Cosmic Cavern is colorful and cool!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Beauty may be only skin-deep for humans, but a visit to Cosmic Cavern proves that the natural beauty of the Ozarks goes all the way to the bone--or the stalagmite, as the case may be. Delicate soda straw formations that crumble at the merest touch, intricate gypsum flowers, and sweeping, graceful flowstone sculptures caused by millennia of water and minerals make this cave one of the most decorated in the region. Discovered in 1845 by a lead miner who was down on his luck, the cave also has a history nearly as colorful as Eureka Springs.

 "It was once mined for its onyx," said Anita Langhover, who owns the attraction with husband Rand. In fact, every gearshift knob placed into a new Model A Ford during the 1920s was created from onyx formations, broken off by hand and pulled up from the cave. Luckily, the entrepreneurs didn't explore past the first large room, and the rest of the cave, discovered over the next decades, remains intact. The property was also rumored to be a storage site for moonshine whiskey, and changed owners often during the first half of the 20th century. Records show that the site has been called Bear Cave, Mystic Cave, Majestic, Mystery and many other monikers of wonder before it received its current name of Cosmic Cavern. All these wild and magical names were the attempts of common folk trying to sum up the quiet beauty and otherworldliness found just below the surface of the hillside.

  In 1980, Rand Langhover purchased the cave, and under his stewardship, a new room has been found and opened each decade, including the lovely Silent Splendor section, which was featured on CBS News nationally when it opened in 1993. The formations in Silent Splendor are delicate and pristine, and so transparent they nearly glow when examined by flashlight.

  "We continue to explore the cave," said Rand, who added that they have yet to find the end of the cave, from small shafts big enough for just one person to squeeze through, to mapping the underwater passageways connecting the lakes. In the last 15 years, their explorations have revealed a nine-and-a-half-foot tall soda straw formation which runs from ceiling to floor, and the unusual helictite formations, which look like the results of an ancient Silly String fight on the ceiling. Both are part of the tour now, for all visitors to enjoy.

  This year, Cosmic Cavern is celebrating its 81st year as a show cave, and has enthralled generations of visitors. And after 27 years, Rand Langhover still enjoys giving tours through the cave, even though he has a staff of 12 guides. "My heart's still in it," he said. "If I didn't have the enthusiasm, it would show."

  At a constant 62 degrees, a tour through Cosmic Cavern is the perfect way to beat the summer heat. Since this is a live cave, still growing and developing, wear comfortable shoes, and expect to get occasionally dripped on along the way; in fact, a little cave mud and a few drips are part of the fun. Each tour takes approximately an hour and ten minutes, and the distance walked is one-third of a mile.

  Cosmic Cavern is open year round, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in the winter. If you're a spelunker at heart, ask about the Wild Cave Tour; you'll get down and dirty with more than 800 feet of Cosmic Cavern not usually open to the public. The Wild Cave Tour is definitely for the athletic explorer, but it's a great way to see the rare beauty of underground nature. Cosmic Cavern is located on Arkansas Highway 21, northeast of Berryville. To get there, take U.S. Highway 62 east to Berryville, then Hwy. 21 North and follow the signs. For more information, call (870) 749-2298 or visit

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