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Exploring Arkansas Caves

Stepping inside Mystic Caverns just outside Harrison and Hurricane River Cave in Pindall.
Many Arkansans have gone exploring across the state from hiking, boating and just driving along scenic highways to the more daring rock climbing, hang gliding and much more.

Some of them have taken the even more adventurous route of checking out Arkansas caves. This time of year is perfect for heading up into the Ozark Mountains and enjoying the beauty of the fall foliage along the way.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism (ADPT) website devotes an entire page to the caves and caverns in the state (click here). The information there teases potential tourists with:

"Visitors who venture beneath the surface will find subterranean lakes and streams, mazes, crystals, fossils, cave creatures such as blind trout and salamanders, and an array of formations with names like flowstone, helictite, stalagmite and stalactite."

Eight caves and caverns are listed on the ADPT website (Blanchard Springs Caverns, Bull Shoals Caverns, Cosmic Caverns (Berryville), Onyx Cave (Eureka Springs), Old Spanish Treasure Cave, and War Eagle Cavern). The other two, which this report examines more closely, are Hurricane River Cave and Mystic Caverns.

Hurricane River Cave (click here for website) is south of Harrison on Highway 65 in the small town of Pindall. Visitors are usually greeted at the cave entrance by a cascading waterfall. This past weekend the waterfall was out of commission for maintenance that will ensure it still flows even during the cold of winter.

Once visitors step on the trail, they travel deeper and deeper inside the earth. They walk down a corridor filled with calcite crystal formations where some crevices are barely passable and require you to either turn sideways or duck down and nearly crawl for a short distance (claustrophobia sufferers take note!). But it's all worth it because the corridor leads to the largest room in the cave, the "Canyon Room," where there are wall to wall formations perfect for picture-taking.

The formations to see are called draperies, soda straws, and rimstone dams. There's also columns, moonmilk, stalactoflats, canopies, and more.

History is also alive inside Hurricane River Cave. Its brochure boasts of its being the only commercial cave to have discovered Saber-toothed tiger remains and Ancient Short Faced Bear trails and claw marks. A complete human skeleton uncovered in 1989 was determined to be the remains of a Native American boy. You'll also see many fossil remains imprinted on the walls, and while there are no cave drawings, we did note writing dated 1875 with two names etched underneath.

Visitors can explore Hurricane River Cave's east passage by boat and on foot, while the more challenging north passage visit offers climbing and crawling above the stream that runs through the cave. You'll get a bit closer to nature on this excursion when you see the occasional red/black-spotted cave salamander and, as you would expect bats, and lots of them squeezed into nooks and crannies or just hanging around.

Hurricane River Cave is open year-round from 9AM to 5PM daily.

Staying south of Harrison, but going north from Hurricane River Cave takes you to Mystic Caverns (click here for website), which is really two caves in one. Inside this Ozarks destination are Mystic Cavern and Crystal Dome Cavern.

This popular tourist destination was discovered in the 1800s by some of the first settlers in the area. Back then, it was known as "Mansion Cave" for its large, open chambers. It's also been called "Wild Horse Cave" for a hand-carved, wooden horse that stood by the ticket office.

More recently, Mystic Caverns was once part of the now long-gone Dogpatch amusement park. In earlier days other amusements took place inside. The main cavern once took on a nightclub atmosphere. It was used by moonshiners, your guide will tell you, as they point out the evidence on the soot-covered walls where the stills were kept. A dance floor was constructed nearby in what became known as the "Ballroom." Other highlights include a 30-foot tall formation appropriately named the "Pipe Organ," and another is called the "Popcorn Room."

On the way in or out, visitors can drop by a rock museum that boasts a 181-piece Arkansas mineral collection on display.

Click here for hours of operation.
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