An engaged couple revisits the location of their first date, in Lake of the Ozarks
By Jackie Tucker
“You’re engaged!” My fiancé’s sister, Amy, squealed and gave me a huge hug as I stepped through the door. Fiancé—I was still getting used to calling Chris that. He had proposed a few days before at my favorite restaurant in our hometown, and now we were taking our annual trip to Lake of the Ozarks. Our families have been friends since we were kids, and we’ve all been coming to Lake of the Ozarks together for as long as I can remember. We were the last to arrive at the cabin, and everyone was crowding around to offer their congratulations.
After making the rounds of hugs and handshakes, my dad raised a glass of champagne for a toast. “To the happy couple…it’s about time.” I rolled my eyes as everyone laughed. The running joke was that Chris and I had been dating since we were eight years old, which actually wasn’t that far from the truth. We were practically connected at the hip as kids, and other than a brief parting of ways when we went to different colleges, everyone seemed to know we would get married one day.
“You know, our first official date was here in Lake of the Ozarks,” Chris reminded my dad.
“That’s right,” I said with a smile, remembering. “We went to Bridal Cave.”
Turning to me, Chris grinned. “How about a trip down memory lane?”
Memories old and new
Later that afternoon, Chris and I headed over to Bridal Cave to relive our first date. One of the reasons we first became such good friends was that we both fancied ourselves adventurers. We loved running around and exploring Lake of the Ozarks, and there was certainly a lot to explore. We aren’t alone in loving this lake—it has been voted the number one recreational lake in the US by USA Today readers. Our favorite self-proclaimed “expeditions” were the many caves in the area like Fantasy World Caverns, Ozark Caverns and Jacob’s Cave. But Bridal Cave was a special place to me because of our first date here. I’ve also always been intrigued by the daring and romantic legend of a Native American love story that took place in the cavern.
Chris nodded at the entrance to the cave and said, “I’ve heard if you go in this cave with a girl you have to marry her.” I laughed. His older brother had teased us the night of our first date, shouting that from outside the cave. We were 13 and easily embarrassed, but Chris had just ignored him, grabbed my hand and kept walking. Actually, I think that may have been the moment I knew I wanted to marry him.
An underground journey
I have been to Bridal Cave several times over the years, but it had been a while since my last visit. As my eyes adjusted to the dim, honey-colored lighting, I started to feel that tingle of excitement that comes with exploring. Ducking under the low, mineral ceilings, we made our way down into the depths of the cave. The cool air and soft echoes of dripping water made me feel like I should whisper.
As we entered the Bridal Chapel cave room, my breath caught in my throat. I had forgotten just how beautiful it was. Stunning rock formations draped from ceiling to floor and created the illusion of an enormous pipe organ. I thought of the Native American legend and how Irona and Prince Buffalo were married down here. I wondered if they had been married in this very room…because I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful spot.
We pressed through a very narrow mineral-made hallway, called the Lemon Squeezer, into the next cave. White mineral deposits made it appear that hundreds of candles had burned brightly and dripped their wax down the entire height of the wall. Pausing at the Wishing Well, Chris and I tossed a penny each into the water below. “What did you wish for?” he asked. I smiled and kept walking, taking in the beauty of the unique forms along the cave walls. Mini-stalactites and stalagmites and wavy mineral formations created interesting shapes that a very imaginative person had named “soda straws” and “bacon flaps.”
Up to the right above a stone bridge were the remnants of an old hand-made wooden ladder. Explorers had used it to discover small rooms, and then dug a path through to the other side. We came to Mystery Lake, a pool filled with shimmering blue-green water that had always fascinated me. Something about it assured me that big things lay just ahead.
The next great adventure
“I have a crazy idea,” Chris said as he purchased a handful of old-fashioned candy from the gift shop just outside the cave. I recognized the look on his face. The starry eyes, the giddy grin. It was the look he got every time he started planning one of our float trips or backpacking vacations. I had no idea what he was planning, but I already knew I was in.
“Let’s get married!” he said.
I was confused. Holding up my left hand and wiggling my ring finger, I said, “Chris, you’ve already proposed. And I said yes. We are getting married.”
“No,” he said, still grinning. He handed me a brochure that he had picked up from the counter, and suddenly I knew exactly what he was talking about. “Let’s get married here!”
“In the cave,” I whispered.
The kind woman behind the cash register piped in, “Every Valentine’s Day we have a free event for couples to renew their wedding vows. You can get married here and then come back to relive the moment.”
“What do you think?” Chris asked before giving me a big kiss, sweeping me off my feet all over again.
I thought back to our first date and the moment I knew I wanted to marry him.
“I can think of nowhere better,” I replied.
Our wedding and many more adventures were in store for our future—I couldn’t wait to see what lay ahead.
Learn more about caves in Lake of the Ozarks and plan your getaway.