I had never thought much about Civil War battle fields west of the Mississippi since it seemed to me the fighting was mostly in the east and south. The Battle of Pea Ridge occurred in Northwestern Arkansas in March of 1862 and was one of the first major engagements in the Civil War. It became known as the battle that saved Missouri for the Union. At the beginning of the war, it was critical to keep Missouri in the Union. The battle involving 23,000 soldiers lasted two days and saw the Confederates defeated.
Pea Ridge is a historic site managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and has an interesting visitor center and a seven mile tour route that takes you along the areas where the battles were fought. I was surprised at how beautiful the drive was and how well the NPS is managing the site. The battle fields are very large and are well marked with sign boards. In addition, the park is out in the country, well away from any towns or homes and therefore feels quite authentic.
There were 11 stops on the route with information at each stop. Perhaps my favorite stop was the overlook of the largest battlefield. From above I couldn’t believe how huge it was.
Here is another picture from the overlook with the Visitor Center, driving route and battle field.
Elkhorn Tavern is located on a once important road. Prior to the Civil War the road was part of the Butterfield Overland Stage Route and had telegraph lines. During the Indian removals in 1837-1839, the road served as the northern route of the Trail of Tears. During the battles of Pea Ridge, a major skirmish occurred around the Tavern. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the elkhorns on the roof and Mark on the porch. We had the park to explore almost to ourselves and it turned out to be a highlight of our travels.
Blanchard Springs Caverns is a wondrous place run by the U.S. Forest Service and located in the Ozark National Forest in north central Arkansas. I have always enjoyed visiting caves and anticipating what formations might be inside. One of my favorite experiences was at Carlsbad Caverns some years ago when I walked from the large mouth of the cave down a long paved path to the bottom where there were rooms with spectacular formations. At Blanchard Springs Caverns, our very small group was taken a few hundred feet down in an elevator to the upper floor of the three level cave system.
We walked the Dripstone Trail, one of three possible tours offered at the Caverns. On this trail, you can see almost every type of calcite formation found in limestone caves. This includes delicate hollow soda straws, massive flowstones, columns, stalactites and stalagmites. I was awestruck at the number of formations seen here, one of the most decorated caves I have visited.
We walked through two major rooms with the first room the largest. It was quite impressive and surprising to walk in and see the immense Cathedral Room which is said to be long enough to hold three football fields and still have space left over. During the Christmas season an event is held in the Cathedral Room called “Caroling in the Caverns” where visitors are entertained with a show. I think it would be amazing to listen to a chorus of singers and musicians in that huge expanse.
Unlike many cave formations that are dry and have stopped growing, this is called a living cave because it is constantly growing and changing as minerals deposited by the dripping water create new formations or add on to current ones. It was interesting to see and hear water dripping into pools below. The formations take many, many years to develop and it is hard to imagine how long some of these have been growing. A spring that flows out of the cavern and into a lake below is one of the main contributors to the cavern’s formations.
Below is a picture from our last stop on the tour and probably my favorite of the formations we saw. The ceiling was covered with tiny soda straws. You could see that they were continuing to grow as they were dripping water. It looked like a fairy tale scene, the formations were so delicate and lovely.
I will have to say that it is difficult taking pictures in caves, so my photos are of course darker than I would like. In addition, since Mark and I started full time traveling, we have not yet been able to set up an editing system for our laptop and IPad in order to enhance photos.
After the tour, we checked out some other scenic spots in the Blanchard Springs area. I was disappointed that due to a road closure, we were unable to hike the trail to see Blanchard Springs Falls (the falls that helped form the caverns) as well as another waterfall that flows from Mirror Lake. We were able to walk to Mirror Lake via a boardwalk. Along the way we encountered an old stone mill with only two sides remaining. A mill at this site once ground corn and ginned cotton from 1900 until 1928.
Mirror Lake is a small and pretty lake that is popular for fishing. Although I am not into fishing, I can maybe see its appeal at the idyllic spot below.
We visited Blanchard Springs campground and picnic area. Below I am hanging out in the seating area with tall rock cliffs in the background forming a natural enclosure for the amphitheater.
Sylamore Creek flows through the camp and picnic area. The scenery along the creek was lovely but I was most impressed by the clearness of the water. It reminded me of the water of the Smith River in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Northern California. My friend Sharon introduced me to the beauty of that river, one of her favorite places.
Thanks for checking in – next time I will talk about our stay in Mountain View, Arkansas, the town that is all about folk music.