Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Ocala Caverns

The entrance gate with the remains of the original sign to the left
I guess my fascination for old tourist attractions is what drew me to ride up 301 to see the site of the Ocala Caverns. Riding on 301 is a near death experience so I managed to avoid most of it by dodging around Lake Lillian and the older part of Belleview. Nevertheless, the last half mile has to be on 301. So, while this column may be called the Past We Ride Past, in all probability you'll never ride past it!

The Cave Man entrance built by "Man Mountain" Dean
The site is on the corner of 301 and SE 98th Lane and all you can see is a fenced off corner lot overgrown with trees and signs that read "No Trespassing Police K9 Training Site". All that remains of the old tourist attraction is a sign by the chain link gate on which you can just make out the word "cave".

The Tourist Boat
Legend has it that Osceola hid in the caves in the early 1800s as did runaway slaves during the Civil War. Skip forward 100 years to the 1950s and the caves are open as a tourist attraction at one time owned by a pro wrestler known as “Man Mountain" Dean. The site included two large caves, one of which was spring fed and included a boat ride where Dean would push out a boatload of tourists and pull them back in with a rope. With the building of interstate roads in the 1960's traffic bypassed the area, tourism slowed and with Dean's death in 1972 the business closed.

Do not underestimate the natural beauty of these caves.
Photo by the Florida Speleological Society
In 2009 due to concern over dangers to the curious the City of Ocala secured and cleaned up the site with the help of the Florida Speleological Society.

In the 1930's the site was used in making a Tarzan movie.
In the 1960's it was set up for use as a nuclear fallout shelter.
"Man Mountain" Dean is said to have weighed over 600lbs.
A gate is installed at the cave entrance which enables the return of bats to the caves.
Just 2 miles north on 301 is Paradise Springs a small hole where you can dive 140 feet down into the aquifer.

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