Let’s Go on an Underworld Adventure

Jun 1, 2024 | Featured, Travel

Nothing says adventure like exploring the surreal landscape within the depths of a secretive underworld. We are fortunate to have such an attraction in the Natural State—Blanchard Springs Caverns, located in Stone County, near Mountain View. Blanchard Springs Caverns is a world-renowned attraction. During its first season of operation in 1973, it welcomed visitors from forty-eight states and twenty-nine foreign countries!

Blanchard Springs Caverns is a remarkable cave system meticulously maintained for visitors’ enjoyment. Inside, you’ll find a dynamic environment where formations like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones continue to evolve due to mineral deposition from dripping water. The Caverns have a constant year-round temperature of 58°F and nearly 100% relative humidity, with paved trails that tend to be wet. A lightweight jacket and low-heeled, nonslip shoes are recommended.

The adventure begins at the Visitor Information Center. Learning about the caverns’ history and the ecological occurrences that contributed to their creation enhances your tour. Explore the exhibits that tell the stories of plants and animals that call the caverns home. Then, relax in the exhibit hall and watch a colorful preview of the adventure that awaits you. The “The Amazing World Below” video explains in layman’s terms how the caverns formed.

During the pathway construction and installation of the low-level lighting and air-lock system, crews took great care to protect the delicate underground environment. After thirty years of tours, these measures have helped maintain Blanchard Springs as a ‘living’ cave, a testament to the Forest Service’s commitment to preserve its natural beauty.

The caverns have three levels, two of which are currently available for guided tours. Unlike early explorers, who had to descend a seventy-foot natural shaft using a rope ladder, today’s visitors start their spelunking adventure with relative ease. A quick elevator ride delivers you to the start of the tour, some 216 feet below the surface. Expert guides from the Forest Service lead the tours, ensuring an informative experience as visitors explore well-lit paved walking paths with handrails for easy navigation.

The Dripstone Trail is the first tour after exiting the elevator and is available year-round. Immediately, a lighted, breathtaking view of the enormous gallery of geological formations is on display. The half-mile-long chamber takes about 1.5 hours to experience and is the most decorated area in the caverns. All stairs can be avoided, making it accessible for wheelchairs or strollers. As the trail courses through the Cathedral Room, over three football fields long, visitors are amazed by the multitude of fragile crystalline stalactites and soda straw formations.

The array of colors highlighting these speleothems is made possible by impurities absorbed by the water after flowing through the mountain’s crystal calcite. The yellow, brown, or orange colors result from iron ore, while the black, blue-gray, and pastel blue colors are from manganese compounds. Nestled within this region lies a captivating sight crafted over centuries. Persistent moisture droplets have etched a remarkable formation resembling a battleship upon the cavern wall.

After the Dripstone Tour, visitors can exit the cavern and board a bus to return to the Visitor Center or continue to the Discovery Tour. The Discovery Tour is the most significant section of the cavern, covering about 1.2 miles and takes around 1.5 hours to complete. With over 700 stair steps along the tour, it is not recommended for those with health issues or who need help walking.

Although not as ornate with dripstones, it does include the Ghost Room and the Giant Flowstone. At 164 feet long, thirty-three feet wide, and thirty feet thick, it is one of the most extensive flowstone formations in the U.S. Its shimmering, sheetlike white curtains cover the cave’s walls, creating a somewhat ghostly yet beautiful, ethereal ambiance.

Visitors also witness the first sighting of the stream that created the caverns. As the shallow, crystal-clear waters flow across the cavern floor, the calcite deposits create thin walls known as Rimstone Dams—these interconnected pools of water form delicate, elaborate cellular designs.

The tour follows in the footsteps of earlier explorers, who entered using the rope ladder through the natural opening. Guides point out campsites occupied by those explorers, allowing visitors to envision their experience.

The Wild Cave Tour has been closed but may reopen later this year. This is the tour for adventurous spelunkers who seek a more challenging underworld experience as it explores the undeveloped sections of the mid-level caverns. The 3-4 hour experience entails crawling on your hands and knees up steep slopes, wedging under low ceilings, and scaling large boulders—much like the original explorers.

This area of the Natural State isn’t just about what lies beneath the surface; it’s a treasure trove surrounded by the stunning sights of the Ozark National Forest. At its heart is Blanchard Springs, a year-round spring nestled at the mountain’s base, lending its name to the caverns. From its source flows Mill Creek, forming the picturesque Mirror Lake with the aid of underground springs. Cascading over a man-made dam, it creates a mesmerizing waterfall before joining Sylamore Creek, weaving its way through Blanchard Springs Campground.

Such natural wonders, so close together, offer an unparalleled Ozark experience. It’s a place where beauty and awe converge, beckoning all to explore its marvels.

Tour reservations are required. Visit blanchardsprings.org for the current tour schedule and operating hours or call 870.757.2211.

WORDS Bob Robinson
IMAGES Bob Robinson, Bailey Green, and courtesy Blanchard Springs Caverns and Arkansas.com
Flower Image
By Dave Bunnell – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48936681
Ghost Room Image
By Eric Hunt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34211869

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