I really am not a fan of taking group tours. Especially if it’s during a holiday weekend. So, how did I find myself at Cathedral Caverns over the Veterans Day weekend? Eh, I had nothing better to do.
Cathedral Caverns is located in Cathedral Caverns State Park. Previously known as the Bat Cave (insert Batman theme here), it’s a publicly owned recreation area and natural history preserve. You can camp and explore in this area located in Kennamer Cove, approximately 5 miles northeast of Grant and 7 miles southeast of Woodville in Marshall County, Alabama. The drive from Huntsville, AL took about 45 minutes.
The first thing you’ll notice is the humongous mouth of the cave. It’s all Mother Nature-made with the exception of the concrete flooring. It’s the widest entrance of any commercial cave in the world. At a gaping 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide it would rival the mouth of a whale shark (ok, I’m exaggerating here, but you get the gist). Along with this, the caverns hold five additional world records.
2. Cathedral Caverns has the largest flow stone wall, which is 32 feet tall and 135 feet long.
3. Cathedral Caverns is known for the largest “frozen” waterfall.
4. Cathedral Caverns has the largest stalagmite forest of any cave in the world.
5. Cathedral Caverns has the most improbable formation in the world which is a stalagmite that is 35 feet tall and 3 inches wide!
Our tour guide was a local good ol’ boy by the name of Rooster. I believe his real name was James, but Rooster was quite an endearing nickname for him. He told us local stories, facts about the cavern’s previous owner and developer, Jacob Gurley, and how the caverns came to be. Rooster, who’s local, says that locals say Cathedral rivals Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Luray Caverns in Virginia and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico in terms of size, formations and beauty. I feel there may be a bit of bias on his part, but who am I to judge? Rooster wowed us with how spear points, arrowheads, broken pieces of pottery, a couple of fire pits and a multitude of artifacts were uncovered. The artifacts dated anywhere from about 200 years ago to 9,000 years ago.
What I liked most about this place was the fact that it is highly handicap accessible. The flooring was concreted and there was really only one steep part, but an alternative path was available for people with wheelchairs. Even better, the establishment offers rides on a golf cart for you to tour the caverns. This touched my heart as my mom, who’s 75, has really bad knees. I loved that this was something she would be able to see if she were to visit me while I was in Alabama.
The tour itself is about a mile and we were underground for about 2 hours. What I thought was weird was how it didn’t smell dank or what I thought a cave would smell like. Or what my basement in my home, circa 1890, smells like after a heavy rain. Apparently, a river dubbed Mystery River runs through the cave and is continually bringing new oxygen into the cave. That oxygen keeps the air refreshed.
Every now and again, Rooster would point up to the ceiling and show us a single protrusion emanating from the ceiling explaining they were single shark teeth. I don’t know if he was pulling our legs, but the good natured redneck joke that accompanied the first tooth spotting was pretty funny! (I refuse to repeat it in fear of Rooster kin retaliation.)
At the apex of the tour, we’re treated to a moment of complete darkness. I have done this to myself before where I’ve experimented with what standing in a black hole would be like. Super freaky, let me tell ya! The sensation wasn’t as intimidating with others around because there’s always safety in numbers. If Rooster really were to leave us down there unless we gave him a tip, like he was threatening, I would have wrestled that little man for his flashlight! However, since I had a couple dollars, and he made the tour enjoyable, I felt obliging to just give him a tip.
With the tour itself complete, we were given the chance to take our time back to the entrance. Rooster lollygagged behind to turn the lights back off as the last of us gaped in wonder. As I gaped in wonder, I slipped on some wet concrete and fell on my ass!
As people rushed to my aid and offered a helping hand, asking if I were alright, my only response was, “Are my Oakleys okay?!”
Much love and Aloha,
your thoroughly gauche clueless wanderer
(To check out my solo caving adventure, click here)