Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Blanchard Springs Caverns - Trails Underground!

This weekend, some good friends came in from out of town and I wanted to show them what Arkansas had to offer.  Since they live in NYC and Philly, I decided not to try to out-city them and instead took them on a tour of northern Arkansas after showing off our rooftop garden, hitting the Fayetteville Farmers' Market, and raiding the apartment's community garden for supplies.

My goal was to take them on a float from Tyler Bend to Gilbert and also visit Blanchard Springs Caverns.  While the weather didn't cooperate for the float (tons of lightening and 1.5 inches of rain), we did make it the caves which are a great place to go to get away from storms or intense summer heat.
Blanchard Springs has 3 incredible trails underground and some scenic, if less unique, surface hiking trails.

We did the short 0.4 mi. Dripstone Trail located 200+ feet below the surface.  The trail is paved with a non-slip surface and lined with a handrail.  It is even wheelchair accessible, but has some very steep slopes that might require some extra assistance.  The Dripstone Trail is the shortest and easiest of the three trails in the cave system and being the highest in elevation, it has the most detailed and spectacular formations; making it, in my opinion, the best trail for first-time visitors, individuals with physical limitations, or people who aren't fond of tight, dark spaces inhabited by bats.

The photos below are from our recent visit.  As GPS units don't work well underground, I grabbed a copy of a map of the cave trails, but have since misplaced it.  I will upload a scan of it if I ever find it, but it is hard to get lost down there since there are two humorous and informative guides herding you along the whole time.

Blanchard Springs Caverns

Blanchard Springs Caverns

Blanchard Springs Caverns

The other two underground trails are the Discovery Trail and the Wild Cave Tour.  The Discovery Trail is 1.2 mi. with lots of steps and travels through "both barren, water-carved passages and chambers with spectacular formations".  Of additional interest, the trail passes the natural entrance and runs alongside the cave stream.  The Wild Cave Tour is just that, with visitors donning caving gear and exploring less-developed and less-traveled parts of the cave.
Call ahead or check the website for updates and tour departure times.  If you arrive at an awkward time and have an hour to kill, visit the nearby campground area for a swim or short-hike, but do not miss the 1970's era film in the auditorium that shows shortly before the tours depart.  I've seen it a dozen times over the decades and love the music, poetic narrative, and dated animation style used.  I hope they never update this video.

No visit to this part of the state is complete without a stroll around the square in Mountain View to hear some of the best, and most authentic, live folk music around.  If you have lots of time, be sure to visit the Ozark Folk Center.  As long as I'm straying away from the subject of trails, Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs and the Kenda Drive-In theater in Marshall are two other great attractions in the area.

There are some great town names in the part of the state as well: the caves are in Fifty-six, and Timbo, Prim, and Yellville are not far away.

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