Americans love good theater.
Several Missouri caves are movie stars, the glitterati of world cavedom. Indeed, caves are nature's air-conditioned theaters; 18 Missouri caverns carry the title “show cave.”
In this land of legendary caverns, which Missourian should be the patron saint?
Hannibal's Mark Twain Cave is the very spot where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher got lost. Legend says Jesse James hid some loot in Meramec Caverns.
Maybe our cave champ is famed geologist Jerry Vineyard, who calls Missouri a “cave factory.” Caves are formed when water percolates through the ground, dissolving limestone, forming underground rivers that burst forth as springs. And Missouri sits atop more than 6,400 of these natural wonders, with untold numbers yet to be discovered.
Missouri’s caves may have inspired young St. Louisan Vincent Price in his movie performances.
In fact, some movies helped give bats an evil reputation; but bats don't deserve those negative reviews.
Bats, much like the caves that offer them shelter, are grossly misunderstood. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, bats are clean, shy and intelligent creatures. In fact, all Missouri bats feed exclusively on insects, often eating their weight in mosquitoes (the real vampires) and bugs almost every night. If you're lucky enough to be near an Ozark spring-fed river at dusk, you'll see true acrobatic theater performed by these masters of sonar navigation.
Meanwhile, Missouri's show caves are inspected for safety. They are full of fun, entertainment and magic. Tours are led by knowledgeable guides. Some even offer wild tours, by lantern light.
If you're looking for shelter from the weather, try one of these spectacular underground palaces:
- Bluff Dwellers Cavern and Browning Museum, two miles south of Noel
- Bridal Cave, four miles west of Camdenton
- Mark Twain Cave and Cameron Cave co-located in Hannibal
- Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave, both in Onondaga State Park, five miles southwest of Leasburg
- Current River Cavern at Cave Spring Park, three miles southwest of Van Buren
- Fantastic Caverns in Springfield
- Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park, four miles east of Sullivan
- Jacob's Cave, eight miles south of Versailles
- Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City in Branson
- Miller Cave at Fort Leonard Wood
- Meramec Caverns, four miles south of Stanton
- Ozark Caverns, part of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, nine miles east of Linn Creek
- Round Spring Cavern, 13 miles north of Eminence
- Smallin Civil War Cave, three miles north of Ozark
- Talking Rocks Cavern, two miles south of Branson West
In addition to these, across Missouri there are hundreds, if not thousands of wild caves for you to explore. Find them along Missouri's floatable rivers and streams; hidden in wilderness areas; and speckled throughout our state and national parks. A word of caution: take care to not trespass onto private property.
Tired of the cold? Or the heat? Seek shelter in the theaters of the Cave State, and enjoy the show.
VisitMO editor’s note: John Drake Robinson is a past director of the Missouri Division of Tourism. He has driven every mile of every road on Missouri's highway map and written two books about his experiences. For details, links to his blog, in information about his books, go to JohnDrakeRobinson.com.