Hidden Corners of History: Carter Caves

Hidden Corners of History: Carter Caves

Jarrod E. Stephens

The Ashland Beacon


   There are times whenever we need to get away from the daily tasks and take on some adventure. Unfortunately, we are now entering the time of year where the weather may dampen the opportunity for outdoor adventures. It’s no secret that we live in one of the most beautiful regions whenever it comes to diverse landscapes and natural beauty. 

   Thanks to the foresight and generosity of some lawmakers and landowners, an underground world of exploration exists that rarely is affected by our outdoor weather. Hidden away in Carter County is a gem of a place where in spite of cooling weather and sometimes sour conditions you can enjoy mild temperatures and relatively dry conditions year-round.

   Carter Caves State Resort Park is home to an amazing series of underground caves that any explorer from beginner to expert can appreciate. Some caves don’t offer wintertime tours but were important in our local history. One cave in particular has quite an historical significance. The Saltpeter Cave is said to have been used to mine saltpeter which is an ingredient used in gunpowder. Some say that the saltpeter was actually mined and used to produce gunpowder for the War of 1812. This cave is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

   Another cave that offers limited tours is the Bat Cave. The Bat Cave is considered a wild cave tour because is has not been modernized with pathways or lighting. As its name suggests, it is home to many bats. That’s the primary reason for limiting the cave tours from Memorial to Labor Day. Many bats hibernate in the cave and limiting the tours keeps them from being disturbed during hibernation.

   While the temperatures will cool some during the winter months, the temperature inside the caves will generally stay in the 50s. Guided tours of X-Cave and Cascade cave are given year-round. Cascade Cave offers the longest scenic cave tour in the park. Inside you’ll get to see a 30-foot waterfall and an enormous room called the Dance Hall. Other notable features are the Cathedral, North cave, and Lake Room’s reflecting pool. 

   X-Cave is also open year-round and is so named because of the crossing of the caverns in the middle of the cave and it forms an X. The Great Chandelier can be seen and is the largest collection of stalactites in the park. Some other features are formations known as Headache Rock, the Pipe Organ and Giant Turkey. 

   Nearly a decade ago a sad chapter for the caves had begun to be written. A disease that is known as white-nose syndrome began infecting the hibernating bats in the caves. The disease is fatal for up to 70-100% of bat populations when it is introduced. White-nose syndrome is carried and spread by visitors who wear contaminated clothing into the cave. Extensive measures for monitoring the bats and providing decontamination of clothing and shoes for visitors have been put into place to protect the fragile bat population.  

   If you don’t care to brave the fall and winter elements or if you catch a relatively nice day, then you can also take advantage of their many trails that will offer you a unique experience. The park has five natural bridges and several miles of walking trails. The trails will give you a glimpse of the area’s unique geology and you’ll maybe realize for the first time what an amazing place Carter Caves really is.

   Don’t let the late fall and coming winter days keep you from embarking on a journey. Take the short drive to Carter Caves State Resort Park and experience its rich history and see for yourself why so many visitors come back. 

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