CAP­TI­VAT­ING CAV­ERNS

Un­der­ground ad­ven­tures await vis­i­tors to ex­quis­ite caves

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EXPLORE - BY SARAH DECLERK SPE­CIAL SEC­TIONS WRITER

It’s no se­cret that The Nat­u­ral State is home to some of the most beau­ti­ful land­scapes in the coun­try. How­ever, many peo­ple may not know about the phe­nom­e­nal spa­ces hid­den be­low those rolling hills. Those who visit Arkansas’ caves can learn about the lime­stone struc­tures and their breath­tak­ing for­ma­tions while en­joy­ing an at­mos­phere that is sim­ply mag­i­cal.

BLANCHARD SPRINGS CAV­ERNS

Lo­cated near Moun­tain View in Fifty-Six, Blanchard Springs Cav­erns of­fers three sub­ter­ranean lev­els for vis­i­tors to ex­plore. The Drip­stone Trail is an ac­ces­si­ble jour­ney through daz­zling cave for­ma­tions, while the Dis­cov­ery Trail traces the steps of early ex­plor­ers past the nat­u­ral en­trance and un­der­ground stream. The new Dis­cov­ery in the Dark Head­lamp Tours al­low guests to see how the cave looked to early ex­plor­ers, and those de­sir­ing a truly rus­tic ex­pe­ri­ence can crawl through un­de­vel­oped ar­eas on the Wild Cave Tour. Above ground, vis­i­tors can watch The Amaz­ing World Be­low in the Wa­ter Works ex­hibit hall or hike and swim at the Blanchard Springs Recre­ation Area.

“It’s just a beau­ti­ful cave,” said Cathy Drew, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ozark Gate­way Re­gion. “Some­times I call it an un­der­ground won­der­land be­cause you walk across the top of the Earth, and you never dream that some­thing so beau­ti­ful and mag­nif­i­cent is be­low your feet.”

MYS­TIC CAV­ERNS

Spelunkers can view two gor­geous caves in Har­ri­son. Ozark set­tlers likely ex­plored the Mys­tic Cav­erns in the 1800s, and the cave opened for com­mer­cial tours by 1928. The cave’s mag­nif­i­cent for­ma­tions have long at­tracted vis­i­tors, who can learn the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of one of the state’s old­est com­mer­cially op­er­ated caves. In the 1960s, a worker mak­ing im­prove­ments at the site broke through the ground with a bull­dozer and dis­cov­ered the un­touched Crys­tal Dome, which opened for tours in 1981. Eight sto­ries tall, the dome of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views of grow­ing cave for­ma­tions.

ONYX CAVE

Lo­cated in Eureka Springs, Onyx Cave is the old­est show cave in Arkansas, hav­ing opened in 1893. Vis­i­tors can ex­pe­ri­ence the cave dur­ing self-guided tours that take about 30 min­utes and of­fer au­dio ex­pla­na­tions of cave fea­tures. Onyx Cave might have a spe­cial al­lure for sci-fi fans as the film­ing lo­ca­tion for some scenes of It’s Alive! — Larry Buchanan’s 1969 film.

OLD SPAN­ISH TREA­SURE CAVE

As its name sug­gests, the Old Span­ish Trea­sure Cave in Sul­phur Springs is shrouded in leg­ends about Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors who hid their stolen trea­sures in the cave af­ter be­ing stranded by a win­ter storm and at­tacked by Na­tive Amer­i­cans, said Paul Lin­scott, cave co-owner. In ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar tours, guests can take the Lantern Tours to ex­pe­ri­ence the cave in the same man­ner as trea­sure hun­ters in the early 20th cen­tury. Scouts and other groups can camp out in the caves and ex­plore less­de­vel­oped ar­eas on week­ends. In ad­di­tion, the cave’s own­ers reg­u­larly screen movies un­der­ground in the large Coun­cil Room.

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