The weather around here has been hot and dry for most of July so when asked what I wanted to do for my birthday I chose to go to Fantastic Caverns, located north of Springfield, Missouri The cave temperature is a constant 60F so it was the perfect place.
A Little History of the Cave:
It was discovered by a farmer- John Knox while hunting with his dog, the dog disappeared down a hole chasing something and John investigated and found the cave. He waited five years before he told anyone about it. At that time, he put an ad in the paper looking for explorers to help him figure out what he had under his property. A team of twelve women showed up -- with torches, lanterns, ropes, and ladders. After the preliminary expedition by the cave gals, who found untouched chambers with large, pristine formations, the owner knew he had something people would pay money to see. They also discovered saltpeter, (which is the critical oxidizing component of gun powder).
Their names are still inscribed on the cavern walls to this day.I've posted a picture of their signatures. Fearing that the location of the caves could be of strategic value during the Civil War He held off doing anything with their findings.
- The cave was converted into a gas-lighted Prohibition speak-easy. It was complete with a dance floor and stage. They even had cock fights. Workers mined the saltpeter from the cave. Then the cave was sold after a shooting occurred there. (Unfortunately I can't find any information about this anywhere)
1925 to 1939:
- Fantastic's colorful history includes a period of ownership by the Ku Klux Klan, who conducted meetings and cross-burnings in the Auditorium room.
- It was named Fantastic Caverns. It was home to weekly live country music show. The show took place in the Auditorium area which is large enough to seat several thousand people. Radio shows were even broadcast from here Unfortunately, this human encroachment did a lot of damage to some of the interior portions of Fantastic Caverns
- Purchased by Mark Trimble, owner of the Shepherd of the Hills Farm near Branson, and the ride-through tours began using post-WWII jeeps with gas powered engines. The tours were popular, but cave walls don't fare well against car exhaust. "People didn't care much back then," said our guide. Eventually "America's Ride-Thru Cave" upgraded the jeeps to run on cleaner propane with a large trailer called a tram.
This cave is the only cave in North America to offer a completely ride-through tour on a propane powered Jeep It is one of only four in the world (the others are in Barbados, France and Yugoslavia). .
The Tour Begins:
Our guide was a knowledgeable gregarious lady who said she had been doing these tours for many years. This fact was very apparent as I will relate to you later. The employees there were all very nice and accommodating. We were able to sit up front in the jeep which allowed me to take pictures unimpeded by others.
It's amazing to me that all the sights in this beautiful cave came from individual drops of water dripping though the ceiling. Each drop lingers for a second or maybe a minute on a stalactite, leaving behind a tiny trace of minerals, primarily calcium carbonate creating the formations that decorate the cave.
We saw all kinds of formations in the cave such as Stalactites, Stalagmites, Soda Straws, Columns, and Draperies. For information on these go here:Cave Decorations
Also the cave is home to many life forms, none of which we got to see, but I assure you they are there. Some of the creatures living there are the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat, Ozarks Blind Cave Fish, Ozarks Blind Cave Salamanders, and the Ozark Blind Cave Crayfish. I found this article about the The Biology of Caves
Our tour guide was excellent, at the beginning of the tour she stops briefly to point out an old steam engine that powered the cave lights in the early days. The we continues into the bunker-like entrance of the cave.
Just inside of the cave, we were encouraged to touch a particular stretch of low ceiling. The special "Touch Me" region acts as a kind of static discharge for tourist energy. Over 100,000 visitors do so a year, which essentially "kills" the stalactite and formation growth with skin oils. Fantastic Caverns knows people want to touch the cave, so it's best to get it over with here rather than having the prettier formations groped to death.
We sat in the wagon and she would stop from time to time and give us highlights of various features of the caverns. There are motion-detector lights in the cave, so as we moved through in the jeep it would light ahead of us. At one point she was driving in total darkness (this is where I was very glad she know where she was going) and complaining that her light wasn't working right! I along with my sister were not real comfortably with that. I don't know if this was a joke or for real but fortunately after banging on it she got it to work.
The tour lasts around one hour, and at the far end of the cave at the Cavern Theater they show a short film on the history of the cave. There are more impressive formations on the return trip, a stop at an old salt peter works, and a harrowing traverse under a particularly low ceiling. After exiting the cave and heading back, she stops and shows us the original entrance to the cave, a virtual hole in the ground beneath a slight overhang. Soon we're back at the gift shop, with its ample supply of decorative minerals, t-shirts and souvenir miner helmets.
This was a most enjoyable trip and something I would be glad to do again sometime. I have included some of my pictures and here are a few links to additional pictures I found on the web.