It has been so long since we've had a cave post that it was getting hard to explain why this blog is called Craves, Caves, & Graves! When we were passing through Springfield on our way to Carthage last month, we decided to stop at America's Only Ride Thru Cave: Fantastic Caverns.
That's right, not drive thru, but RIDE thru. Driving your own gasoline powered car through the cave would defeat the purpose of careful preservation. Instead you sit in a hay wagon kind of seat and are pulled by a propane powered Jeep.
Above, the first Jeep, which was refurbished after retirement. I know a lot of people who would like a car like that!
We were there on a chilly day and the entrance/exit had lots of ice stalactites and stalagmites.
Every show cave has some neat feature that sets them apart from other show caves. The ride-thru aspect of Fantastic Caverns is pretty novel, but I have to say my favorite part of this cave is how they control the lights. Usually you have the tour guide flipping switches from one area to the next. At Fantastic Caverns, the tour guide is driving the Jeep, so they use a high powered flashlight pointed at a sensor to turn the lights on and off. So cool!
Below is the formation that is on most of the billboards in the area, I think. Another thing about this cave that I thought was pretty cool is that they have an enormous cave classroom for school groups and scouts. This is a great field trip spot!
Fantastic Caverns was discovered in the 1860s, but the original owner kept it quiet until the Civil War was over so that it wouldn't be exploited for saltpeter. In 1867 he put an ad in the paper looking for people interested in exploring the cave, and what he got was a group of 12 women from the Springfield Ladies Athletic Club. Their names are still on the wall of the cave. The original entrance and path into the cave is so small, it is difficult to picture the ladies of 1867 exploring in the traditional costume of the day. No jeans and sneakers back then!
The cave has been a commercial cave on and off for the last 100 years. It was a speakeasy in the 1920s, and in the 1950s hosted the popular Farm-A-Rama radio show, where the Presley family of Branson started out as a house band, and many popular country music acts played here.
Fantastic Caverns has the requisite gift shop and panning for gold we expect from a show cave, and also has some very lovely nature trails that I hope to get back to in warmer, greener months. Definitely worth a stop when you're in the Branson area. I would give you directions but if you are in the area you will surely see one of the three trillion billboards.