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    Blanchard Springs Cavern: Cave system run by the U.S. Forest Service

    9:52 PM, Jul 1, 2010   |    comments
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    • A guide gives visitors their first look at the cave.
    • Phillip Dobbins grew up only a few miles from the caves.
    • The cave formations are considered "alive" or still growing.
        

    It is breathtaking from the moment you first walk in. A 200-foot elevator ride leaves you truly in another world - one created more than 300 million years ago.

    "They poked their head up right about there, on the base of those formations on the wall there," explains one of the tour guides.

    Locals knew of the caves since the 30's - but serious exploration didn't start until the 60's. Back then, Life magazine called it "one of the most extraordinary finds of the century".

    "This tour opened in 1973. the Discovery Trail opened in 1977. We've had as many as 150 thousand people a year," says Phillips Dobbins, who is the supervisory guide at Blanchard Springs Cavern.

    The U.S. Forest Service spent ten years creating the trails through two massive underground rooms. Visitors are guided within feet of living cave formations.

    Dobbins explains, "This is a stalagmite. Water has formed this from dripping from the ceiling. You can tell how big this is that you had water pretty fast from the ceiling at one time. This room is nearly four football fields long. It doesn't seem that big. You don't really have any reference points. You look at it and go well it may be one or two football fields long. But you don't have anything to really judge it by. And the formations, that one we looked at just a while ago is 65 feet tall. It doesn't look that big."

    Other formations are obviously big. The single column in the center of the big room reaches six stories from the cave floor to the ceiling.

    But there are small delicate wonders too. Hollow "soda straws" are created by dripping water, each drop deposits another thin layer of calcium carbonate. Over time, the straws grow in length.

    A massive structure of cave curtains is growing too, the water dripping down the outside and adding a layer of calcium carbonate here too.

    "It's absolutely incredible down there. It's breathtaking." Phillip Wallace drove from Florida to see the caves.

    He used to live in the area. But this is his first time to see the caves at Blanchard Springs.

    Wallace says, "I have actually hunted around up here when I was a teenager with my father and I found some small caves hunting. But we never had the opportunity to come to Blanchard and go through the caverns. So it was real treat."

    The upper level of the cave is accessible to even those in wheelchairs. For those in for a longer walk, the Discovery Trail takes you deeper and includes almost 700 stair steps.
    And a special Wild Tour takes small groups into unimproved parts of the cave.

    Mother Nature has blessed Arkansas with many natural wonders and spectacles. And here under the Ozark National Forest - is one of her oldest and most impressive creations.

     

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