Caving in the Ozarks

Talking Rocks CavernMissouri is know as “The Cave State” because it contains the most caves of all America’s states, only second to Tennessee. Even so, Missouri contains 6,300 known caves that invite visitors to delve into an enchanting underground world of delicate wildlife, beautiful rock formations and striking colored minerals.

Spelunking and cave tours are a year round activity, especially for those in the Ozarks. If you’re new to the area or have never explored the underground caverns that span Missouri’s beautiful landscape, here are some answers to the questions you might be asking yourself.

Why does Missouri have so many caves?

The thousands of Missouri caves are a direct result of what’s known as Karst topography. Watersheds.org defines it as, “a landscape created by groundwater dissolving sedimentary rock such as limestone.” This kind of topography typically results in caves, sinkholes and tunnels but also makes for a strikingly beautiful landscape. Have you ever noticed the beautiful hills in Branson? That’s Karst topography for you!

Marvel CaveHistorically, what were caves in the Ozarks used for?

Over the years, the many caves of Missouri did not remain empty but were rather filled with inhabitants of all kinds. Bears found them particularly inviting for hibernation, native Americans used them for shelter from harsh weather and moonshiners were able to maintain a covert operation under cover of the land. Today, some of these caves may be blocked off for the safety of the public and the wildlife within it but many of them are open for public tours, especially in the Branson area.

What kind of wildlife will I find inside a cave?

Some animals just use the entrances of caves for hibernation, safety or reproduction but don’t actually live underground. Mammals like raccoons, wolves and bears are examples of that. But there are many animals that actually thrive inside caves like snails, blind cave fish and spiders. Much of the wildlife inside caverns are almost too small to see but one microorganism you might be able to spot is actually a bacteria called actinomycete. If you happen to spot a group of florescent, shiny rocks, don’t think you’ve hit the jackpot and discovered diamonds. Because in reality, you’ve spotted actinomycete!

Marvel CaveWhat caves in the Branson area can I go into?

The Branson area offers a variety of cave exploration opportunities that are perfect for the whole family. Check out one of these great options, all in Branson or within 45 minutes of the city limit.

Fantastic Caverns 

Located in Springfield, Missouri, these caverns offer the only ride-through cave tour in America. Perfect for young children or older guests who prefer to sit instead of walk through the caverns, you’ll hop on a Jeep-drawn tram and explore the beautiful rock formations beneath the Earth.

Marvel Cave

The foundation for the popular family-oriented amusement park Silver Dollar City is actually Marvel Cave. Long before the rides and attractions of Silver Dollar City were even built, visitors were flocking to the Ozarks to venture 500 feet below the earth’s surface. Today, you can still explore Marvel Cave when you visit Silver Dollar City. Just be prepared to climb nearly 600 stairs back up to the cave entrance.

Crystal Cave

Just 45 minutes north of Branson lies Crystal Cave, a fascinating historic underground structure. You’ll see colorful rock formations, Native American markings and some of the interesting wildlife that thrives in the dark corners of the underground.

Talking Rocks Caverns

This cave got its name because of a statement made by Waldo Powell that noted how the evidence and characteristics of the cave told him a story about how it was formed. Located in Branson, the sparkling crystals and comfortable year round 62 degree environment make this cave a popular tourist destination.

Next time you’re in the Ozarks, make it a goal to experience some of the beautiful caves of the area. I assure you, it will make for an experience the whole family will remember for a lifetime.

A Look Inside the Dewey Short Visitor Center

IMG_6420Table Rock Dam is one of Branson’s most impressive man-made attractions boasting an impressively large stature and a fascinating history.

The dam is 6,423 feet long and stands 252 feet above the riverbed. It was built for hydroelectric power, water supply and to prevent flooding of the Ozarks that could potentially destroy thousands of businesses and homes. Construction of the entire dam was completed in August of 1961.

The Dewey Short Visitor Center is right on White Lake near the Table Rock Dam on Missouri 165 in Branson. The center is a great resource for visitors and residents alike to see the dam up close and learn about its construction, power and the history and wildlife of the Ozarks.

The visitor center features several interactive exhibits on the lower level spanning the subjects of Ozarks history, an overview of the construction and purpose for the dam and the wildlife that inhabits the White River area.

