Bluff Dweller's Cave and Browning Museum


Useful Information

Location: 3,2 km South of Noel, Missouri on Hwy. 59.
(36.518954, -94.487066)
Open: MAR to OCT daily 10-18.
NOV to FEB daily 10-17.
Last tour is 1 hour before closing.
Closed Thanksgiving, 25-DEC, 01-JAN.
[2021]
Fee: Adults USD 20, Children (4-11) USD 10, Children (0-3) free.
Groups (10+): reduced fee, advance reservation required.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave St. Joe Limestone, Mississippian, Paleozoic Era. SubterraneaCave and Karst Museum
Light: electric
Dimension: L=1,219 m, T=13 °C
Guided tours: L=600 m, D=60 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Mark R. Harrington (1924): The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar., 1924), pp. 1-21 (25 pages) pdf
Mark R. Harrington (1924): The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers, Indian Notes and Mongraphs, Volume 12.
Reprinted by Heye Foundation, New York, 1960 xxiii + 185 pp., frontis., 16 figs., 47 plates. $4.50.
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017. online
Address: Bluff Dweller's Cave, 163 Cave Rd, Noel, MO 64854, Tel. +1-417-475-3666. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1925 discovered and first explored by the owner Arthur Browning, and two surveyors with the highway department, Bob Ford and Bryan Gilmore.
1927 opened to the public.
1958 Arthur Browning’s daughter, Kathleen Browning, took over the family business.
1991 cave operated by her younger sister, Reita Bunch and her husband George.
2016 cave operated by their son Ray Bunch and his wife Ann.
2017-18 first signs of WNS.

Description

Bluff Dweller's Cave is located at the foot of Exit Cliff, off Highway 59, one kilometer south of Noel, Missouri. The present entrance of was completely concealed by a land slide which happened about 2000-3000 years ago. The cave was re-discovered in 1925 by Arthur Browning who was checking traps when he came across a cool breeze blowing from a limestone outcrop. He was curious and asked Bob Ford and Bryan Gilmore, who were employed by the highway department, to help moving loose rock and debris. The basketball-sized opening was widened by removing debris, and when the bedrock was reached two natural openings were found. The Ozarks are a show cave country and so it was obvious to develop the cave as a show cave. It took only two years until the cave was opened to the public, with the help of John Truitt, who was called the "Caveman of the Ozarks", because he developed six show caves. The cave is still owned by the family, currently it is operated by the grandchildren of Arthur Browning.

During the development debris was removed and flecks of charcoal were noticed. This coal from fire places was the first sign of a huge number of human remains found during the further development. The finds include human bones, arrows, and stone implements, which are today exhibited in the Browning Museum at the cave entrance. At the same time the archaeologist Mark R. Harrington excavated numerous shelters in this area which are locally called bluffs. He discovered human remains which were up to 7,000 years old, a culture which he called Bluff-Dwellers. He also named a book he published about two years of excavation The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers. This name was actually en-vogue at this time and so the cave was named Bluff Dwellers' Cave.

The Native Americans were hunter-gatherers living in small family groups. They gathered greens, seeds, fruits, nuts, roots, and mushrooms, and hunted eggs, insects, small animals, fish, and big game. They used the cave occasionally as shelter and storage. Grinding stones, arrowheads, a bed of ashes and a few skeletal remains were discovered.

The Browning Museum was named after Arthur Browning, the owner of the ground and the first explorer of the cave. Its collections include 700 locally found arrowheads and other chipped artifacts. The artifacts, most of them found during the cave development, were dated to be up to 7,000 years old. There are also a mineral collection and a fossil collection, with some 500 specimens from all around the world. And finally there is a collection of local antiques, mostly from the 19th century.

The cave was formed during the active phase of the cave, when the ground water table was at the height of the cave, and great amounts of water were flowing through the cave. The result were impressive river passages. The Ozark uplift continued and so the cave became dry, the formation of speleothems started, and the cave became accessible to prehistoric man. Later, continuing erosion caused the collapse of the entrance section.

The cave has several nice speleothems, like cave corals, lily pads, and popcorn. The most outstanding formation is the dam or rim of an rimstone pool named 75′ Rimstone Dam, which is 2.5 cm thick, 30 cm high and almost 23 m meters long. The 10 Ton Balanced Rock is no speleothem bit still quite impressive. A huge slab of limestone looks like it came loose and landed on the bedrock below in one piece. That's quite unlikely, it would have broken into pieces. The slab was probably lying on cave sediments when it came loose, and the gravel and sand was later removed by the flowing water.

The cave is home to various troglobionts like the Bristly Cave Crayfish (Cambarus setosus) and and the Grotto Salamander (Eurycea spelaea). Cave visitors are Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga), Dark-sided Salamander (Eurycea longicauda melanopleura), Western Slimy Salamander (Plethodon albagula), and various bats. The Tri-Colored Bat (Perimiotis subflavus), formerly known as eastern pipistrelle bat, the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and the Northern Long-Eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) visit the cave. The cave free from the fungal infection White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) until 2017, but finally the bats began to show signs of WNS and bat population dropped massively.