Kevin and Wanetta Bright’s passion for their business runs deep.
The owners of Smallin Civil War Cave in Ozark, Missouri, just south of Springfield, grew up in rural southwest Missouri where caves were part of their playground.
“We’ve always been in and out of caves,” said Wanetta, who worked as a tour guide for 12 years at Marvel Cave. “Caves were a natural part of growing up.”
When the couple decided they were ready to do something different, the idea of owning a tour cave was appealing and in 2007 they began looking at the property owned by Central Assembly of God Church. Closed to the public for about 30 years, the property was used as a summer camp and was home to the cave they now own.
Kevin and Wanetta Bright, owners of Smallin Civil War Cave in Ozark, Missouri.
“We weren’t sure what we thought until we came around the corner and felt that cool breeze and saw that big entrance,” Wanetta said. “That’s when we knew. The minute I saw it, I was just overwhelmed.”
In 2010, they opened for business and thousands of people have toured the cave since.
Along with seeing the beauty of the huge cave opening where a spring gushes water year-round and rocks are covered in lush green moss and ferns, patrons learn lessons about history, geology, paleontology and nature as they walk on the half-mile paved path that takes them through the cave.
Smallin Cave was the first documented cave in the Ozarks. The cave entrance is 55 feet tall and 100 feet wide.
Tour guides explain how the cave was used by Osage Indians, then by settlers who used the cave to stay cool in the summer. They point out fossils embedded in the ceiling and walls and rare blind crayfish and salamanders living within the cave.
“It’s priceless to be able to teach people where we came from,” Wanetta said. “This cave was important to so many people for so many things — back to Native Americans.”
Smallin Civil War Cave isn’t the only cave near Springfield where lessons can be learned underground. Missouri, in fact, boasts more than 6,600 caves thanks to the area’s karst topography and an abundance of water that carved away limestone forming the caves over the eons.
Visitors ride through Fantastic Caverns, just north of Springfield, Missouri.
At Fantastic Caverns, the only cave in North America large enough to ride through, patrons will see spectacular crystalline formations glistening in the light as they ride on a Jeep-drawn tram.
Guides stop throughout the cave and explain how the cave and its formations came to be, the group of 12 women who first explored it and how the cave has been used since it was discovered by a farmer’s dog in 1862.
Its storied history includes being a speakeasy during Prohibition and a venue for country music shows in the massive part of the cave that provides perfect acoustics for musicians.
Also family-owned, Fantastic Caverns offers the perfect cave tour for people with limited mobility, people who use wheelchairs, children and even pets.
Talking Rocks Cavern in Branson West, Missouri.
A beautiful landscape of glistening crystals awaits at this vertical cave explored using concrete handrails and steps at Talking Rocks Cavern in Branson West.
First named Fairy Cave because it looked like “a subterranean fairy land,” the tour showcases mineral deposits and other geological formations that will leave you awestruck and amazed.
Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
Tours at Marvel Cave at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson take visitors hundreds of feet below the surface using stairs and ramps. The descent is rewarded with the Cathedral Room, the largest cave entrance room in the United States where a guide will provide interesting and entertaining anecdotes of historical and geographical importance.
Giboney Cave in Springfield, Missouri.
For the adventurous, Giboney Cave at Doling Park in north Springfield is the place to go for a guided tour that will leave your feet muddy, and if you do a tunnel tour, you’ll be a total mess when you come out.
The grime is worth it, though, as you learn about the Giboney family who used the cave’s spring for water and the cave itself for shelter and a cool place to store food. Explore the bats and other creatures that use the cave as a home and check out the fossils easily seen throughout the cave.
Giboney Cave tours are available only a few times a year so be sure to call 417-833-8647 before you go.
Spend more time outdoors in beautiful Springfield, MO.