The Cave Factory

The Cave Factory

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018, by Hubert Heck

Caves like Fantastic Caverns aren't very difficult to create for nature, but it requires a whole lot of time, soluble rock and fresh water.

As you drive through the gently rolling countryside just northwest of Springfield, Missouri, you would not suspect that nature was operating a factory beneath the road. Not just a factory, but also a complex manufacturing system all hidden underground. Below the surface of the Ozarks, a Cave Factory is operating at full capaci­ty!

Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week for untold ages, this cave factory has created Fantastic Caverns along with nearly 7,300 plus other caves in Missouri alone. The karst areas of the Ozarks - generally the southern half of Missouri, north Arkansas and parts of eastern Oklahoma and Kansas - are a perfect place for this cave building process to take place.

Jerry Vineyard, who was once Missouri's Deputy State Geologist, coined the term "Cave Factory' several years ago. He compares the formation of caves in the Ozarks to an automobile assembly line running at full capacity. The process of making caves never comes to an end. As soon as one is complete another one has started. Caves are created; they have a lifespan, providing habitat for some animals, and, possibly for humans; and eventually, if nature takes its course, the same forces that created caves will destroy them.

Caves begin as springs, Vineyard explains. When you see a large spring what you're actually seeing is a cave in its formative stages. "You're seeing the cave factory at work," he said There are a number of large springs in the Ozarks. Big Spring, Bennett Spring, Alley Spring, Mammoth Spring, and Round Spring are just a few.

The list of ingredients for making a cave is short. You need plenty of limestone, a rock that can be dissolved in groundwater. Add plenty of rain to supply the groundwater. Finally, since water flows downhill, you need what geologist call "relief" - uneven land. There's no shortage of that in the hilly Ozarks.

As it flows beneath the Earth's surface, the groundwater chemically and physically eats away at the limestone. This dissolves and erodes the rock forming the cavities that become caves. The same action also produces cave formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, and many others. Unless it's interrupted, this process will continue throughout the life of the cave, until the cave finally deteriorates and is destroyed by nature. Sometimes there are remnants - a natural bridge or tunnel perhaps - to indicate that a cave was once there.

The process that left the Ozarks honeycombed with caves, springs, and sinkholes is an extremely slow one. Ac­cording to Vineyard, "It is very difficult to determine the age of a cave because the rates of water flow and chem­ical activity vary widely throughout time. The caves of the Ozarks are very old, but we really don't know how old."

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The latest about our Missouri cave, and other Fantastic Caverns news.

Ozarks Cave Explorer's Club
Travel and tourism are inextricably part of the fabric of the Ozarks’ culture and economy. And caves have been a part of the tourism industry in the Ozarks for a very long time. Find a list of caves in Missouri and Arkansas participating in the Missouri Caves Association’s Ozarks Cave Explorer Passport Program.
Discovered by a Dog
Fantastic Caverns is pet friendly. Fantastic Caverns was discovered by an Ozarks farmer, or more precisely, by his dog. While tracking an animal, the famer's bloodhound disappeared into a small hole at the base of a bluff.
Build Your Own Terrarium and Monitor Water Quality
Stormwater run-off can easily pick up pollutants and cause erosion. Plants and trees help filter stormwater run-off and prevent erosion. The water flowing through the lower levels of Fantastic Caverns, began as stormwater on the surface. Create your own terrariums and monitor water quality.
Create Your Own Cave Confections
Create your own cave treats following these simple recipes. Caves provide habitats for unique species. Make your own edible cave habitats in the form of hollow meringue cookies or dessert rolls.
Cave and Karst Picture Finds
Find cave animals in these photos. The karst terrain of the Ozarks provides habitat for unique life. There is a very delicate ecosystem beneath our feet.
Create Your Own Aquifer in a Cup
Create your own miniature aquifer in a cup. The limestone present in the Ozarks has cracks and voids that allow water to permeate and pass through it. Water flowing through the limestone passages of Fantastic Caverns, began as rainwater.
Create Your Own Crystals
You can easily grow your own crystals using sugar, salt or alum. Many crystals are minerals, and occur naturally. Minerals are the building blocks of rocks, like the limestone of Fantastic Caverns.
Cave and Karst Word Searches
Find words related to caves and cave life in these fun Cave and Karst Word Searches. Missouri is known as the Cave State, boasting more than 7,500 caves and counting.
Make Your Own Limestone Fossil Sugar Cookies
You can find fossilized remains of ancient creatures within the limestone of Fantastic Caverns. Create your own limestone-inspired fossils in the form of sugar cookies.
Create Your Own Cave in a Cup
Create your own cave. As water flows beneath the Earth's surface it dissolves and erodes the rock, forming the cavities that become caves.
Health and Safety at Fantastic Caverns
The health and safety of our guests are top of mind as we continue to offer our memorable ride through cave experiences. We have increased the frequency of our everyday health and safety protocols and procedures, and we are taking precautions to keep everyone safe and healthy.
The underground fleet
Climb aboard the underground fleet at Fantastic Caverns and explore the world beneath your feet. Touring Fantastic Caverns by Jeep drawn trams helps preserve the cave. America's Ride Thru Cave may not be inhabited by humans but the cave system does have a thriving ecology of small critters that call it home.
Phone: 417-833-2010
Fax: (417) 833-2042
Fantastic Caverns
4872 N Farm Rd 125
Springfield, MO 65803
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