Cave of the Mounds
John Pahlas and Heidi Clayton play the blues inside Cave of the Mounds during the Blues & Brews event in January.
Anyone who thinks caves are for hibernating hasn’t been out to Blue Mounds this winter.
In what would be considered the offseason at Cave of the Mounds, the popular destination has traded tourists for beer aficionados and Scout troops for blues fans. The second season of Cave After Dark events for ages 21 and over has turned into a tough-to-get ticket for visitors who want a different way to check out the limestone cavern and its magnificent formations.
“It’s nothing like a real tour,” says Kim Anderson, the cave’s operations manager. “The cave doesn’t change, but your perspective on it might, depending on how you’re walking through it.”
During regular cave hours, tours are guided. During Cave After Dark, ticket-buyers can go through at their own pace, stopping for pictures if they like rather than being pulled along with a tour group. Those who buy Cave After Dark tickets get an assigned time to go into the cave to ensure that everyone doesn’t go in all at once, but once there can stay as long as they like.
“If you’re on a tour, you might not get as close of a look at some things as when you’re allowed to spend as much time as you want,” Anderson says. “Giving people some time is nice.”
Five of the six events, including a Glow Party with electronic dance music on Feb. 18, sold out at $25 a ticket with a capacity of approximately 150. There’s plenty of room in the cave, but the tickets cut off at 150 because of capacity in the visitor center, which also hosts music and has a cash bar.
Events this season included a Rockstoberfest in October that featured a beer tasting inside the cave; a wine and cheese tasting inside the cave; and an underground cocktail lounge and blues music in various spots within the cave with tastings of local beers set up at stations throughout the well-lit walkways. In addition, there was a Valentine’s Day event, Love on the Rocks, on Feb. 11.
The last Cave After Dark event will be on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Hooley in the Hollows will feature Irish music as well as a “treasure hunt” in the cave to find tokens for beer and wine samples.
The series has been so successful, organizers plan to begin events again in October 2017 and host one a month through March 2018.
Offseason activities at Cave of the Mounds aren’t new. The cave has hosted Christmas caroling and music in December for several years, as well as popular Halloween events. The cave is open year-round, though through March 14 weekday tours are by reservation only, and on the hour on Saturdays and Sundays.
In recent years, the cave obtained a liquor license as it has expanded into more corporate events and weddings (which are usually in a barn on the property, though short ceremonies and photo shoots have been held in the cave). With the license, staff explored other ways to boost offseason visits and bring in a different kind of crowd than usual.
The Cave After Dark events started slowly, Anderson says, but got a huge boost from social media. Photos of people eating cheese and drinking beer (which is allowed in plastic glasses) in a cave were custom-made for Facebook and Instagram. Word spread quickly.
“There’s no better advertising than customers posting about it,” Anderson says. “Wine in a cave? It seems like a no-brainer.”
And while in the summer the cave is a destination to escape the heat, its constant 50-degree temperature provides the opposite experience in the winter: It provides an escape from winter’s chill.
“It’s so fun to send anyone in there on a 24-below day and have them say, ‘Wow, it’s warm down there,’” Anderson says. “It’s a weather-proof place, it really is.”
The next Cave After Dark event is March 17. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 608-437-3038, ext. 0, or online at caveofthemounds.com