Blue Spring Cave is one of the United States longest at approximately 41 miles and a favorite among T.A.G. cavers.
Last year, I had the opportunity to join a trip going to the cave’s famed “Root Cellar” with a quick stop to see the Cascade Hall (link to that post). It was an extremely memorable trip and on completion, I showed my children photos of my day’s journey, which sparked an interest in my oldest son who quickly asked when he can come along. To get him started, I decided that Cripps Mill Cave (link) would be a great introduction, and then scheduled a trip to Blue Spring Cave to bring him on the popular “Cathedral Room Trip” that brings you to the “Moonscape”, and then through Cascade Hall and on to the Cathedral Room. At approximately 4 hrs round trip, I thought this would be a great, slightly more physical technical trip. It didn’t disappoint.
For a little background history on Blue Spring Cave as it was included in my previous post:
Blue Spring Cave is one of the longest in the United States (often holding in top ten of the USA Longest Caves list). It is currently surveyed at approximately 41 miles of passages and one of the most exciting finds since the exploration of Cumberland Caverns back in the 1950’s.
It is privately owned and closed to the general public though the landowner is extremely welcoming and allows continued survey efforts and trips led by experienced cavers who are familiar with it’s passages.
Up until around 1989, it was known as “the Bob Hill Cave” and believed to be only 500 feet long with a single chamber that is low, wide, and decorated with dripstone. In that year, a group of explorers enlarged a blowing crack at the rear of the cave that dropped into a large passage which was named Johnson Avenue, in honor of the property owner on which the entrance is located (historic entrance).
A second, artificial entrance was created in 2001 named the Carr entrance in honor of the landowner of which is is located. The new entrance allows access directly into Johnson Avenue and bypasses the crawlway that connects the historical front 500 feet of cave. This entrance is securely gated.
Also of note, Blue Spring Cave is one of several in Tennessee where footprints were made from what is suspected to be a extinct jaguar species (Panthera onca augusta) from the Pleistocene (Ice Age) dating back 11,700 years or more. This species weighed an estimated 450 -500 pounds (double that of a modern jaguar). No remains have been found as with sites like Little Airplane Cave, Craighead Caverns (The Lost Sea), or Wolf River Cave) however. The footprints were first noticed by Bill Walter in 1990, though he did not realize their age at the time and additional discoveries were made by Hal Love in 2003 where their age and significance were recognized. The tracks are not located near an existing entrance so it is suspected that the animal entered through a nearby entrance that has long since collapsed.
Recently, a group of VA cavers along with Clinton Elmore of Tennessee pushed the caves known length even further on a 100 hour + marathon trip (read here).
The Cathedral Room Trip
Arriving at Blue Spring Cave in the morning, we entered through the Carr Entrance which has a locked steel door with a round opening that allows you to feel the cool blowing air coming from the 40+ miles of cave passage on the other side. Making our way in, we headed down the initial gravel passage towards Johnson Avenue.
Along the way there is a ladder that I neglected to take a photo of that leads up to the original cave entrance that is now closed. Moving down the borehole and past several formation galleries, and the occasional critter… we crossed the steel suspension bridge that was placed to allow safer travel over the 60 ft pit below and on through Johnson Avenue as opposed to the dodgy alternate path around. On a historic note, Johnson Avenue was named after the family who owned the traditional entrance to Blue Spring Cave.
Beyond the bridge is a canyon passage and crawl which includes the turn off to the Cascade Hall as well as the borehole that leads to the rest of Blue Spring Cave. On making the turn off towards the Cascade Hall, you climb up through a hole that brings you to the upper level and a low walk and then crawl.
The crawl brings you out into a room near the top of a breakdown pile and nearby, you’ll find the Moonscape which is a large, dry, rim stone pool filled with 2 ft high raft cones which is flagged off due to being fragile.
Turning back and going back over the breakdown pile leads through large borehole and up an extremely slick flow-stone structure that requires a climb through a hole fondly called “the cussing hole”.
Once you make it through the hole and contribute to it’s name, you come out in the Cascade Hall, or Oasis… it’s an beautiful room that includes rim-stone dams and large flow-stone structures that include a climb with rigged hand lines. Navigating the rimstone can be tricky since it can be extremely fragile and you don’t want to step ON IT, so a degree of walking through the pools is required.
Beyond the Cascade Hall there is more borehole after a steep downclimb of at least 50 ft.
After completing the down-climb, you proceed down the borehole passage to the Cathedral Room which is approximately 100ft tall and 200ft x 100ft in size.
This trip is approximately 4 hrs round-trip if you take the time to stop and appreciate the various sites along the way. My son absolutely loved it and continues to list it as his favorite trip to date despite having been on several since. A special thanks to Lonnie Carr for allowing so many cavers a chance to experience and appreciate everything that Blue Spring Cave has to offer.
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.