Top Ten U.S. Campgrounds

Blanchard Springs Campground: Arkansas
By Suzanne Dow
  |  Gorp.com
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Most National Forest campgrounds offer such recreational opportunities as hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. Blanchard Springs campground, 100 miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas, in the Ozark National Forest, also offers a chance to explore perhaps the most beautiful living cavern in the United States, fabulous toe-tapping concerts, and a close-up look at the Ozark's living history.

Shaded by a lush forest of mixed hardwoods, Blanchard Springs campground's 32 sites, flush toilets, and hot showers offer campers a pleasant forest experience. Straddling the North Sylamore Creek, the creek's ageless melody is heard throughout the campground. About two miles west of the campground are the spectacular Blanchard Springs Caverns.

Once a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) recreation project, Blanchard Springs campground boasts large grassy areas, a well-appointed day-use area on a sweeping bend in the Sylamore Creek with a bathhouse and swimming area, and the man-made, rainbow-trout-stocked Mirror Lake. A short, strenuous hike along a well-used but unmarked trail leads to the actual Blanchard Springs. Once called Half Mile Spring, this is the exit point for the Blanchard Springs Cavern's crystal-clear, icy cold water. Nearby, a small stone guardhouse structure, once an entrance to the recreation area, provides a quiet place to rest in the cool shade.

Blanchard Springs Cavern

Fifty to 70 million years ago, rain falling on the Ozark Plateau carved deep valleys and sheer bluffs, forming the rugged topography seen today. Some of the slightly acidic surface water seeped through cracks and crevices to flow underground. This seeping water ate away at the limestone rock, eventually forming huge cavities far below the surface. Many of these cavities remained hidden until recently. Blanchard Springs Caverns, discovered about 65 years ago, was one such cave.

Early settlers knew Half Mile Cave was where an underground spring emerged. But the first known exploration of the cave wasn't until 1934. This is when Willard Hadley "had a quick look around." Discovery of the many beautiful and amazing formations in Blanchard Springs Caverns had to wait until the more extensive exploration in the 1950s and 1960s. Blanchard Springs Cavern is a living cave, which means it is continuing to grow—each drop of mineral-laden water adds to the existing structures and contributes to the development of new sights. In other words, what is seen by visitors today will be different tomorrow.

Ozark Folk Center

Just outside Mountain View is an oasis of Ozark folk culture. A post-World War II economic decline in the area saw many people leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. With their departures, the uniquely Ozark culture began to disappear. In 1973, a grassroots effort saw the establishment of the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View. Part of the Arkansas State Parks system and operated as a commercially viable operation, the mission of the Folk Center is to serve as a major repository and living museum for the native Ozark culture.

The Folk Center is a collection of small cottages where craftspeople work. Visitors can watch brooms being made, a gun stock being fashioned, and wool yarn being spun. Basketmakers, quilters, wood-carvers, a "tintype" photographer, and dozens of other craftmakers are housed in cottages where visitors can watch, talk, and ask questions. In the theater each afternoon and evening, there are music programs featuring traditional instruments. These music programs often inspire audience members to join in and dance a jig, or maybe do some impromptu clogging. At the very least, toes do start tappin'.


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