National Geographic Adventure named the diving at Bonne Terre Mine in Missouri one of the top 10 adventures in America, and it’s easy to see why. Back in the day, the mine’s deepest reaches were not underwater. A massive pump system stemmed the flow of encroaching groundwater as the miners pushed ever deeper. But when this, the world’s largest lead mine, was all mined out, the pumps were turned off and water trickled in to fill the void. These days, mine owners Doug and Catherine Goergens maintain a constant water level, providing divers with access to their unique underwater vision.
The dive deck hovers on the water’s surface, 150 feet from terra firma. Underwater pillars, shafts, archways and walls stretch for miles in all directions, a sprawling maze beneath the town. Artifacts such as shovels, drills, ladders, and ore carts lie everywhere. You’ll also be struck by the electric-blue water, the result of 500,000 watts of high-powered stadium lighting installed by the -owners. There are more than 50 planned trails open to the public, and the experience is accessible to most divers. Every group of divers is assigned a guide and a safety diver, and guests dive the trails in a preset sequence. The dives become more advanced with additional swim-throughs and archways to navigate as the numbers get larger. Under special circumstances, exploratory dives are possible here as well. Dubbed Bear Trails, these more-advanced, guided dives delve into the unlit and underexplored sections of the mine. Bear Trails are only for divers who prove they’ve got the skills and the good air consumption to make these dives.
This is the lure of what the Bonne Terre crew has dubbed “deep-earth diving,” a seemingly endless underground world frozen in time.
Accommodations: On-site Diver’s Lodge and Bunk House, or the 1909 Depot Bed & Breakfast, which offers four bedrooms and two detached train-car suites
Amenities: Whistle Stop Saloon, gear rental