Both kids and adults will find these exhibits interesting! One of my favorite exhibits was one that clearly demonstrated the energy needed to power simple objects like a light bulb, a coffee grinder or a hair dryer. By turning a knob, you’ll get to use your own energy to attempt to power these objects. The light bulb was by far the easiest but sadly, I never managed to get the hair dryer going. Either I’m just really weak or it really takes more energy than I thought to get a hair dryer going.

The historic exhibits were also intriguing because one in particular featured a brief video clip of extreme flooding in the Ozarks before the dam was constructed. When the land was flooded, residents lost everything and it took them a long time to get back up on their feet. They were forced to grab anything and everything they could in order to get their families out alive and start all over again. That eye-opening exhibit really made me understand the significance to Table Rock Dam.

Back on the main level of the Dewey Short Visitor Center, you’ll find doors that lead out to a covered outdoor deck that provides incredible views of the dam and the White River. I was visiting on a dreary, rainy day so my pictures looked a little sad but on a nice sunny day, you’ll be able to capture amazing pictures of the dam. Sit around long enough and this time of year you’ll probably spot a pair of nesting eagles too! Visitor center staff say like to fly around and pick up snacks from the lake.

Just a short drive from the action-packed strip of Branson, the Dewey Short Visitor Center is a worthwhile stop to make next time you’re in town.

Stop by any day of the week from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. The visitor center is at 4500 Missouri 165, Branson, just 3 miles from the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery.

A Look Inside the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery

IMG_6361Branson is home to the one-of-a-kind Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, where 350,000-400,000 pounds of rainbow trout are produced yearly.

You would think a fish hatchery might be a dull place, but the truth couldn’t be more of the opposite. The Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is an incredible educational experience that the whole family can enjoy. And best of all? It’s free!

Yesterday I headed to the fish hatchery, uncertain of what I would find. Naturally I assumed I would see a good number of trout but I had no idea just how many I would see. According to www.mdc.mo.gov, the hatchery is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s largest trout-rearing hatchery and now that I’ve been there I can better understand how many trout are really produced here.

IMG_6346Located right below Table Rock Dam, this educational facility provides guided tours weekdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and guests can enjoy a self-guided tour the rest of the year. The hatchery includes a visitor center, complete with fascinating exhibits and displays of live animals, a 50-seat auditorium, sitting areas, hiking trails, a boat ramp with fishing access points on Lake Taneycomo and so much more.

Inside the visitors center, there’s an area where you can watch the trout swimming underwater and it’s incredible how big some of them are. The informative panels below the glass in the picture above feature a ruler so you can measure just how big the trout are as they swim by. I saw several that were a full 12 inches and even one that measured in at 14 inches!

Although the inside of the visitors center is great, outside is where the real adventure is. When you step out the back door of the center, you’ll come face to face with dozens of raceways, or 100-foot long pools of moving water. Each raceway’s total water content measures about 2 1/2 feet and guests can look down into each one and watch hundreds of trout swimming together. These raceways operate year round and house trout in different stages of growth. Water quality is very important at a fish hatchery, so the raceways are cleaned every two weeks and staff drain and power wash them.

IMG_6375At the Shepherd of the Fish Hatchery, you’ll be introduced to the complete process of breeding and stocking trout. It’s fascinating to learn how in just 16 to 20 months, trout are raised from an egg to the 11-inch fish that are released into Lake Taneycomo. Feed machines are also available outside so make sure to bring a few quarters so the kids can feed the fish. It’s a great way to interact with the wildlife of the hatchery.

If you’re looking for something fun and free to do in Branson, head to the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery for some quality, educational outdoor fun. The hatchery is just 10 minutes from the intersection of Highway 76 and Fall Creek Road near Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater.

 

 

C of O Attraction Guidebook: Gaetz Tractor Museum

A little museum tucked away in the Branson area just happens to house some very fascinating historic machinery.

The Gaetz Tractor Museum is located on College of the Ozarks campus near the college dairy and is often overlooked. An interesting display of agricultural history, the museum is free to visitors and offers a nostalgic look into the evolution of farming equipment over the years.

The exhibit features a 1935 John Deere B, a Canadian 1919 Massey-Harris, an antique Marseilles-Adams cyclone feed power corn sheller and a 1930 Rumley 6A, among others.

