Caverns are always intriguing to visit because of their natural beauty and history. Mystic and Crystal Dome Caverns in Harrison, Arkansas, were no exception.
Our road trip through Arkansas had to include a visit to these caverns which lie only 400 feet from each other in the Ozark Mountains. These twin caves, however, have very different recent histories which can serve as science lessons concerning the life of caves.
Both caverns were formed thousands of years ago. Even though they are both small, their interiors are rich with beautiful formations. Their recent history is the differentiating factor. Mystic Caverns was believed to have been visited before 1850 when torches, letting off gasses harmful to the cavern as they burned, were used to light exploration. Tours began sometime before 1928 when visitors had to climb down a shaky ladder through the sinkhole entrance to gain access to the cave. Public tours continued until 1938 when they were stopped, probably due to safety issues. Even though the cave was closed to public tours, anyone who wished could visit the cave. During this time period, many people broke off pieces of formations to take home as souvenirs which severely damaged the cave. Although lighting had changed to kerosene lamps, the damage from soot continued and worsened. Damage also occurred during Prohibition when a still was installed in the furthest part of the cavern, and the resulting smoke blackened the walls. The ownership of both caverns changed hands multiple time before being bought by Mystic Caverns, LLC who currently owns and operates the caverns.
Crystal Dome, unlike its twin, was not “discovered” until 1967 when equipment broke into a wall of the cavern. The owner at that time, carefully guarded the entrance to preserve its natural state that is maintained to this date. Crystal Dome shows little or no breakage and has approximately 90% of its formations still growing through water dripping slowing through the ground above.
Visitors can pay for admission for one or both caves. (The discount is significant if the two are purchased together.) Mystic Cavern’s most magnificent formation is the Pipe Organ which is 30 feet tall. Crystal Dome has multiple impressive features including a large formation called the Crystal Bell and a 70-foot-tall domed ceiling with formations at its peak. Combined the two tours take approximately 1.5 hours and require walking along with some stairs. We had a different guide for each cavern, but we could tell they were both enthusiastic about their love of the caves’ natural beauty.
Mystic and Crystal Dome Caverns provide a short, but interesting, break from days that are very hot or very wet. Visitors should be certain to take a jacket and wear comfortable, non-slip shoes to make the visit more enjoyable.
Have you visited these caverns? If so, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
– Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers.