"Our caves are very safe. Our walkways and stairs in the cave are hand-laid rock. We have hand rails throughout the caves and they are very well lit, and aren't scary."
What makes people want to explore a wild cave? "The adventure. People love the adventure and experience."
Rush belongs to a local caving club. The Central Region Arkansas Grotto. They meet at 6:30 p.m. the fourth Monday of the month at the north campus of Northark. Rush is anxious to have the club explore a new area of Mystic Caverns during the winter months when the caves are closed to tourists.
Currently 18,000 guests tour the cave during the season. Rush says the highest numbers they had was during the peak years before Dogpatch closed. "The best year since I was here was in 1993. We had a little over 25,000 that season. It dropped to a low of 15,000 when Dogpatch closed." Rush is excited that the numbers are on they way back up.
"We advertise, with the Internet and the Arkansas Tour Guide. They produce 900,000 guides. People can call 1-800-Natural and receive the information from the state. We also produce and distribute 200,000 brochures a year and do billboards in the local area." A survey was done in March, April and part of May and discovered 36 percent of their customers had picked up the brochure. 19 percent said they had been here before or they had relatives or friends that had been here before and 15 percent found them from the Internet. Guests come from all over the United States come to tour the caves.
Chris was visiting with his family from Texas and he said he loved the caves. But as only an inquisitive rambunctious young man can say he added, "But I also hate them too because I can't touch anything." Just for guests like Chris, there is one formation in Mystic Caverns that can be touched. The oils from the human skin stops the formations from growing any further. The formation people can touch has even been smoothed on one side from so much contact.
To tour both caves the cost is $9.95 plus tax for adults. Children between 5 and 12 are $4.95 plus tax. One cave is $7.95 or $3.95. "We cheaper than any other guided tour cave in the area." Seven employees are on staff to conduct the tours and operate the gift shop. The tour last around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Mystic Cavern was first discovered in the 1850's and has more formation per square foot than any other show cave in the state. Mystic is the easiest of the two caves to get into. Guests go 110 feet underground to get into Crystal Dome Cavern. The most photographic spot in Mystic Caverns cave is the Pipe organ formation. It is 26-27 feet tall and 10 feet thick and hollow inside.
The earliest physical evidence of visitors dates back to 1919 when Adam Kolbe carved his name and the date on a formation. In the 1920's land owners Jim & Bob Gurley installed a wooded ladder into the sinkhole entrance and leveled the cave floors to establish trails and opened it to the public for the first time. Tours were conducted by the Gurley's with kerosene lanterns as a light source and the cost was 5 cents.
In the 1930's visitors entered the cave through steep concrete steps. The cost of 25 cents included a pair of coveralls and a kerosene lantern. A rope hung beside the entrance as an aid to visitors descending into the cave.
The cave closed to the general public from 1938-1949. During this time the cave was open to anyone and visited by many locals.
The lowest point of Mystic Caverns is only about 60 feet underground. The "end room" is where a still was in operation. It is believed much of the damage to the cave occurred during this time. A still and a wooden dance floor entertained visitors on the weekends. "Everything in the cave used to be solid black on top. During the winter of 1993 a pressure sprayer was used to clean the formations. Some of the black would not come off because new formations had grown over the soot. A huge flow stone was discovered during the clean up. It had been protected from the smoke damage by mud. A trail of black is still evident where the majority of the fire was and the smoke escaping the cave along the ceiling. Breakage also occurred during this time. Rocks were thrown at the formations to break off pieces that could be sold. It is against the law now to remove or damage any property inside caves."
The cave also contains pure white cave coral. Some of the tips are orange because the water that has caused it to form most recently has rust in it and changed the color. Helecites are relatively rare. They grow in every direction. A tube inside allows water to flow through. Water doesn't drip off very often, so gravity doesn't determine the direction of the growth. Some grow horizontally from the side of the wall. The helecites are a soft, brittle rock. It is calcite and has a hardness of 3 on a Mohs' scale. Diamonds are a 10. Quartz crystal is a 6 or 7 by comparison.
On the ceiling are fossils. Geologists say they are ancient sea creatures called crymolists. They attach themselves to the ocean floor and had a stem that would come up and had tentacle-like things that would gather food. The stems are what survived to fossilize. That's what geologists say, and perhaps that is true, or perhaps God created it this way to confound us." Steve said with a chuckle.
