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.

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 Activity
Create your own cave. As water flows beneath the Earth's surface it dissolves and erodes the rock, forming the cavities that become caves.
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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.
America's ride thru cave
Missouri caves are well known as the most beautiful caves to see in North America and Fantastic Caverns ranks #1 by many. It's America's favorite ride-through cave attraction and uses their signature red Jeeps to drive you around through the cave.
Fantastic Caverns' Adventure Tour offers enrichment opportunities
Cub Scouts and participants of a new gifted outreach project got a sneak-peek of the upcoming art, science and history program coming to Fantastic Caverns called Adventure Tour. This was an opportunity for enrichment for the kids, and allowed the team at Fantastic Caverns to practice the program before its launch.
Fossilized limestone from Phenix Marble used in new construction
Phenix Marble Company mines block from the same Fossilized limestone deposit that also houses Fantastic Caverns. Stone from Phenix Marble Quarry to be used in grounds improvement projects at Fantastic Caverns.
Saturated grounds provide unique opportunities for visitors
Fantastic Caverns offers free walk-through of the Hall of Giants after extensive rainfall causes flooding.
Cave mapping our Missouri cave, Fantastic Caverns
Cave mapping a cave system is no easy task, but cave maps are useful to scientists and conservationists - and to our many visitors that come to see Fantastic Caverns. Learn how our Missouri cave system was mapped to show direction, length, width, and locations of many of the cave formations inside.
Summer Discovery, Fantastic Caverns' summertime program
Fantastic Caverns had the Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield participate in their Summer Discovery program.
Missouri State University students filmed at Fantastic Caverns
Fantastic Caverns worked with Missouri State University (MSU) students on a new school film project titled, "What if it’s Poison".
What The Great Blue Hole and Fantastic Caverns have in common
What The Great Blue Hole, Richard Branson and Fantastic Caverns have in common. The same processes that created the limestone caves of the Ozarks, such as Fantastic Caverns, also created The Great Blue Hole.
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Fantastic Caverns
4872 N Farm Rd 125
Springfield, MO 65803
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