Spectacular laser light and sound show with leaping waters inside the Great Onyx Cathedral -- larger than a football field and higher than a 12-story building! Prehistoric Indian Habitat and Burial Ground over 2,000 years old! Confederate gunpowder mining center! Meet "Happy Hernando," Spanish Explorer and living cartoon mascot! Test your explorer skills in the primitive weapons arcade and the 3/4 acre wood paneled maze. Shoot water balloons from a Spanish Fort or Indian Teepee!
Modern cave attractions know that a big hole in the ground just isn't enough anymore. DeSoto goes a little overboard with the above-ground entertainments, but the place does have kiddie appeal. Yea, pan for gold, run around the maze... we're really here to see the cave and the 2000-year old jawbone of a seven-foot tall Woodland Indian.
On the gift shoppe porch,ticket holders take up position for the next guided tour. They wait nervously, uneasily -- like POWs piling up at the German train station in The Great Escape. A young female guide appears (sadly, she's not wearing the Happy Hernando cartoon mascot suit). She leads our crowd of trailer families, redneck newlyweds, and Yankee tourists through a corrugated metal tunnel. Blasted into the side of the hill in 1994 to ease access, this apparently collapsed a rock wall above.
The cave is mostly one immense room with dim lights accenting large columns, frozen Niagaras, and stalactites that have not been broken off. Where's that GIANT JAWBONE? A painfully honest guide explains in warm 'Bama tones that there were enough Indian bones found in one spot to recontruct five adults and one child. But... "The university took'em and won't give'em back. The cave owners are tryin to get 'em back, to bury 'em proper." With no bones in sight, we anticipate other subterranean thrills...
The guide points out that the waterfall is manmade, but experts believe one was once here, and this is what it would have looked like. In the wishing well, three resident fish with perfectly normal eyesight were bought at Wal-Mart in 1988. They aren't blind as a result of living in the cave -- "but their offspring would be." The moonshine still was bought from the Jack Daniels distillery, but it helps simulate the period of time that the cavern was also a tavern -- called the Bloody Bucket. There was a dance floor and a live band. Patrons used to get sloshed and shoot stalactites off the ceiling, explaining the stubby remnants we view today.
As a finale, tour groups sit on wet log benches in the center of the big room and watch a light show. It's the usual pre-recorded paraphrasing of the Book of Genesis, spoken by a guy who must do radio spots for car dealerships and monster truck rallies. Illuminated fountains spritz into the air, lasers arc delicately, white spotlights blast erratically. The 1812 overture blares from speakers.
"On the seventh day, God looked around, and saw that his work was done. He rested." Occasionally, a gust of wind outside catches the black plastic sheet, leaking daylight high up near the entrance. [Update: Cave has since been sealed after the construction was completed]
All in all, not a bad way to spend a hot afternoon. In case you were wondering, the guide notes, Spanish explorer DeSoto did not discover the cave -- the guide says locals call it Cowamug Cave -- but he did pass through the area.
Updates: 2006: More outside attractions have been added.
2001: Construction was completed a while back on "Becky's Tunnel," a 145 foot corridor from the entrance of the cave to the Great Onyx Cathedral Room, eliminating 83 steps (and the light leak we griped about). "A new misting system has been added to the laser light, sound and water show, making it even more spectacular." The annual Easter Laser Light, Sound & Water Show - "commemorates the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ." Shown on every tour through DeSoto Caverns from mid-March through mid-April. Above-ground attractions added include Wacky Water Golf and Happy's Hoopin Cave.