'Moon Milk' is on some of the walls and ceiling. It is a calcium carbonate bacterial growth. Native American used to go into caves and scrape it off and use it for medicines. "A modern version of tums" guide Krissy Steffen said.
Before people realized they should be conservative of the cave, a jack hammer cut through one formation in the process of installing the walkways. The 'monkey' formation is a favorite story of children.
Albert Raney bought the property in 1949 and named the property Mystic Caverns. "We don't know who discovered it originally. We suspect it was discovered in the 1840's when the area was first settled. Tours with electricity started in 1950."
Crystal Dome Caverns
Crystal Dome Cavern, with its' 8-story dome was discovered over 100 years later and was called "the prettiest of the privately owned caves," by the Arkansas Times.
Crystal Dome Cave is located 40 feet from the entrance of Mystic Caverns and was found when the driveway was being built in 1968. Dogpatch was building the existing driveway with a bull-dozer. Jim Schermerhorn was operating the bull-dozer when the blade broke through into an opening. He immediately stopped the bulldozer, took his flashlight and crawled into the opening to explore. What he found was the spectacular, undisturbed cavern, originally called "Old Man Moses Cave", now called "Crystal Dome". Schermerhorn camped out at the site until the opening of the cave could be secured. The tour allows people to see the cave in its "pristine state with 90 percent of the formations still growing." Dogpatch Caverns was scheduled to re-open in 1968 under the new name and much improved conditions. For several reasons the newly discovered Crystal Dome did not open until August of 1981.
Hundreds of tubular stalactites form along the fracture line. Most begin this way in ring- shaped deposits, one on top the other with the water passing down the center. Because it is hollow on the inside it is nicknamed a soda-straw. They grow about an inch every 40-60 years. They are one of the slowest-growing cave formations. In Arizona, one was found about 5 years ago that is 21 feet long. Usually before they get that long, calcite will stop up the tube somewhere so the water starts running down the outside. That's where it gets the carrot shape formation. The Crystal dome rises 80 feet above the ceiling of the cave. Crystal Bell is the largest formation in this cave.
May of 1990 a tour had to stop on a ledge inside the cave because they weren't prepared to go swimming. Water had risen inside the cave because 13 inches of rain had fallen in slightly over 24 hours. The flooding damaged a tubular stalactite that was 8 feet long.
Interesting formations include cave bacon, an owl, turkey, Big Foot, a big shaggy dog, an alligator and old man winter. One rock formation is in the shape of a big dinosaur.
Steve and Brenda Rush
Steve Rush bought the property in 1988. In 1997 he leased the property to Mystic Caverns, Inc. Rush is the president of the corporation and the corporation owns the business. In 1992, Rush managed the cave until 1994 and left for two years and returned in 1997 and has managed ever since. Rush grew up in Northeast Alabama. In 1988 he was in the motel business in Arizona and purchased the cave property as a business investment. In 1991 Rush decided he was tired of living in the desert and wanted to come where it was 'lush and green' and moved near Jasper. They now have a home in Harrison.
Steve and Brenda Rush have a daughter Abigail that is almost three years old. Steve's son Daniel is 13 years old. Brenda does the public relations work for the cave. Steve does the General manager and gets to do everything. "I do everything from cleaning rest rooms to electrical work in the cave. We are working on a dig in the lower cave where we found a good air flow and a small passage way. It may mean that we find a lot more cave soon. If we do, it is unlikely that we could show it on tour, but we might offer a wild cave tour."
Brenda is completing her term as the President of the Ozark Mountain Region. Steve is the Treasure for the Scenic Highway 7 Tourism Association. The new Highway 7 brochure has attractions all along highway 7 that are parks to get people to travel the highway. A separate listing of the various businesses along the way are also listed.
"This year we closed on Sunday. It is not something people typically do in the tourism industry. But God has blessed our business and we are still doing ok without that day. We thought it was more important to honor God than to collect that extra money. We wanted to do it as a witness."
'Off the Tour Photos' on the web page, give readers extra pictures in the cave. A Christmas celebration is also held inside the cave with special music and lighting. The cave can be contacted by calling locally 743-1739 or toll free 1-888-743-1739. The web address is www.mysticcaverns.com. Group rates are available.