Dunbar Cave State Park

Dunbar Cave State Park is home to it's namesake; Dunbar Cave which includes over 8 miles of subterranean passages in Clarksville, TN. Just under an hours drive from Nashville, the park offers hiking trails and guided cave tours along with an interactive visitors center.

Evidence of a Native American presence at Dunbar Cave extends back thousands of years prior to the arrival of settlers in the region. Archaeological artifacts have been found dating to the Paleo-Indian period with the bulk being from the Archaic period. During the Mississippian Period the cave was used for ceremonial purposes as evidenced by pictographs and petroglyphs.

In historical times, the cave was claimed by Thomas Dunbar who bought the land but did not have a deed (1784) and eventually lost the land in a legal battle (1792). During the Mexican-American War it was mined for saltpeter which is used in the production of gunpowder. Developers saw potential in the area and built cabins, and then a hotel in 1858. In the 1930's the area hosted social events. Country music legend Roy Acuff purchased the land in 1948 for $150,000 and soon after the cave hosted musical festivities and entertainment shows. The popularity of the cave declined  by the 1950's and in 1973 the State of Tennessee purchased the cave and turned the land into a Tennessee State Natural Area and eventually the State Park that it is today.

In 2005, Nashville Grotto caver and author Larry Matthews visited the cave with Dr. Joseph Douglas, a professor of history at Volunteer State Community State College as part of research for his book "Dunbar Cave: The Showplace of the South". Not far into the cave, Dr. Douglas spotted what he believed was a Native American pictograph among the extensive nineteenth-century graffiti present. He contacted Dr. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and together were able to determine that they were Native American in origin. Radiocarbon dating of cane torch remnants found inside the cave dated to 1260 A.D. 32 pictographs in total were found and thought to be religious \ ceremonial in nature with examples including states, circles, and even what is interpreted to be a Mississippian Cosmic Warrior. To read more fully about the findings here, read:

Dunbar Cave State Park has several hiking trails that you can check out on AllTrails. In addition, guided cave tours are available and reservations can be made HERE.

In addition, I'd encourage you to check out the National Speleological Society's website and consider joining a local Grotto (caving club) where you can sign up for trips to caves like this and learn from experienced cavers


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