After a sinkhole opened up atop a golf course at Big Cedar Lodge’s Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve in May of 2015, noted conservationist and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris is deep into a national treasure hunt that may well reveal a hidden natural wonder buried deep within the Ozarks.
The original collapse occurred after heavy rainfalls throughout the Ozark region, resulting in the creation of a large sinkhole spanning 70 feet across and running 40 feet deep. The spectacle occurred directly adjacent to the meticulously landscaped Tom Watson-designed putting green and drew worldwide media attention to Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock Golf Course, just south of Branson, Missouri.
After confirming the site’s stability geological engineers suggested filling the hole with large boulders and restoring the golf course to its original design. Morris, however, chose to explore in the hopes of finding a secret passageway and uncovering a massive cave system underneath the golf course and surrounding area.
"A treasure hunt is underway and we hope to one day discover a new natural wonder lying below,” said Johnny Morris, who has been overseeing the big dig. “It’s been an exciting few months here at Top of the Rock and we hope the best is yet to come.”
The sinkhole’s near-vertical collapse was characteristic of those in close proximity to cave formations. Water from the sinkhole drained out a cave located approximately one mile away that Morris personally discovered 23 years ago leading him to believe the two may potentially be connected by a long cave system.
The excavations may reveal answers to a mystery that has intrigued Morris for many years dating back to the discovery of a small cave decades earlier. Morris' exploits into the cave were documented through family photos and a National Geographic feature story in April 1998.
Morris first discovered the cave – dubbed JOHN L'S CAVE ™ - in 1993 on a walk with the property’s former owner Dr. M. Graham Clark when the two came upon a natural spring. Johnny started excavations and five years and several dead ends later, they revealed a cavern home to beautiful rock formations National Geographic magazine described as, “an underground chapel.”
Though JOHN L'S CAVE™, extends about one hundred yards before large formations block further passage, Morris always wondered if it was linked to a more comprehensive underground system. After water rushed out from the mouth following the sinkhole implosion his interest was renewed and the treasure hunt was on once more.
Since May, excavation crews have removed 533,000 cubic yards from the sinkhole, digging in the hopes of discovering a passageway to connect the system and reveal a new wonder below.
- Today the sinkhole is twelve times larger than its original volume in May.
- Crews have removed 38,000 truckloads of dirt and rock.
- Today the sinkhole could hold more than 11 billion golf balls.
- Surface Width: Originally 70 feet wide, now 270 feet wide.
- Surface Length: Originally 100 feet long, now 340 feet long.
- Depth: Originally 40 feet deep, now 185 feet deep.
Crews will continue to work over the coming months in search of discovering a new connection though Morris is pleased with the findings that have already been revealed.
"I am very excited about our chances to find a great cavern, but whether we find a cave or not, the incredible formations we have already uncovered have made the effort worthwhile," said Morris.
Visitors don’t have to wait for a new cavern to be discovered to enjoy a cave experience at Top of the Rock, however. The Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, a self guided golf cart adventure, offers guests an opportunity to drive through another nearby cave that hints at the wonder that may be hiding just a few hundred feet away. Golf also continues at Top of the Rock, which will host the PGA TOUR’s Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Tournament this coming spring.