A vacation getaway doesn’t always have to mean tramping around museums or staying at an all-inclusive resort on some tropical island’s sandy beach. Occasionally, getting away from it all simply means spending a few nights holed up in a cave outside a small Arkansas town deep in the Ozark Mountains.
Known as Beckham Creek Cave, this unusual but popular vacation spot has an interesting history. Back in the ’80s, with tensions with the USSR at a boiling point, many folks were afraid that the United States’ heartland would be bombed by the Russian army. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Still, people back then bought remote properties and built fallout shelters, just in case. Businessman John Hays, founder of Celestial Seasonings Tea Company — perhaps best known for its sleepytime tea — was one of those people. In the early ’80s, the beverage mogul purchased a giant cave near the tiny, barely-there community of Parthenon, Ark., a 2.5-hour drive north of Little Rock. His plan was to convert the cave into a 10,000-square-foot bomb shelter complete with not-so-glamorous plywood flooring, cinderblock walls and 11 layers of epoxy over the undulating exposed rock wall formations.
Hays squirreled away enough freeze-dried and shelf-stable food in his rustically appointed cave to feed 50 people for two years. And during the time he owned it, he twice gave his church congregation shelter during bomb scares. However, the doomsday prepper eventually realized the sky wasn’t going to (literally) fall, at least anytime soon, and he sold the property in 1987 to a mysterious man known only as Mr. Richardson.
The enigmatic buyer took the unique space in an entirely different direction, transforming the cavern into an exclusive nightclub complete with a grand opening that reportedly featured A-listers like Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson on the guest list.
Funnily enough, Hays bought the place back from Mr. Richardson in 1994. The unique property has changed hands a multiple times since but it’s found a new life over the last couple of years as a high-end vacation rental that goes for $1,200 per night during the low season and $1,600 when business is a bit busier, from April to November. The recently updated and unexpectedly upscale spread, with four bedrooms and four baths in about 5,800 square feet, will comfortably accommodate up to a dozen people.
Through a bespoke, sunburst inspired wooden front door, there’s a cavernous — ahem — great room of approximately 2,300 square feet where 40-foot-high ceilings are peppered with crystalized stalactites. The multilevel great room, which includes a 75-inch satellite TV and WiFi, also contains living and dining areas, plus an up-to-date kitchen that features a custom-built wooden breakfast bar and high-end appliances. There’s also an indoor waterfall — marketing materials call it the Spanish Piano Waterfall — that’s fed by an underground spring originating from deep within the cave.
The master suite, billed as the “honeymoon suite” in marketing materials, is located on the second floor of the cave and packs in two beds, a round queen-sized one placed in a circle of stalactites and a more conventional king-sized bed in another space. The master bath cleverly utilizes the natural formation of the of the cave and includes a rain shower. All three of the additional bedrooms sport an exposed rock wall and its own unique and up-to-date en suite bath.
If the thought of staying inside a cave, even one the size of a suburban McMansion, makes you feel claustrophobic, never fear. The cave is also located on a secluded 256-acre ranch, so there’s plenty of room to roam above ground, too. The estate is also home to natural wildlife — turkey, bears, and deer — and boasts multiple creeks. There’s also a catch-and-release pond, a firepit, and a horse barn complete with caretakers’ apartment. And, for those who like to make grand entrances, the property sports its own helipad.