See Tennessee’s Incredible Caves This Summer
Lots of people who live in Tennessee have never traveled the state much. This state really has three distinct sections–west, middle and east. West Tennessee is home to the liberal base and has repeatedly voted Democrats into office whenever the opportunity presented itself. This is the top of the Mississippi Delta and was a center of the lumber and cotton market. Middle Tennessee is more moderate and is home to Opryland and country-western music. It’s also quite a bit more affluent than the poorer Memphis and Jackson area to the west. But East Tennessee is where many of the state’s tourist attractions come from. This is Cumberland Mountain territory, the land of the beautiful Smokies where some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies are located. Middle and east Tennessee also contain some of the most incredible caves in eastern America. These draw visitors year after year. People who have not seen these caves before are in for an amazing adventure if they decide to tour two or three of them over a long weekend.
The Cumberland Caverns just 7 miles south of McMinnville off state Highway 8. It is also a short driving distance southeast of Nashville. This cave has been designated a U.S Landmark, so impressive are the formations and features here. For one thing, it is truly huge. Continual exploration expanded the known length of the caverns to over 30 miles of winding underground paths and numerous pockets where lakes and even some waterfalls were discovered. Saltpeter was mined here for using in gunpowder during the Civil War. Several rooms or galleries are well over 50 ft. tall and hundreds of ft. in length. Several waterfalls exist in the complex, but not all are viewable to the public. The unusual amount of gypsum deposits in these caves is rare. The resulting ornamentation looks like floral petals and is absolutely stunning. Some are clusters of tiny sparkling flower-like patterns; others are over a ft. across. Gypsum has also formed tapered “needles” that have broken off from larger deposits and lie on the floor in protected spots. The tour season opens May 1, so this summer would be a great time to pack up and take the whole family. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for youngsters 6-12. Children under 6 explore for free. Tours depart every two hours from 10-2, seven days a week.
1437 Cumberland Caverns Road
McMinnville, Tennessee 37110
Phone: (931) 668-4396
The Lost Sea is just off Interstate 75 going southwest out of Knoxville. This is well worth visiting as it is the world’s largest underground lake. Part of an extensive cave system that makes up these mountains. Both Indians and whites who lived here during the pioneer days and before used these caves for storage, and even later by moonshiners to hide their bottles, but it wasn’t until 1905 that a boy discovered the huge underground lake that was accessible through a small opening underground. The 13 known acres of lake discovered so far apparently have no end. Sonar devices used to detect walls or boundaries have failed to find them. Divers have been exploring these caves for decades and nobody seems to be able to find an end to them. Today, tourists can ride in glass-bottomed boats and view the rainbow trout swimming the lake as guides tell stories of its history and point out crystalline formations, “cave flowers: and beautiful “sculptures” made by water and acid over time. Be sure to wear warm clothing for this cave and others, as the constant temperature is 50 degrees year-round. This summer, cave hours are 9-7 and the cost is $13.95 for adults and $6.95 for youngsters 5-12. Call (423) 337-6616 for more information.
Another stop should certainly be the exquisite Ruby Falls at Lookout Mountain just outside Chattanooga, TN. The caves were long known by Indians, explorers, local residents, bandits, moonshiners and others, but it was only in the 1920s that the exquisite underground waterfall was discovered when drilling for another access point to the caves. Ruby Falls is an astounding 145 ft.- tall and it lies over 1,000 ft. below the surface of Lookout Mountain. The end of its journey where it falls into the underground pool is the Tennessee River. This spectacular falls is one of the largest in the world viewable by the public. It costs $14.95 for adults to visit and $6.95 for children 3-12. Tickets may be purchased online or by email, using the contact info.
1720 South Scenic Highway
Chattanooga, TN 37409