Although small, the Gaetz Tractor Museum is a great stop in the Ozarks for anyone interested in history, antiques or agriculture. (Curiosity was my main reason for stopping by.)

The museum is free and open to the public during normal business hours, so stop by next time you’re in town and take some time to browse this impressive collection!

Check the Branson Shows Blog tomorrow at 3 p.m. for the next blog in the C of O Attraction Guide series on the W. Alton Jones Dairy.

C of O Attraction Guidebook: Edwards Mill

Skyline_Drive_Gristmill_1938Traditional gristmills in America were powered by water and used by local farmers to grind their grain into ground meal or flour. Back in the day, many communities had their own mills, much like this one from 1938 pictured on the right, and were dependent on them for the production of bread and their survival.

Today, most people just pick up their bread from a local supermarket so gristmills aren’t frequently seen in communities around America anymore. But College of the Ozarks features a traditional water-powered mill right on campus, where whole-grain meal and flour are produced. It was built in 1973 with wood harvested from other mills in the state of Missouri.

edwards millEdwards Mill is not just a productive campus element, but a beautiful sight to see. During the spring and summer months, the area is filled with lush green grass and lively trees, visitors, students and a host of ducks and geese that relax on nearby Lake Honor. During the winter months,  Edwards Mill is a peaceful, serene location with quiet waters that visitors can still enjoy.

Edwards Mill was built with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Hubert C. Edwards (hence the name of the mill) and it’s powered by a 12-foot water wheel. The wheel is turned with the runoff water from Lake Honor, which is right across the road. The wheel makes for a great photo op and is a fantastic display of what once was a large part of traditional American communities.

Inside, visitors can enjoy a display of homemade goods produced right there at the mill including small bags of whole-grain meal and flour, hand-woven rugs, shawls, placemats and baskets. Upstairs, students work in a weaving studio to create the products sold on the main floor and downstairs, students hand-weave baskets. There’s also an interesting display of antique milling equipment downstairs that visitors can browse freely.

IMG_6325College of the Ozark’s Edwards Mill is a fascinating place to visit, so definitely stop by! There are always student workers at the mill who are friendly and more than willing to chat about the work they do. For more information about  C of O, visit www.bransonshows.com.

Stay tuned to the Branson Shows Blog for the next article in the C of O Attraction Guide series on The C of O Greenhouses.

Head Out for the 66th Annual Adoration Parade in Branson

Tomorrow evening the streets of historic downtown Branson are expected to be completely filled with visitors and community members in anticipation of the 66th Annual Adoration Parade.

The yearly event draws thousands and features the area’s largest nativity scene which will be lit at 5 p.m. before the parade begins at 5:30 p.m.

Guests will enjoy at least 27 floats and 14 marching bands all encompassing the theme of faith and keeping Christ in Christmas. Of course, the parade will also feature and appearance from everyone’s favorite bearded holiday man, Santa Claus himself.

The parade route has been changed to accommodate the construction downtown. It will begin on Sycamore Street, head down East Main and continue onto Branson Landing Boulevard where it will wrap around North Boardwalk on the shore of Lake Taneycomo.

For more information, please visit www.bransonchamber.com.

C of O Attraction Guidebook: Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen

College of the Ozark’s Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen is located near the center of campus and is open for the public to come in an watch student workers make apple butter, a delicious variety of jellies and more than 25,000 cakes a year.

Of course those homemade goods are also available for purchase as well. (I know you were wondering.)

The college is well known for its delicious fruitcakes and has been producing them for nearly 80 years, so its safe to say that they’ve more than perfected the craft.

The kitchen is open year round and open for public tours from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. but during the months of November and December the kitchen staff moves downstairs to package and ship products. You are still more than welcome to stop by and watch the kitchen staff hard at work or pick up a famous fruitcake for the holidays.

Baked goods always make great Christmas gifts so head to College of the Ozarks’ Fruicake and Jelly Kitchen where you can choose from 20 different flavors of jellies, preserves and apple butter as well as whole grain meals and mixes, hand-woven placemats, coasters and floor looms from the campus mill.

For more information or to print off an order form, please visit www.cofo.edu.

Catch the next blog in the C of O Attraction Guidebook series tomorrow night at 8 p.m. to read about Edwards Mill, a 12-foot water wheel on campus.