Not only above ground are the Ozarks stunning, but underground throughout the mountains are some of the most awe inspiring views you will ever set eyes on: the caverns. When I was a child, late summer weekend nights we would venture out to the hills finding the tiniest of openings through which to belly crawl into caves of all sizes from grand chamber rooms to tiny moonshiner hold outs, exploring, admiring, with a reverence for our homeland, cautious not to touch or damage anything we saw and leave everything just as we found it. Those adventures with my hillbilly family gave me my love of cave exploration and were no doubt an integral part of building my desire for adventure and my caution when venturing into sacred spaces only to photo and preserve, never to damage. (If you’ve never been in a cave, they are alive all around you. You should never touch anything unnecessarily.) Also, as a side effect, it gave me my lack of fear of both the dark and bats.
Today, there are still thousands of openings throughout the Ozarks unknown to tourists (if you find one, do not go in it for very obvious, very dangerous reasons) but there are a handful open for tours, most privately owned and one stunning example brilliantly preserved by the parks service, Blanchard Springs. I know Blanchard like the back of my hand because if you throw a stone from just outside the opening, you will likely hit the land my kin settled a hundred years ago and part of which we still own and live on to this day. And while Blanchard is my favorite for both its beauty and maintenance as a living wonder (no worries, it will be a later post), Josh had never gotten to see any of the Ozark caves so we stopped at War Eagle just outside of Eureka Springs on our ride home. War Eagle Cavern is the Devil’s Gap cave, historically important for being a mainstay to the local Native tribes, its proximity to Pea Ridge Civil War Battlefield and use as a hide out for the Confederates, its role for moonshiners from whence it gained its name, and for its place in the Depression as a shelter for folks in need. While I am not partial to the private ownership of caverns, it is nonetheless pure inspiration and the tours are well guided by people who care deeply about the history and maintenance of the cave. Jerry in particular is a highly knowledgeable and remarkably friendly tour guide. Wait for his tour if you go.