I’m not one of those who goes for tropical beach vacations. I’m more of a drive for a few hours, settle in and then see what you can find to look at guy.
That worked out well last week when my wife’s nursing school group of friends had their reunion down near Greenfield, Mo., on the farm of one woman who absolutely loves to have all of us gather down there, I think so she doesn’t have to travel so much.
Anyway, besides a day of reminiscing, catching up and planning for next year, my wife and I had a couple of days to kick back and go to out-of-the-way places. She went to nursing school in Springfield but that was 40 years ago. But we have been back many times, so you would think we would have seen just about everything down there.
But you would think wrong. They just keep adding attractions, or maybe we just missed them before.
Never miss a local story.
That’s how we ended up seeing Smallin Civil War Cave, just south of Springfield, Mo.
I’m a sucker for cave tours — at least the kind where there are walkways, lights and plenty of room, so you don’t have to get wet or muddy. I’ve been in Bridal Cave, Meramec Caverns, Onondaga Cave and Fantastic Caverns, which actually isn’t that fantastic to see, but it is fantastic that you can ride through it.
We’ve even been to some cave near Blue Eye, Mo., or Blue Eye, Ark., (they’re right next to each other) but I can’t remember the name. I’m pretty sure we had our picture taken in it but finding it would require going through many picture books and I don’t have the patience for that.
Smallin Cave was first documented by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and a friend, Levi Pettihume, back in 1818. The men explored all of the Ozark Mountains after the Louisiana Purchase. Through the years the cave has sheltered prehistoric animals, modern-day animals and humans.
It is about halfway between the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., and the battle of Wilson Creek, Mo., but didn’t figure in either. But it did provide shelter and entertainment for soldiers of both sides at times.
It actually is a complex of three caves that you tour. There is Fieldin Cave, a smaller cave, then Disappointment Cave, so named because after an impressive hole in the wall opening, it goes nowhere, and Smallin Cave. Its entrance is 100 feet wide and 55 feet high, and its height continues back for a few hundred feet, meaning it was easy to explore and easily accessible for pleasure.
Our guide told us that in 1959 a lawyer from Chicago bought the land, improved it and started giving tours and charging admission, irritating the local folks who considered it their free attraction. The land also was a church camp for many years before Kevin and Waneeda Bright bought it and improved access a few years ago.
They have made a lot of effort to let people know they are there, and more visitors are coming now. We only knew of it from that most venerable of tourism items, a brochure. It is about an hour tour with a lot of stories, a few cave features and some fossils.
Otherwise, besides the obligatory walk through Bass Pro Shops to admire all the outdoor stuff we couldn’t afford, we also spent hours inside Relics Antique Mall, on the southwest side of Springfield, which completely overwhelmed us with its size. It has a large tea room inside and even an electric lamp shop where a guy fixes old lamps and crafts new ones out of old parts.
And as always, we stopped at the Lebanon Antique Mall on the way down, a fantastic place with a cheese shop on one side and a Russell Stover chocolate outlet store on the other. As one friend put it, where else would you need to go?
There also was time to see some roadside attractions, like the Seeburg Muffler Car, the Muffleupagus.
The area attractions are hillbilly heaven for guys like me.