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300 Feet Below the Surface at the Cumberland Caverns – Kent French

300 Feet Below the Surface at the Cumberland Caverns

by: Kent French

I love Nashville!! It is my favorite city on the hockey circuit. The music and the vibe, there is nothing like it. And like many of my friends and co-workers, I don’t stray from the country scene on Broadway. I am very content with a beverage or two and great music at the Honkey Tonk Central, The Stage and of course Tootsies.

But this past year, I had a rare two days off in Music City. So I decided to venture out of the city and experience the beautiful state of Tennessee. Over the holiday’s, I had heard from a friend that he and his kids paid a visit to the Cumberland Caverns outside of Nashville, and that it was definitely a spot for my camera and I to visit. The more research I did, I discovered Cumberland Caverns is a National Natural Landmark and show cave located in McMinnville. It is the second longest cave in Tennessee with almost 30 miles of caves and underground passages and makes the list of longest caves in the United States and in the world.

"At one point he turned off all the lights and noted that there are only two places you can find natural, true darkness--in a cave and at the bottom of the ocean."

So on an overcast morning, I rented a jeep and headed out for my adventure. My mind was filled with ideas and images that I might find, but during my 45 minute drive, I was often distracted by the beautiful countryside and quaint towns I passed through.

True Americana, it wasn’t difficult to pull over to the side of the road, take a deep breath, and just take in the space.

Finally, I arrived at my destination and upon entering the building, there were dozens of pictures, post cards, and memorabilia of the caverns that rivaled any gift shop.

Then my tour guide greeted me, Travis Young, the General Manager of Cumberland Caverns. He is a lifelong resident and businessman of Warren County, right where the Caverns are located, and immediately I recognized he was one of the nicest, most accommodating people I have ever met. He escorted me down a dirt road that started behind the offices and wound around a mountain side, through some beautiful trees to a set of double doors nestled in the side of a mountain.

Once inside, I felt like I had just started the Pirates of the Caribbean ride with streams, waterfalls, mood lighting, and makeshift mining scenes that represented what things looked like back in the 1800’s when the caverns were uncovered.

Here’s a little history for you. The main entrance was discovered by Aaron Higgenbotham in 1810 while he was surveying the nearby Chickamauga Trail on Cardwell Mountain in what is now Warren County. According to legend, Higgenbotham was the first man to enter the cave and it was named Higgenbotham Cave in his honor. Another smaller cave, also located on Cardwell Mountain, was also discovered about this time and was named Henshaw Cave. Although not nearly as big as Higgenbotham Cave, Henshaw Cave proved to be a source of saltpeter (the main ingredient of gunpowder) and was operated as a saltpeter mine during both the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

This experience was even more special as this was a private tour and we were the only 2 people in the caverns. He would turn on lights as we went and turn off lights behind us. At one point he turned off all the lights and noted that there are only two places you can find natural, true darkness–in a cave and at the bottom of the ocean.

We ended up on the caverns floor, 333 feet below the surface and watched a video of how the caverns were discovered.

He also showed me the concert venue that hosts Cumberland Caverns Live where musical acts from around the globe perform.

But one of the most impressive things he showed me were the messages that explores had written on the cave ceilings that seemed like they were written yesterday but were created hundreds of years ago.

Once we made our way back out of the cave it took a moment for my eyes and lungs to adjust because of the thin air.

It was an experience of such history and beauty and located just on the outskirts of one of my favorite cities that I would highly recommend it to all my #FrenchiesFriends.

Until next time
KF