Dream Cave – Ozark County in Southwest Missouri
Home to Two Bat Species and a Museum for Fossil Stromatolites
In 1991, southwest Missouri caver Leo Thompson discovered about a mile of unexplored cave passage in what was believed to be a small cave. Later the same year, Leo enlisted a caver friend Richard Thompson to head the mapping of Dream Cave. When the mapping was done, 6,023 feet had been surveyed. To protect the cave from vandals, Leo led a gating effort in May of 2001.
When the the Ozarks Regional Land Trust (ORLT) acquired the property that houses Dream Cave, the Trust looked for an organization to manage the cave and turned to the Missouri Caves & Karst Conservancy (MCKC) whose members had already assisted in the ORLT’s purchase and management of the land that houses Sarcoxie Cave in Jasper County. Members of the Springfield Plateau Grotto help co-manage Dream Cave, which remains an excellent sanctuary for large numbers of solitary bats and an unusual museum of fossil stromatolites.
A Habitat for Tricolored and Northern Bats
Dream Cave is located in Ozark County, Missouri and is part of the Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT) property known as the Alford Forest. Besides having over a mile of passage, the cave is considered a significant habitat for tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), a small solitary bat species found in many Ozarks’ caves as well as home to northern bats (Myotis septentrionalis). The cave also contains a few impressive speleothems ranging from delicate helictites to large dripstone and flowstone deposits.
An Unusual Museum for Fossil Stromatolites
However, Dream Cave’s most notable feature is a profusion of fossil stromatolites. Living stromatolites are large colonies of cyanobacteria that live in very shallow saltwater bays and coves. Cyanobacteria are possibly among the first species of biota to inhabit the earth and can still be found in a few places including Hamelin Pool off of the west coast of Australia.
Gasconade Dolostone, an Ordovician-age Rock Approximately 420 Million Years Old
Dream Cave is situated in the Gasconade dolostone, an Ordovician-age rock that dominates the Salem Plateau region of the Ozarks. Geologists estimate the rock formation to be approximately 420 million years old and over 200 feet thick. Stromatolitic fossils can be found in several horizons within the rock. Fossil stromatolite material consists of chert (silicon dioxide) and resembles irregular, craggy “Swiss cheese” or peanut brittle. Stromatolites can be stained black with manganese dioxide, brown or other colors, but are white to gray when not stained.
Fossil Stromatolites Fill Many Passages in Dream Cave
The stromatolites fill many of the passages, wall-to-wall, most notably in the entrance passage, the “Crisco Crawl” side passage, the “Meatgrinder” section and the “Bonechiller” side passage, or about one third of the entire length of the cave system. The cave developed in a horizon of the rock formation that consists primarily of well-preserved cyanobacteria fossil colonies! Despite the passage’s colorful names, they aren’t particularly dangerous, but caver beware! The sharp projections from the conga drum shaped fossils can shred clothing!