Did you know that there are 2,000 documented caves in Arkansas? There are eight that are privately owned that you can tour. We picked two to see on our road trip. The first one was Cosmic Cavern in Berryville, AK. It calls itself the largest privately owned show cave in Arkansas. We picked this cave because it has a ¨bottomless¨lake. The tour cost $20 per person and take an hour and 15 minutes. It is a cool 64 degrees inside and you don’t need a jacket. If you read their website it sounds like a leisurely walk. It is not. There are quite a few stairs that are very steep and wet. There are also some spaces in which you have to duck low and shimmy around some ledges. None of it was dangerous, but if you are claustrophobic I wouldn’t recommend going on this tour.
Our tour guide, Jeremiah, was full of interesting information and was quick in answering questions. I liked that he even checked one of his answers with another tour guide to make sure he was correct. (That is the teacher in me.) We went down the first set of stairs and stopped in one room where he explained that the tour used to be mined by minors. There is significant smoke damage to a lot of the rock because that it what they used to see. The rock they mined they used for the gear shift in early motor cars. If you shine a light through it, it is see through. It looks like a glowing night light of rock. It didn’t make the owners much money, so they kept exploring. They are still doing so to this day. This tunnel started ten years ago and they have only moved about 60 feet. This is partly due to the mud they need to remove and partly the time constraints.
They call the lake bottomless, but they are not actually sure how deep it runs. There have been divers that have been down 100 feet, but there is a fissure that goes deeper and they have yet to discover how to continue deeper. They guess that it is 300-400 feet deep. One owner thought it would be a good idea to put trout in the lake. It wasn’t. The trout could not find enough to eat and the females were unable to reproduce. There may still be some blind cave fish deep within the fissure though. There are also brightly colored salamanders in the cave. We did not see any. There are NO bats. I thought this was odd considering it is a cave, but true.
This was the first cave I have ever been in that they allowed us to touch a few things. In general you should never touch the walls or any formations in a cave. The oil from your hands will actually stop the formation and damage it. There are also many soda straws that hang from the ceiling (stalagmites) that are very fragile. However, there was one area that they allowed us to touch a ¨brain¨ rock and another that we could touch or lick a rock that many Native Americans used to lick to help their stomach (it has magnesium in it, like Tums).
The most exciting part of the tour was this giant soda straw. You can see it in the distance. It is so impressive because it takes a 100 years to grow an inch and this straw is 9 feet long. Cosmic Cavern also offers a wild cave tour that goes beyond the regular tour, but requires some extra work on your part. Personally, I thought the regular tour was sufficient, but if you require some more adventure in the darkness of a cave, they have it for you.
War Eagle Cavern was the second cave we toured. It is located in Rogers, Arkansas and is located on Beaver Lake. It has several things for you to experience besides the tour including a maze and a Moonshine Shack. We only went on the cavern tour. It was $19 a person and we arrived right before the last tour, which is an hour before closing. We were the only two people on the tour, which was amazing. Our tour guide, Lance, was very knowledgeable and had many stories to tell us. We had learned a bit of the same information on our previous tour, but it was interesting to see a different type of cave. The cave is right next to Beaver Lake and you walk down quite a hill to get to it, but no stairs! The opening of the cave is impressive, which is why I chose it for my cover photo for this article.
Just inside the entrance there is a separate room, which is called the Council Room. The owner is not allowing any tours inside, so Lance told us about all the cool things we could have seen. The most interesting to me is that Native Americans regularly used this side room for council meetings. They never went any further into the cave, there is no evidence of them ever entering it. Native Americans have strong faith and care very much about taking care of their spirits. The darkness of the cave may have stolen their spirit selves, so they never went inside. It was made more difficult by the fact that going inside back in that time would have required going through the water (at 45 degrees) and crawling through darkness.
This cave was different from the other in that it was all smooth walking with no steps. There was one section that you had to duck, but it was otherwise very open and easy to walk. He did warn us that there were bats. They do not usually stay in the cave this late in the season, but the weather has been odd this year and they stayed longer. There are times during the year in which thousands of bats will fly through the cave. Lance estimated that there were at least 100,000 bats there in the winter. We saw quite a few flying around and some were right in front of us. It didn’t bother me, but if bats make you nervous, this is not the cave for you.
The tour only takes you about a half a mile into the cave, but it continues for another four miles. You may also see some colorful salamanders in the cave, but we were not so lucky. If you want to sign up for a wild cave tour it will take you two miles into the cave, but in tight spots. The picture below is where the wild cave tour would begin. However, they would not use these steps. These were created by people who explored the cave before it was widened. This is incredible to me since they would be in total darkness, unless they had a candle.
This was a unique experience since we were the only two people on the tour. It’s crazy how different the two caves were. I’m guessing that the other six caves you can tour all have their own unique experience. I would highly recommend checking out some caves in Arkansas.