The underground fleet

The underground fleet

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

Fantastic Caverns may not be inhabited by humans but the cave system does have a thriving ecology of small critters that call it home.

As visitors board a comfortable Jeep-drawn tram for the 55-minute tour of America's Ride-Thru Cave, they begin a journey back in time. People are very recent additions to this picture. Human history adds up to little more than a few ticks on the geologic clock by which caves count their age.

Fantastic Caverns, just northwest of Springfield, MO, is one of more than 7,300 documented caves that dot the Missouri land­scape, and more are still being discovered. Of these, just 17 are open to visitors - and the only one offers an all-riding tour.

Riding wasn’t even an option back in 1867 when the first known explorers visited Fantastic Caverns. They were twelve women who, equipped with ropes and ladders, ventured inside to answer the landowner’s advertisement for cave explorers. With only flickering torches or lanterns for light, they surely saw only a hint of the cave's splendors as they groped their way along its dark and slippery passages. It is unlikely that anyone else had been there before them - the cave shows no signs of human habitation.

Taking a cave tour today

Today's riding tour tells a different story. Along the roomy, brightly lit passageways, visitors can see thousands of speleothems - cave formations that include stalactites and stalagmites, tiny soda straws, cave pearls, massive columns and flowstones, thin and delicate draperies and more. These distinctive formations, each one like no other and all created by water a drop at a time, take us back through the ages to a day when no human footsteps or rumbling propane-powered Jeeps were heard here.

While those early explorers had to be in good physical condition, modern visitors don’t have to worry about stamina. Since today’s tour is entirely by tram, with no walking required, families with small children, seniors and individuals with physcial limitations can all sit back and enjoy the ride. Temperatures inside the cave always hover around 60 degrees making it a wonderful adventure regardless of the season or weather.

The process that created southern Missouri’s caves - called a "cave factory" by one geologist - began a very long time ago. Cave formation has been going on in the Ozarks since seismic activity pushed the rocks up from a shallow sea that once covered the region. While it is difficult to tell the exact age of a cave, we know that Fantastic Caverns is sure to be thou­sands of years old.

The hilly topography and abundant limestone found in the Ozarks make it an ideal setting for cave creation. Just add water and the list of ingredients is complete. As the water percolates through the porous limestone, it chemically eats away at the rock, leaving the voids and cavities that grow into caves - some of which are quite extensive. Some Missouri cave systems are known to be more than 20 miles long. Visitors find Fantastic Caverns to be a spectacular showcase of our state's underground phenomenon - located right here in the heart of the Ozarks.

Humans have never inhabited these caverns, however, a variety of animals do find a home here. The Grotto Salamander, the Bristly Cave Crayfish, and the rare, blind Ozarks Cavefish - a reclusive little creature no longer than a finger - can all be found dwelling in the lower levels of Fantastic Caverns. Clean, unpolluted groundwater is vital to these animals and to the cave's overall health. That’s why water quality is carefully monitored.

Convenient to an assortment of destinations, including Bass Pro Shop, Wonders of Wildlife, and just a short drive from Branson, Missouri and its attractions, Fantastic Caverns offers visitors a leisurely side trip from 21st-century life into the distant past.

Latest Blog Posts

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

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".
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 from World War II 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.
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.
Protecting Fantastic Caverns from TCE
How Fantastic Caverns is preserving and protecting it's natural cave attraction from man-made chemicals, so the cave system can be enjoyed by people for generations to come.
The Cave Factory
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.
Fantastic Caverns upgrades to LED lighting
Fantastic Caverns will begin using LED technology in order to illuminate their cave attraction without the added costs that traditional light bulbs would have on the environment.
Relief from the hot weather
Escape the heat in Springfield, Missouri by going underground to the various caves systems that consistently stay at cool temperatures.
Phone: 417-833-2010
Fax: (417) 833-2042
Fantastic Caverns
4872 N Farm Rd 125
Springfield, MO 65803
Trip Adviser certificate of excellence for Fantastic Caverns