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.
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.
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.
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.