Doug & Cathy Goergens in 1989. Offering full banquet facilities for over 200 guests located on the main floor.

One unfortunate aspects of our stay, however, was that the “Breakfast” portion of the Bed & Breakfast only consisted of $.75 cinnamon rolls (basically the kind you can find in any vending machine) and a couple of juices.   Also, the saloon they speak of was closed.   You can tell there isn’t much in this town other than the Bonne Terre Mine.  The effects of lack of industry really showed.

The rooms were actually quite nice and had a lot of character to them.  They really did take a lot of effort to maintain the old charm of the place.  They were even complete with TV’s that were obviously built in the 1960′s!  That really didn’t matter though as we weren’t planning on hanging out in our rooms all day.  What they lacked in amenities, they made up for in character and friendly service.

The scuba diving quite simply was amazing.  We scheduled 4 dives over 2 days (3 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday).  But, before I get into that, here’s a little background on Bonne Terre Mine:

Bonne Terre Mine is listed as one of America’s top 10 greatest adventures by National Geographic.   The French were the first to mine lead in the area in the mid-1700′s.   In 1962, the mine was closed.  The workers dropped their tools where they were and simply walked out in frustration at losing their source of income.  When the mines closed, the pumps that kept the water out, stopped.   By the 1970′s the mines filled up with billions of gallons of cold, clear water.

In the mid 1970′s scuba divers began diving the mines (this was before the current owners Doug and Cathy Georgens acquired the mine in 1979 and opened it for diving in 1981).  Also, since this is before certification organizations such as PADI became popular, 4 inexperienced divers lost their lives.   This highlights the importance of adequate training and appropriate guides.

In 1981, the Georgens brought  Jacques Cousteau and his team of divers to the mine when the Calypso made an expedition up the nearby Mississippi River.  Since then, it has continued to grow into a popular tourist attraction for mining history buffs and an uncommon destination for experienced scuba divers looking for a unique underwater experience.

The dive was definately unique.  Being that the mine is underground, the water conditions remain constant with over 100 feet of visibility.  While it is cool, and holds steady in the mid 50′s year round, I was perfectly comfortable in a 7mm wetsuit.

Some of the stuff still down there

Some of the stuff still down there

Sites on our dive trips included (but wasn’t limited to) oar carts, scaffolding staircases, massive underground pillars, and of course the famed elevator shaft.  Also, being that it was in a mine, it wasn’t what many would expect.  The mine itself is illuminated with over 500,000 watts of lighting, and since the average depth was about 30-50 feet we could see everything without dive lights.

There were only a couple of negatives to the whole dive experience.  One was the fact that while it was well lit for our eyes, none of the photos we took turned out.  There just wasn’t enough light.  Brighter flashes were needed.   I pulled the photos on this page from their website.  The other negative was the stairs.  As mentioned, this is underground.  And in order to get there we had to descend a series of stairs.  Going down wasn’t the hard part, but rather going back up between each dive (I guess I need to get into better shape!).  Since they had multiple tours going on, we weren’t allowed to stay down below between surface intervals.   Luckily we were able to keep our gear down below, so at least we didn’t have to lug that stuff up and down.  Even still, going up and down those stairs wearing a wet wet-suit was still exhausting.

The famed elevator shaft.

The famed elevator shaft.

All in all, I highly recommend this as a place to go.   It was an extremely unique and thrilling adventure.  We’re actually already planning on going again.

A view of inside the mine

A view of inside the mineThe famed elevator shaftSome of the "Stuff" still laying around

Friday the 13th….and a Bonne Terre Scuba Diving Trip (Part I)

I thought concerns about Friday the 13th was only for those superstitious type.   Normally, I’m not one of those, but this past Friday the 13th may have caused me to rethink my position.   The plan was to leave the dive shop (Adventure Scuba and Snorkel Center) around 9 a.m., and then have about a 10 hour drive to Missouri for a weekend of scuba diving at Bonne Terre Mine.   Unfortunately, the Friday the 13th gremlins had other ideas.

When we made the plans, I was told we would be taking a “bus” down.  So, I envisioned a charter bus scenario with rows of seats and a smelly bathroom in the back.  I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the ride we would have for the trip to Missouri.   Technically, it wasn’t a bus.  Instead, it was a moving home!  An RV to be exact.  There were couches, a bed in the back, satellite TV’s, beers in the fridge, and quite literally tons of food.  Anything from fresh fruit to pizza’s that could be cooked on the road in the microwave.  Of course I couldn’t resist, and immediately texted my friends and rubbed it in a bit while they were toiling away at work.

With the ample space, everyone’s scuba gear and luggage was packed away nicely underneath and in the car we were towing behind.  There was 10 of us in all, and everyone was ready for a fun weekend of diving.  It was about 9:30 by the time we left the shop, so things were off to a great start.

Then, as luck would have it, about 15 minutes down the road, we heard a loud ‘pop’ followed by the smell of burned rubber and the sound of tire parts banging the roadway beneath us.  Right away, we knew we had a flat.  Luckily, we were near a highway rest stop, so we safely pulled off the road.  Of course, we light heartedly made jokes and it didn’t take long for the Friday the 13th discussion to come up.  Bob, the owner of the RV, immediately contacted his insurance company.  We were told it would be a couple of hours before somebody could make it out to us.  With that, there wasn’t much option but to go ahead and crack open a couple of cold beers.  “It could be worse!”

As promised, Progressive Insurance had us on our way in a few hours.   We didn’t feel it was a big deal, and just chaulked up the experience as part of the adventure.

We were finally getting some road between the shop and us, and the scenerey began flying by without notice.  Before we knew it, about 3 hours of the 10 hour journey had passed.  Then, the Friday the 13th gremlins struck again.  “Bang!”  Another loud noise and again the smell of burned rubber and the noise of more tire parts slapping the highway beneath us.   What are the odds of 2 flats in one trip?  We tried to calculate that, but being scuba divers instead of mathematicians we gave up quickly.  Whatever it was, the odds were slim.

Again, Bob contacted Progressive Insurance.  This time though, the wait wouldn’t be just a few hours.  Instead, we had to wait over 4 hours.  Again, we joked about it being Friday the 13th.  Travelers in a RV, on our way to a great weekend getaway, and broke down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.  The only thing that was missing was the axe murderer chasing us in the dark.   Of course every time anybody left the RV, one of the rules of surviving a scary movie was broken:  Never, ever, ever, say “I’ll be right back” because you won’t be.

Needless to say, 4 hours later (give or take) we were back on the road again.  Thankfully, the remainder of the drive was uneventful.  Admittedly, things could’ve indeed been worse.  I can think of worse ways to be broke down on the side of the road.  At least in our case, as mentioned above, we had couches, a bed, tons of food in the fridge, and of course beer!  We made the best of the situation and still had a lot of fun.  The only side affect we had was turning what was supposed to be a 10 hour drive into an over 16 hour journey.  By the time we reached Bonne Terre we were ready for some sleep to prepare ourselves for the scuba diving ahead!