Exceeded all Expectations! Excellent Bonne Terre Dive Weekend =)
A friend and I recently spent a weekend diving the Bonne Terre Mine and we absolutely loved it! We’re still talking about how much we enjoyed this unique and interesting dive setting. Bonne Terre is a huge mine which flooded after being abandoned after over 100 years in operation. It’s cave-like with lots of old mining equipment still in place. The mine slowly filled with water after the pumps were turned off when mining ended. It boasts crystal-clear fresh water with 100+ foot visibility. Lighting is artificial from above, but interesting. It’s augmented by the guides’ powerful lights underwater. Special kudos to Josh - his sweeping dual light presentations would make Hollywood proud! (And they made me laugh underwater =). Huge 200 feet high pillars, vistas, archways, caverns, rooms, tunnels, and mining structures make for stunning visual effects. It’s really unusual and claims over 17 miles of shoreline throughout the mine. No aquatic life (okay, one very lonely, odd looking fish named “Bonnie”) and very little silt. Bonne Terre is a well-run dive operation with a focus on safety. The bookings were friendly and easy with Tom and Doug providing accurate information from the West End Dive Center (I had lots of questions as I was schlepping my gear in from California). The mine’s staff was simply incredible and added a lot of depth to our weekend. We had great teams on each day. Saturday began with a thorough dive briefing in the dive office followed by an in-water skill check (buoyancy check, mask removal/replacement, buddy breathing) before the first dive. “Buzz” and John guided eight divers around on the three dives (Buzz lead the group with John tagging behind as the safety diver; a third staff member tendered the group following above in a kayak). On Sunday, the Terrific Trio of Josh, Sherri and Katie led our smaller group of three divers. Each guide shared an obvious passion for the mine, its history, the dive routes, route discoveries, etc. between dives. Their descriptions added a lot of interest to each dive and it was a pleasure experiencing that excitement during our own dives. All dive trails are guided; there are no self-exploration dives, but the variety and unusual nature of the site keeps it interesting. Skill level is intermediate to advanced when considering depth (dives at 60-70’ in depths of up to 130’), overhead environments (tunnel routes, caverns and swim throughs), night dive conditions (the mine is naturally dark, 65 steps underground, cyalume sticks provided for the dives), super-cold water year round, and the need for finely tuned buoyancy skills (“keyhole” swim throughs, several narrow tunnels requiring strategic placement). There’s no surge, current or thermocline, and it’s a great place to work on buoyancy. This is cold-water (57 degrees) diving, so plan to layer up or consider a dry suit. I wore 7mm wetsuit, a Lavacore vest, a thick dive skin, full hood/booties/gloves and needed every bit of that protection. One diver in our Saturday group opted for a shortie suit without hood or gloves and was miserable, aborting both of his dives midway. We took the first 6 trails in the series, diving the max 3 dives each day. There are about 38 routes in total with increasing levels of depth and challenge. The trails are offered in order, so few divers experience the higher numbers unless they are repeat visitors. High season is Winter, summer is the slow season. I’d recommend avoiding the crowds to get the best visibility and variety/guide access on tours. Overall a great experience and a great weekend with a
wonderful dive operation. We can’t wait to dive the Bonne Terre Mines again!
Most memorable features:
-“The Structure” – a giant frame for an elevator shaft, reminiscent of an oil rig structure. Great lighting effects from afar and when you’re inside of it.
-“The Stairways” – used by workers in the mine, well preserved wooden structures.
-“Redwood Forest” – a vast area with huge pillars looming above in the darkness – spiritual!
-“Champagne Bubbles” - effect from our bubbles trapped in the cavern below filtering through holes in the rock on the level above (dizzying beauty!)
-“Smoke” effect when rusting iron equipment has a cloud of red around it; my brainy dive buddy dubbed it a “ferrocline”
-“The Jackhammer”-still protruding, abandoned in a from a rock.
-“The Chapel” – a smaller chamber (offered on Sunday diving only =) dotted with white crosses that marked dynamite spots
-“Catfish Kettle” – a local fish restaurant was affordable, friendly and delicious.
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