Cripps Mill Cave is one of the largest and most interesting caves in DeKalb County, though smaller than close by Indian Grave Point Cave. Historically, the water that flows from the cave entrance was used to operate the mill that is its namesake for over 150 years. The property has served community residents as a picnic area and as a trout farm in the mid 1970’s. Today, the cave is well known to National Speleological Society cavers who coordinate trips into the cave with the landowner on a case by case basis since it is on private property as well as weekend vacationers who appear to reserve a stay at the Mill house.
|Historic photo from www.dekalbcountytennessee.com|
|Modern photo of the mill wheel taken on a recent visit|
Cripps Mill Cave developed in Ordovician period Bigby-Cannon Limestone.It has two entrances…the main entrance is 90 feet wide and 15 feet high with a pond behind a dam wall constructed across it’s mouth and the “Goat Cave” entrance which is located on a hill approximately 100 yards above the actual mill which is 5 feet in diameter and drops into a large entrance room.
|Pond with dam wall on approach to the Cripps Mill Cave main entrance|
|Cripps Mill Cave main entrance|
On entering the cave, the main stream channel runs for approximately 900 feet and leads into a large room filled with breakdown called “Grand Central Station” that is 50 feet high.
|Path along the main stream channel|
|Cross one section of the stream passage|
|Grand Central Station|
Three branches of the cave and stream radiate from Grand Central Station. To the right is the “Long Dry Passage” which goes for 960 feet and is 25 feet wide and 10 feet high, though it tapers near the end. Along the way, there are beautiful flow stone columns and calcite pools.
|The Long Dry Passage|
|Flow stone columns|
|Flow stone columns|
This section of the cave has particular historical archaeological significance according to a document by Joseph Douglas of Vol State Community College outlining evidence of aboriginal (prehistoric Native American) exploration of this section of Cripps Mill Cave. Throughout most of the cave, cane charcoal deposits and stoke marks on walls and rocks from bundled cane torches can be found. A single radiocarbon sample of cane charcoal from the end of this passage revealed an age putting it in the Late Mississippian Period, between 1400 to 1420 years ago. It should be noted that there is no evidence of mining, burials, or cave art so it’s suspected that only exploration occurred.
Back from Grand Central Station, another passage continues north for 300 feet and ends in a silt fill.
|North passage end|
The last branch leads into “Goat Cave”. Again from Grand Central Station, you climb down breakdown and then move left up the first of several steep hills.
As you make your way down one of these, there is a waterfall on the left.
And a two crawls on the way to the Bat Chamber
Before the last reaching the Bat Chamber, there is a final steep climb.
Finally, approximately 450 feet to the left (west) of Grand Central Station, you’ll find a sign indicating that you have reached the entrance to the Bat Chamber which is the end of “Goat Cave”. You’ll see a 20 foot pit that you can climb over by moving across a stone arch bridge. Keep in mind that due to the bat population, this area is off limits from April through September.
|Sign at the entrance to the Bat Chamber|
|20 foot pit with stone arch bridge to the right|
Entering the Bat Chamber you’ll find beautiful formations and flow stone with a final length of passage that ends with additional formations stalactite’s.
|Formations flow stone in the Bat Chamber area|
|Formations in the Bat Chamber area|
Of particular biological interest, the cave itself is home to a large colony of gray bats which is monitored by the Tennessee Nature Conservancy due to the cooperation of the landowner. It is a maturity cave where the young bats cling to their mothers from the end of May until July. Caution is needed and trips into the cave limited during that time since the mothers will drop the baby’s if disturbed. It’s been reported that on two consecutive years, 600+ dead bats have been found.
The cave is also home to several other varieties of bats in addition to invertebrates such as luminous larvae of fungus gnats, pseudoscoprions, centipedes, cave crickets, and three species of cave beetles.
|Sign posted by The Nature Conservancy at the main entrance|
|Little brown bat|
Exiting Cripps Mill Cave’s main entrance during daytime.
Please note that caving can be a dangerous activity for the inexperienced. If you have an interest in exploring caves, check out a local grotto from the National Speleological Society website so you can connect with experienced cavers in your area who will show you the ropes. Also, remember that caves can be on either private property or government land so please always ensure that you either have permission from the landowner or the proper permits obtained before visiting a cave. While there, remember to…
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.