Branson, MO is a very unusual place. This is a town of 10,000 that hosts millions of tourists a year. It boasts more theater seats than there are on Broadway. It’s where many of your old favorite singers from way back when can be found, live, onstage, and still performing.
It’s also where you can spend a lovely day at Silver Dollar City, the amusement park that “grew up” around Branson’s most incredible, and natural, attraction: Marvel Cave.
It just so happens that my Branson friends, Ed and Karen Underwood, are employed by the company that runs Silver Dollar City and many other attractions around the United States besides. Ed, who is an incredible historian – I’ve been on one of his tours of Haunted Springfield a few years ago – is one of the guides at the cave. Karen and I took one of his “Lantern Tours” of the cave at night.
It’s funny, but just passing the “tests” to get onto the tour can be a whole experience in itself. The cave is 500 feet below ground. It involves climbing up and down 600 steps. Some of the passageways within it are so narrow, with the smallest one having a circumference of about four-feet-seven, that, first and foremost, you have to prove you can scrunch down and CRAWL through a small hole cut out of cardboard – or you can’t go. This proved no problem for me. I’m five feet tall.
But I’d hurt myself beforehand in an unrelated fall involving a Branson pothole, and my knees, already a mess since I was hit by a car last year, were, once again, not in the best of shape. Still, I could not resist taking this tour, 600 steps or not. There were warnings about the steps, but I wanted to go anyway. There were warnings about the height of one of the viewing platforms inside the cave, too, but heights don’t bother me. Oh, did I mention the bats? 80,000 bats live in that cave! Anyone terrified of bats was allowed to have second thoughts about entering, but Ed said the bats truly don’t like people and leave them alone. He also said they move so quickly it’s hard to even notice them. We would literally be entering a bat cave. Those who had signed up for the tour were briefed on all of this, then given the option of bowing out.
I didn’t bow out, and thank goodness for that! The tour was absolutely magical.
We were all given lanterns and brought inside the cave. There were few lights other than the ones we carried with us. I had wondered if it would be disconcerting to go so far inside the earth, but it wasn’t. In fact, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt so far underground, going through narrow passageways lit only by the lights of our lanterns. I had always loved stories of children exploring caves or “lost mines” as a child, and here I was, in one! It felt like the most natural thing in the world. After awhile I was all but zipping through it.
Ed Underwood did his usual superb job of giving us the history of the cave, which was fascinating, yet rather bizarre, too. I don’t want to go into too much of it here, but only because if you ever come to Branson and go on the tour, it wouldn’t be right to spoil it for you. One thing I’ll say is that initially people were handed candles when they explored it. The lanterns were a definite improvement!
The way out is a lot easier than the climb down to get in. We were brought to the surface in a little train, and then, it was back to civilization!
Speaking of civilization, one thing I adore about visiting the Midwest in general, and Branson in particular, is the way the entire community embraces Veterans and patriotism. I rarely get to see it in New York, but Silver Dollar City opens every day with a flag-raising ceremony. I come from a city of wall-to-wall cynics and people who are too critical of America, so to see a flag-raising, or to hear the anthem at shows, is nice.
Here’s Ed at the start of the tour, Karen and me in the cave with our lanterns, and one of Silver Dollar City’s other wonderful employees, too. I can’t recommend Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City enough! If you come to Missouri, you can see it for yourself and enjoy.