Show Caves of the Southeast, A Lake Can Make a Difference
Cherokee Caverns in Tennessee is a small neglected show cave that I visited in the 1970s on a service call to the Oak Ridge Labs. The tour of the water filled nuclear reactor was more exciting than the cave tour. The owner at the time was trying to get me to explore more of the cave for him so he could get more customers. Jim Whidby, a NSS member tried to help the owners keep the cave open by hosting a Haunted Cave tours each year the week before Halloween. A volunteer crew works around the clock to deck out the whole cave with carved pumpkins, props and so-called scare sequences. The visitors have to find their way through the cave, with some parts of almost complete darkness, uneven ground, and typical cave atmosphere. The cave is equipped with stroboscope lights and a lot of artificial fog. The cave in 1947 was even named Atomic Caverns, after the nearby Oak Ridge Labs.
Whidby has been involved with the preservation of the cave since 1989. The cave was discovered in 1854 when farmer Robert Crugdington stumbled onto fog rising from the ground. The cave was opened to the public in 1929 under the name Gentry’s Cave.
The cave is open with an $8.00 fee for ages seven and older, for a ‘Cool Down’ event in August, and two weeks of events near Christmas and Halloween. Groups of 12 or more can also make reservations for tours year around with two weeks notice. The main attraction in the cave is the mud volcanoes that form when water dripping from the ceiling mixes with mud under the floor, creating pressure and eventually erupting out.
Lost Sea at Sweetwater, Tennessee was one of the most unusual caves I have visited, for a wild or show cave. The lake was indeed large and the fish always hungry, after all the only food they get is what the tour guides bring them! I thought that they did a great job with the under water lighting and it really showed off the lake well and just how clear and still it was. The Lost Sea is part of Craighead Caverns named after former owner, a Cherokee, Chief Craighead. The caverns were used by the Cherokee as a meeting place.
The lake was discovered in 1905 by thirteen year old Ben Sands. The surface of the lake is 800 feet long and 220 feet wide. The boat tour uses glass bottom boats with under water lights to view the large trout they stocked the lake with. On each boat you get to see a feeding frenzy and the guide throws food around the boat. Adult rates are $17.95, ages 5-12 $7.95 and 4 and under free.
They also offer a wild cave tour each Saturday. Saltpeter was mined there during the Civil War with dates on the walls from 1863. 20,000 year old jaguar tracks and bones have been recovered from the cave and are on display in the American Museum of Natural History, and in the visitor center at the cave.
Lost Sea rates very high on my list of show caves to visit. The caverns have seen everything from moon shiners and cockfights, to a dance floor in the early 1900s.