We left West Memphis pretty early (around 7:30) and drove the 3 or so hours to the little town of Mountain View, in the middle of the Arkansas part of the Ozarks. Initially, the drive was a bit blah (flat landscape, straight roads) but then the terrain got hilly and there were patches of forest, so that was really nice. In Mountain View, we took a brief look at the town square and its older, stone-built cafes and “antique” (= junk) stores (the town of 2,700 lives mostly off tourism), and paid an equally brief visit to one of its two claims to fame, the Ozark Folk Center State Park. There is a little “village” of shops and huts where you can watch people do various crafts, including blacksmithing and coppersmithing, but we only had time for a brief look around and a very simple burger/ salad meal at the snack shop, because we were really headed for the area’s second claim to fame, the Blanchard Springs Caverns. There are of course any number of caves in this area (2000 in Arkansas, and another 4000 in Missouri!) but this is one of the top ten caves in the country, and the forest service runs it, which is great. Because I have a friend who works at the cave, I had been there once before, 20 years ago, and definitely wanted to see it again. We had reserved a 1.5 hour tour through a big back area of the cave, and it was really neat, with great formations both at the very beginning and the very end of the tour (and a bunch of huge caverns with water running through them in between). Apart from the usual formations (stalagmites, stalagtites, “soda straws” etc. we also saw these really cool “upside down tables” where the ground has eroded under the columns that eventually form from the –tites and the –mites, so that surface area from which the –mites grow hovers in the air. There were also flow stones of various sizes, including one that almost plugged the hole that originally caused it to exist, and another that was carved out at the side for a path, so that we were walking through the interior of the flowstone. Very cool. We also learned about “cave popcorn” (a coral-ly looking formation) and about bat guano!
When we were done with our tour, Tony, my friend who has worked at the caves for over 25 years, was already waiting for us. We said hello and, since she had been able to take off the afternoon, drove to the Blanchard Springs and had a look at where the water comes out of the cave. Meanwhile, Tony also told us a bit more about the cave explorers of the 50s and 60s that first figured out the dimensions of this cave, and who, unbelievably, brought a group of boy scouts down through the sink hole with the 70-foot drop that was the only entrance to the cave at the time. Rope ladders! I am glad we had an elevator, and handrails. Then Tony drove with us to the place a few miles off where she and her husband Billy bought a piece of land and have erected a big metal building for an artisan brewery that they will start there. Billy has been brewing and selling his bear for several years now and is ready to get to it on a bigger scale, and Tony might retire from the Forest Service next year and help out as well.
Eventually, we drove, convoy-style, to Billy and Tony’s house in the boonies—Mark was really sweet and drove the Prius on his own so that Tony and I could drive ahead and catch up—we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years, although I had sent friends their way several times (my sister and my friend Sly have both visited them), and we exchanged Christmas Cards every year. It was especially nice of Mark because on the 3 miles or so of dirt road that is the last bit of road to their driveway, we kicked up a lot of red dust that he had to maneuver! Billy and Tony gave us the house tour—they have build every bit of the house they have on their 40 acres from scratch, and even after 25 years of living there, it is still an ongoing project. They have constructed a HUGE sloping roof for their new addition, all with wooden beams and slats from their own trees! Then we hung out on the porch and talked some more while there was chicken on the grill, and had a great meal with chicken and pasta salad and fruit. I crashed at about 10 pm, and we all went to sleep pretty early—but I did unfortunately wake up at 5 and could not go back to sleep! The nice thing about that, however, was the view from our futon into the woods was gorgeous and that the trip to the outhouse (the snazziest outhouse one could imagine—built with cedar and with a picture window looking out into the woods!) at 5 am meant that I heard this incredible bird call from one of those active-at-night birds, a chuck-will’s-widow (related to the whippoorwill, as we learned).