Our 580-mile drive to Springfield, MO was the longest day so far. Our intent was to get to Springfield to see the Crystal Caves the following morning. We saw billboard ads for dozens of caverns along I-64 and I-44. It may be worth a drive back someday to see them. The Crystal Cave was not quite what I expected, but it was definitely worth the visit. For starters, there are no billboard ads or beautiful color ads flooding the area to attract visitors. Most people learn of the Crystal Cave by word of mouth. Crystal Cave is a genuine "Mom and Pop" operation. The Mann sisters' father discovered the caves in the mid-1880s. Then the Mann sisters inherited the caves. It's been open to the public since 1893. The current owner knew the Mann sisters and used to visit the cave often. He never dreamed the cave would eventually be willed to his family, then owned by him and his wife. Much of the cave's presentation is still as it was back then. The caves are very rustic. There are no colorful lights to enhance the cave's natural look, no wide concrete paths to guide you though the tour, and no uniformed guides leading dozens of tours daily. Instead, there are simple light bulbs crudely hanging about the cave, narrow gravel paths with stone stairways and low underpasses leading the way through the cave, and comfortably clothed family members offering tours from 9:00am to 1:30pm.
So what makes Crystal Caves so great? They're constantly changing. We were guided by the owner as the only tourists. He told us about the history of the cave and pointed out areas that he was working on that were not yet open to the public. A lot of what we saw was not open to the public until recently. He was quite proud to have been able to give the public something that had not been available before. Most tours last about an hour and 20 minutes. Ours lasted almost two hours since he pointed us to the best photo opportunities.
Another bonus is that the
formations are up close and personal. Most cave
systems have only a few "rooms" with wide paths that
are 20-30 feet from the nearest rock formation.
Crystal Cave has about 10 rooms and the
formations are literally right in front of your face.
I even had to get near the floor for a few of
the ceiling photos to be far enough away. Best
of all, the detailed tour cost only $5. Compare
that to a cave up the road that offers a 30-minute
electric car ride into a large single room at a cost
of $14.50 and you'll agree that a visit to the Crystal
Cave is a good deal.
After our visit to the cave we checked
out of the hotel and drove a short 250 miles to
Lawrence, KS. Virginia, a good friend of mine
from the Coast Guard, lives there. We stayed
with her family for two nights. A lot has
changed since we last met 10 years ago. Her son
is now a teenager, she has two young daughters, and
she's no longer in the Coast Guard. Once again
the cats enjoyed accommodations at "Hotel Jetta."
It was a little warmer in KS, so the "hotel" was
moved into the garage. We visited an outlet mall
and picked up a few things. We also rested up
for ourlong drive to South Dakota.
Our next day's drive was 660 miles to Kadoka,SD. Our goal was simply to get within striking distance of the Badlands and spend the night. The next morning we drove through Badlands National Park. The scenic drive through the Badlands was about 30 miles. The scenery was beautiful, but odd at the same time. A friend once described the Badlands as a "miniature Grand Canyon." He's right. Photos of the Badlands and the Grand Canyon appear quite similar. Even standing on the rim of one of the Badlands' canyons provides a spectacular view of what seems to be a huge canyon. But once I visually "measured" the height of the canyon I figured it's not really that deep. The layers of colors in the rocks are what provides the perception of tremendous depth. After we passed through the park we stopped briefly at "Wall Drug." It's much more than a drug store. In fact, it's more of a shopping plaza. There were dozens of shops with souvenirs for nearly every attraction in the BlackHills. We decided not to purchase anything and to make our souvenir purchases at the actual attractions. Our 100-mile drive to Rapid City was met with plenty of rain. Most attractions we wanted to see are outdoors; therefore, we decided to call it a day.
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