Attraction of the week: Silver Dollar City's Marvel Cave
Written by James RaoLooking for an unusual theme park attraction? How about a visit deep inside the Earth, into a cave?
Published: October 1, 2012 at 2:33 PM
Not a fake, plaster-over-chicken-wire job, but a real limestone cave, which lies underneath the park? That's what you'll find when you visit the Marvel Cave Tour at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. This cave tour and the Marvel Cave itself (which sits directly beneath part of the park) are so important that, without them, SDC would not exist today.
Paraphrased from the Silver Dollar City website:
Around 1500 AD, the Osage Indians were the first to discover Marvel Cave. Hearing strange noises rising from deep within the entrance, the Indians feared the cave and named it The Devil's Den.
In 1869, a group of explorers descended into the cave looking for priceless mineral deposits. The explorers failed to discover the ore they sought, but were convinced that marble could be found inside the cave. Their report sparked the interest of locals who decided to rename the cave, Marble Cave. However, the only thing ever mined from the cave was bat guano (used for fertilizer and gunpowder, among other things).
In 1894, William Henry Lynch and his two daughters, Miriam and Genevieve, opened the cave as an Ozarks tourist attraction. After Mr. Lynch's death in 1927, the cave's name was changed to its present moniker.
By the late 1940s, Marvel Cave was drawing over 5,000 visitors a year. In 1950, Hugo Herschend, his wife Mary and sons Jack and Peter, leased the cave for 99 years. They eventually added a custom-designed train to carry folks back to the surface and were further inspired to create an authentic replica of an old time Ozark Mountain community. By the end of 1960, Silver Dollar City was born.
Cave tours depart approximately every 40 minutes and last about an hour (depending on the size of the group and the number of questions folks have), with most of that time spent traversing nearly 600 stairs into and out of the depths of the Earth.
A trained cave guide hosts the journey and provides visitors with anecdotes of historical or geological importance. The tour guide has a somewhat scripted spiel, but it varies widely depending on how extensively people participate in the adventure. If there are a lot of questions or comments, these superlative tour guides know enough stories and facts to make every tour a somewhat unique experience. I have taken this tour countless times over the past few years, and each time I have learned something new.
(Please note: all those who wish to experience a Marvel Cave tour should be in decent health, with no phobias about cramped places, heights, the dark, or bats! Also, one should never eat a full meal or drink a gallon of water just before embarking as there is nowhere along the tour to relieve yourself!)
When the tour finally begins (after many lawyerly required warnings and cautions) you head down a long, long flight of stairs into the Cathedral Room, one of the largest cave entrance rooms in the United States.
It is so large that it can house the Statue of Liberty with room to spare! And, if you visit during the Christmas Festival this spacious room is fully decked out with Christmas lights that form a gigantic Christmas tree when viewed from the floor of the chamber. It is a breathtaking illumination to say the least.
Once the tour is at the base of the Cathedral Room, a photo is taken of your family, which can be purchased at the end of the tour if you so desire. If I remember correctly, the cost is about $20 for a nice portrait, although the price is sometimes discounted (especially during Lantern Tours – more later).
The journey continues as you wind your way through various passages and rooms in 60 degree coolness (during the summer) and 60 degree warmth (during the winter).
Overall, the cave is breathtakingly beautiful, meticulously maintained, and simply awe inspiring.
Enjoy the adventure… and watch your head!
When the tour finally emerges back into the light of day, a cable train takes cave visitors back to the surface.
However, if the train breaks down you do get an added bonus as you are required to reverse direction and hike the same 600 stairs back to the tour entrance! Sadly, I have never been lucky enough to have the cable train break down!
For an extra charge ($10.00 for adults and $5.00 for kids ages 8-11), Silver Dollar City offers a Lantern Light Tour where up to 20 visitors can experience the Marvel Cave the old fashioned way, without electricity. During this tour, all the normal recessed lighting in the cave is turned off, and the only light is provided by dimly lit, battery powered lanterns. The tour takes an extended route through the cave, winding through seldom visited areas, and providing additional time for the tour guide to provide details, offer insights, and even relate ghost stories that often scare the you-know-what out of several participants.
The Marvel Cave Tour is an outstanding attraction, well worth an hour of your time. It is a unique experience at a theme park, and something that should not be missed when you visit Silver Dollar City.
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