BONNE TERRE, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- On the surface, Bonne Terre Mine does not seem like much, but as the owner will tell you, looks can be deceiving.
“Since 1860 they mined, it was the world’s largest lead mine, they mined all the way through 1962 when they basically mined out all of the lead” said Douglas Goergens, current owner of Bonne Terre Mine.
By the 1960’s all the mining equipment they used was obsolete, so the company abandoned the mine. When that happened, Goergens said, “well they shut the pumps down, also so the mine has a depth of around 450 feet at the deepest area and they shut the pumps off and the water just gradually rose.”
Goergens purchased the mine in the 1970’s. He loves letting people in on the underground secret an hour south of St. Louis. The mine is a constant temperature: 65 degrees all year long.
“Its air conditioned in the summer it’s heated in the winter, it’s always the same” said Goergens.
Around 30,000 people per year come to take a tour of the mine. Goergens told News 4 they get “a lot of field trips for the schools for them to learn the history, its history, its geo tourism.”
Students and tourists get to take in more than just a walking tour to see stalagmites, stalactites and old mining equipment, they can also take an underground boat tour of the now flooded mine.
The billion-gallon lake sits 100 feet underground and has 17 miles of underground shore line. It’s usually a quiet atmosphere underground, with the tour boats electric motor making barely a whisper, but the mine was quite noisy back in 2007 when it hosted the Red Bull Depth Charge - the world's first underground wakeboard event
It’s not just the underground lake, but what lies beneath its surface that keeps drawing crowds to the Bonne Terre Mine.
“We originally developed Bonne Terre Mine, we owned West End Diving Center in St. Louis, our center is one of the oldest in the United States, we started in 1960 and we needed a place to certify our open water students” said Goergens. That’s the reason he purchased the mine in the 1970’s.
The water is crystal clear mineral water with 100 feet of visibility. It also stays around 62 degrees all year long. Meaning you won’t need warm weather outside to go SCUBA diving. In fact, Goergens said “our high season starts in November and goes through May.”
Bonne Terre Mine is consistently listed as one of the top scuba diving sites in the country, but what put them on the map, was a certain visit from a legendary deep-sea explorer.
As Goergens describes it, “what happened was in 1983, Jacque Cousteau came to St. Louis, he originally planned for a half day of diving here and they stayed five and a half days filming.”
According to Goergens, it was Cousteau who best summed up the experience of diving in the mine.
“He said when man came in here, he adulterated the earth and mined it and Mother Nature has come in and reclaimed it and created its own ecosphere.”
There are dozens of paths for SCUBA tours through the mine, where you can swim through tunnels, check out mine carts, even swim through the old mine shaft.
The Mine descends more than 400 feet into darkness, making it an ideal spot to film scenes a particular James Cameron film from the 80's: The Abyss. Bonne Terre Mine served as the backdrop for when Ed Harris’ character dove into the darkness of the Abyss.