It's hard to believe that we lived in Iowa for two years without hearing about Maquoketa Caves State Park. It could be that nobody is confident enough about the pronunciation of the name to talk about it (note: it's muh-COKE-uh-duh). Whatever the reason, we're glad we went, and that we got there early enough in the day to do some exploring.
Before entering the caves, we were required to listen to a short talk about White Nose Syndrome, a devastating disease that's wiping out bats in surrounding areas. It's caused by a fungus that grows in caves and on the noses of bats while they're hibernating. The fungus irritates the bats enough to wake them from hibernation, revving up their metabolism too early. Either through starvation or freezing, a large number of bats have been dying in the winter because of this, with some species declining by >90% within five years of the disease reaching a site. Since people are thought to be the main cause of the fungus spreading between caves, they are telling people not to wear the same clothes to another cave (they aren't sure that washing is enough to kill the spores) and they've installed mats to walk across to somewhat clean your shoes before and after visiting the caves. Be responsible cavers!
There are a few caves with cement walkways, "ceiling" lights, and enough vertical space to walk comfortably (mostly). There are a bunch more for the more adventurous spirits, requiring a light and a willingness to crawl into small, wet places. We wandered, took pictures, and enjoyed the short day of riding that allowed us to take advantage of this natural wonder.