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Next on Nichols' agenda is a two-week trip to Mobile, Ala., in late June to participate in the DYWA's national award competition.

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Then in April, Nichols made a series of appearances at Hannibal elementary schools speaking to children on the Distinguished Young Women of America's national outreach topic: be your best self.

She talked to kids about the importance of being healthy, being involved, being studious, being ambitious and being responsible.

Upon investigation with torches, he and his brothers found that the small opening led to a large underground labyrinth.

The cave proved a popular diversion for Hannibal residents in the mid-19th century, especially children, including a young Sam Clemens.

One odd, even macabre, event in the cave's early history occurred in the late 1840s when Hannibal physician Dr.

Joseph Nash Mc Dowell purchased the cave and used it for several years as a laboratory for experiments on human corpses.

These childhood explorations would later reappear in five of Mark Twain's books.

The proximity to the Mississippi river and its cooling breezes made the small valley between the river bluffs containing the caves a popular site for family picnics and church outings in the summertime.

Both are believed to be remnants of a much larger cave system cut apart by a glacier and millions of years of erosion, leading to speculation by geologists and common citizens alike that there may be further undiscovered caves in the Hannibal region.

This speculation was heightened in 2006 when the entrance to a previously unknown cave was found during construction of a new elementary school.

Along with nearby Cameron Cave, it became a registered National Natural Landmark in 1972, with a citation reading "Exceptionally good examples of the maze type of cavern development".