Post details: The Piasa Caves - Alton, IL

05/30/07

Permalink 01:20:23 am, Categories: Urban Exploration, 544 words   English (US)

The Piasa Caves - Alton, IL

The Piasa Bird

Shortly after my return from the Cape I made the trip back to St. Louis to visit Arch. On the itinerary was a return to the Piasa Caves in Alton, I. It would be our second trip, the first being woefully ill-equipped (we forgot flashlights and were unable to penetrate beyond the point of daylight, I fell in a swamp, managed to kick myself in the chest, etc).

Piasa Park

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Piasa, it was essentially a Native American dragon/griffin/chimera-type creature that lived in a cave overlooking the Mississippi, and would occasionally leave its den in search of human prey. It was ultimately defeated, and a large petroglyph was painted on the cliff face to commemorate the event. It was noted by early explorers, and the Indians would routinely take potshots at the painting after trading for firearms, which no doubt had an adverse affect on the image quality.

The entire rock face was eventually removed by strip miners and an anglicized version of the Piasa, looking more like a European-style monster, was painted in its stead. The Piasa has since been refurbished time and time again, no doubt moving further away from its original appearance.

Limestone Quarry

While there were once naturally-occuring caves in the cliff face, they were expanded and all but destroyed by mining operations some time ago, resulting in something like an odd cross between a solution cave and a quarry.

The Piasa’s bone cave (the secret lair in which its victims met their fate) is rumored to still exist here, but I was unable to locate it, and honestly wasn’t expecting to. Something else I was unable to locate – which I’m relatively certain does exist – are unusual natural stairway formations that are supposed to be located near the Piasa Caves. They’re said to resemble cut stairs, but start and stop at random locations, leading nowhere.

Natural Entrance

The area around the caves had changed considerably in recent years. When we first visited we found only an overgrown gravel parking lot to greet us, with no attempt made to bar entry to the caves. However, the caves have since become a full-fledged city park, complete with bathroom facilities and interpretive displays outlining the legend of the Piasa.

The main entrance has also been fenced off, though large gaps on either side still allow easy entry. The city of Alton most likely recognized the fact that people were going to get in one way or another, and chose not to make a serious attempt at gating the caves. Additional, natural entrances further back were left completely open, and another quarry nearby was also open, but we found it flooded and uninviting.

Flooded Quarry

The actual interior was not unlike other quarries I’ve visited, and sadly did not extend far beyond the reach of daylight. While the caves are an interesting place to visit, the idea of the Piasa Caves and the stories associated with them are far more interesting than the caves themselves.

Before returning home to St. Charles we made it a point to locate Robert Wadlow, Alton’s most famous resident (and world’s tallest man), so that we could get our pictures taken with him.

Rob and Arch

Further Reading:
The Piasa legend
...And a rebuttal

Comments:

Comment from: redox [Visitor]
Really neat legend the Piasa. I once talked to some guys from Alton who mentioned a cave high on the bluff, about a mile north of the marina. They said its accessable, but that a guy once fell and broke his back trying to climb up to it.
Permalink 06/11/07 @ 22:10
Comment from: sertile [Member]
I've heard of there being another cave there... I'll have to look for it next time I'm there.
Permalink 06/18/07 @ 16:56
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Permalink 01/29/08 @ 11:35
Comment from: L. Mason [Visitor]
I grew up in the area and we would come to Alton and see the Piasa Bird numerous times when we took our father to catch his tow boat. If I remember correctly, the bird was painted on the wall in at least one different spot than it is today. Back then it was just a painting on the rock wall and no park.

About the caves you mention. I graduated high school in 1965 and I remember about that time that somewhere near the painting people had unearthed a cave entrance that was supposed to be fairly large, the little bit they had explored of it. It was finally covered back up at that time becasue they were afraid that someone would get hurt and also because they feared that people would come in and damage the stalagtites, etc. This information was in the local Alton Telegraph, from what I remember.
Permalink 03/07/08 @ 00:11
Comment from: Billy Bob [Visitor]
I go to the caves everyday of my life, It is very easy to get there, as long as it isn't muddy from the rain, I smoke pot there, its a very peaceful place to just chill, let loose, and forget about problems going on in the world.
Permalink 05/30/08 @ 19:02
Comment from: mike [Visitor]
nice cave back in the day...plenty of beer drinking and exploration on acid ...no bones however, but i'm convinced that the caves are haunted with the ghosts of dead miners
Permalink 09/14/08 @ 05:42
Comment from: Jake [Visitor]
does any one know anything about the blue pool?
Permalink 11/08/08 @ 16:00
Comment from: ellery johnson [Visitor]
if you go to the right and follow the fence line you will eventually walk directly walk to another cave entrance with a small waterfall and anther neart the quarry both flooded of course i am also looking for new findings ever heard the story of hap hollow rd you can still find it of the highway if you go into the woods if anyone knows anything further please post
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While the caves are an interesting place to visit, the idea of the Piasa Caves and the stories associated with them are far more interesting than the caves themselves.
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Permalink 07/15/10 @ 21:53
Comment from: Kimmie [Visitor]
I grew up in Alton, and have been all over inside the caves. and back in the late 70's I spent hour on end exploring the caves. The most intersting place we would was this room that had a pool of water in it. we were deep in the caves and had climbed up what I believe you described as stairs. At the top of the stairs there was this little opening that at that time you could only crawl through. Once you crawls through the opening there was a big room that has a ledge about three feet around this big pool of water.
The water in the pool was crystal clear water and there seems to be a light comming from the bottom. Like I said before I spent many hrs in this cave and have only seen this room one time. I wasd with a group of people the day we found it and we went back the next weekend and try to find it again but could not.
I tried to go back about 7-8 years ago and the caves were a mess. you can tell kids are using it for a party place, as we did, however we did not paint the walls & leave trash everywhere. We didnt want anyone to know we had been there, evidence..LOL
I think I may go back his weekend just to see how much it had changed.

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