October 7, 2016 (by Angela)
I’ve been itching to explore the mountains around us, so today we drove up to Mountain View, Arkansas, and beyond to the Ozark and St. Francis National Forest. Located inside this Forest is Blanchard Springs Caverns. From the campground where we are staying it is about an hour and 15 minute drive to the Caverns; the terrain rises slowly upward most of the way. We had to go up the mountains before we could go down into the caverns.
Arriving, we purchased our tickets for an afternoon tour of the caverns. As we had a short wait, Jim and I drove down the mountain a bit to park and hike a trail that goes past the ruins of Mitchell’s Mill and up to the old dam that forms Mirror Lake. We got to see the beautiful water fall that results as excess water flows over the dam; it was as pretty as many of the natural water falls we’ve seen.
Afterwards, we returned to the visitor’s center to depart on our one-hour tour of a portion of the caverns below. We took the Dripstone Tour. Other than the wet floor, it was an easy walk, but before we walked, we had to take a long elevator ride down. Having the elevators installed saved building, using, and maintaining 300 stair steps. (Thanks for the easier way down.) Exiting the elevator, we entered an air lock to maintain the integrity of the air in the cavern. The lowest depth below ground level on our excursion today was 240 feet. The underground cavern was other worldly with a beautiful array of different colored stalactites, stalagmites, columns, etc. The Cathedral Room alone is 50 feet shy of being the length of four football fields placed end to end. Some of the larger formations were five to six stories tall. In this subterranean world; neither the room nor the formations seemed as large as they really are.
Even the mounds of bat poop were interesting. One such mound is located near where a natural entrance to the cave had collapsed during the Madrid Fault quakes about 200 years ago. Since the easy entrance to that area was cut off, bats had to find other places to “hang out” closer to an entrance. To confirm that timing of the change in bat habits, the guano in this pile was tested and dated. The top layer is about 200 years old, and the bottom layer is about 900 years old. I’m sure those bats were upset to have lost their block of the cave when the entrance collapsed a couple of centuries ago.
We really enjoyed our tour of Blanchard Springs Caverns, but we enjoyed the drive in the mountains and the little town of Mountain View as well. Today, we had a mid-afternoon “lunch” at PJ’s Rainbow Café. The décor was interesting, the service good, and the food was excellent. I imagine several trips will be made there in the next couple of weeks as we found several coffee shops, eateries, and other stores we’d like to explore more. In addition, there is an annual event in this small mountain community taking place the last weekend in October, and the name alone has me wanting to go, out of curiosity if nothing else. It is the 34th Annual Bean Fest & Great Arkansas Championship Outhouse Races at the Courthouse Square.
It was a fun-filled yet relaxing afternoon with my hubby. I know doing that today means he has work to do tonight, but it was so nice to be out and about with him. I missed our fun explorations together while he was on the Alaska gig. The neat part is I get to look forward to many more fun adventures with Jim in the very near future.