Beat the Summer Heat in an Arkansas Show Cave
As visitors venture into Cosmic Cavern near Berryville, strategic illumination casts lights and shadows onto a wonderland of shapes, colors, sizes and textures. There are frozen waterfalls, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, soda straws, helictites, cave bacon, draperies and many other speleothems. The Silent Splendor room houses one of the longest soda straw formations in the Ozarks. It measures more than nine feet in length.
Two bottomless lakes and an underground bridge can be seen on the one hour and 15 minute guided tour. The first lake, South Lake, is home to the Ozark Blind Cave Salamander.
Cosmic Cavern also offers gemstone mining, fossil digs and wild cave tours. Ark. 21 N.; 870-749-2298; cosmiccavern.com
Bull Shoals Caverns
At Bull Shoals Caverns in Bull Shoals, Confederate soldiers pulled saltpeter out of the grotto to make gunpowder. This limestone cave contains an underground river as well as drapery, soda straws and other typical formations. Unique to the cave is a formation named the Liberty Bell, which is colored by iron oxide and hematite; and one of the rarest of all cave formations, boxwork. It forms when a crack appears in a clay-covered ledge. Water and minerals seep in and harden. When the clay is washed away, the formation is left.
The Cathedral Room is the highest point in the cave and contains a chime-like formation which makes beautiful music when struck with a padded stick. The lowest point in the tour is 95 feet below the surface and 600 feet from the entrance. Guided tours are about 45 minutes to an hour long. Mountain Village 1890 is an above-ground historical attraction at the same location. Off Ark. 178; 800-445-7177; 1890village.com
Old Spanish Treasure Cave
As legend has it, more than 350 years ago Spanish conquistadors buried their treasure deep within what is now known as Old Spanish Treasure Cave in Sulphur Springs. Over the years, many explorers looked for the gold, which remains hidden if, indeed, it ever existed. However, a stone on the property bears a map thought to have been carved more than 300 to 350 years ago. An oak tree beside the stone contains some trace remnants of a map as well. Reportedly, some helmets, pieces of armor, weapons and a few gold coins have been found over time. The hunt continues today.
The cave offers a well-lighted, non-strenuous guided tour that takes approximately one hour. Visitors can also try their luck at gemstone panning. Ark. 59; 479-787-6508; spanish-treasure-cave.com
Mystic Caverns in Harrison is actually two caves separated by 60 feet of rock. Mystic, which has been opened to public tours since the 1920s, contains one large room featuring a 28-foot "pipe organ" among its formations. Crystal Dome Cavern next door was discovered in 1967. Because of its later discovery, the eight-stories-high cave is the epitome of pristine. Scenic 7 Byway; 888-743-1739; mysticcaverns.com
Visitors to Onyx Cave in Eureka Springs take self-guided tours. Radio headphones guide visitors past amazing formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Ramps provide access to the cave and a non-strenuous trail goes through it. Off U.S. 62 E.; 479-253-9321
War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake
An underground stream runs through War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake near Rogers. The cave contains unusual dome pits, some reaching 60 feet in height, abundant crinoid fossils, rimstone dams and waterfalls. The natural entrance, which is surrounded by plantings, is located on Beaver Lake, so visitors can arrive via car or boat. The tour is an easy walk, with no stairs or tight places.
Cave lore involves bluff-dwellers, outlaws, moonshiners and explorers. Other activities available at the cavern include panning for semi-precious gemstones and maneuvering through the Lost in the Woods Maze. In the summer, the cavern’s Smoke Signal Café is open Scenic Ark. 12; 479-789-2909; www.wareaglecavern.com
Blanchard Springs Cavern
Discovered in 1963, Blanchard Springs in Mountain View is filled with unspoiled formations such as the 65-foot-high "The Column," as well as another huge formation named "The Flowstone." The cavern was opened to the public in 1973. There are guided walking tours and a wild cave tour. Off Ark. 14 N.; 870-757-2211; www.blanchardcavetours.com/