We were off to a fairly good start when we left on our 2010 summer vacation at about 3pm on August 6. Unfortunately that didn’t last long when we got stuck in a thunderstorm (the rain came down pretty good!) and had to deal with Friday rush hour. The construction on Highway 75 didn’t help either, and we didn’t make it quite as far as we’d hoped, and spent the night in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
On August 7th (Saturday) our plan was to make it as far as St. Robert, Missouri, to see Nick, who was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood at the time. He didn’t have a pass until mid afternoon, and we had some time to kill. I looked at the map…. yes, I still like to have a map on hand, even though we have a GPS… and saw that there were some caverns just north of Springfield, Missouri, and we made it there just after lunch.
Fantastic Caverns is the only ride-though cavern in the US and the tour is held in a Jeep-drawn tram. When we walked out of the door to board the tram, I gave the driver our tickets and told him there were four of us…. and he said that was perfect, because he needed four people to sit in the Jeep with him! How lucky is that? It was nice, not having to sit squished in the trailer like everyone else.
Here you can see the entrance to the cave, and our driver walking in, to open the doors to allow the Jeep to drive through.
The cavern was discovered by John Knox and his hunting dog in 1862. Knox did not want the cave to be exploited (as a possible source of saltpeter) by the Union or Confederate governments, so he kept the cave’s existence quiet. It wasn’t until five years later, on February 27, 1867 that the first exploration took place.
Riding wasn’t even an option back in 1867, when the first known explorers visited Fantastic Caverns. They were 12 women who, equipped with ropes and ladders, ventured inside to answer the owner’s advertisement for cave explorers. The names of the 12 women still remain on a cave wall today.
Humans have never inhabited these cavers; however, a variety of animals do find a home here. The grotto salamander, the cave crayfish and the rare, blind Ozark cavefish can all be fund dwelling in Fantastic Caverns. Clean, unpolluted groundwater is vital to these animal and to the cave’s overall health, and water quality is carefully monitored. (We didn’t see any of these animals during our tour)
The temperature inside Fantastic Caverns is about 60°F (15°C) year-round.
Pictured below are two huge stalagmites in the Hall of Giants.
The caverns were used as a speak-easy during the prohibition years and hosted music concerts during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The shows were broad cast on KGBX radio in the 1970’s.
(Excerpts from fantasticcaverns.com and wikipedia.org)