Tuesday, October 4, 2011
A Magficent Local Cathedral
Last Sunday my husband and I were on break from travelling to the Plains so we decided to resume our local tours of area attractions. I grew up in this area and had heard boys back in high school talk about Cathedral Caverns. At that time the place was privately owned and not open to the public. These boys used to go help the owner and in return got to explore the cave. I had never been and, since the State of Alabama now owns it, I wanted to go see the park and take the tour.
We loaded up and headed for Grant, Alabama, a small town just north of Guntersville. Some of my friends had been recommending a little diner there, Mime’s, so we decided to eat lunch early then continue on our way to the caves. The diner is on the main road that runs through Grant and is just before DAR School if you are headed north. It’s located in a small house that you might miss if you aren’t looking for it. We pulled into the tiny parking lot at eleven (it opens at ten on Sundays) and went inside. The interior is kind of over-done with murals but it was clean and pleasant. The menu consists of three meats, about twelve vegetables and three desserts. You get to order one meat, three vegetables and one dessert. I ordered the fried chicken, squash casserole, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese (I know, starch overload) and banana pudding. I can honestly say that this was the best fried chicken I have had in a long time. It tasted like my grandmother’s, which meant they had to have soaked the chicken in buttermilk before flouring it. The vegetables were good. All in all, it was a lovely little country restaurant with good soul food. I would recommend it to any of you if you get the chance to head to Grant.
Finished with lunch, we continued on our journey. Just up the road is DAR School. We stopped at the scenic overlook in front of the school and snapped this picture.
It was a beautiful, almost-fall day and the beauty berries were gorgeous. As we stood there, the chimes at the school were playing old-time gospel songs like the kind I grew up singing in a backwoods Baptist church. It made me very nostalgic and I wanted to stay to hear others but we had to get to the caverns.
Cathedral Caverns was about seven miles north of Grant, down a winding road. It has a beautiful little gift shop/snack area in front of the cave opening.
We bought our tickets ($12 for adults) and waited until the next tour (each tour lasts about an hour and a half). Be sure to time your arrival accordingly because the tours start at 10:00 am and are run every two hours. We missed the twelve o’clock tour and had to wait for the next one at 2 pm. In the meantime, I walked around the tiny gift shop and looked at the rocks and displays. I ended up buying some crystals and a moonstone. Don’t know why, but rocks (not just diamonds) appeal to me.
At 2:00, our guide appeared and led us down the trail to the opening of the cave. He said that this is the largest opening of any cave in the United States which is being operated for tours. The outer portion of the cave was used by early Native Americans (8,000 years ago) as a central area for hunting. A little deeper in the mouth of the cave, artifacts have been discovered that date to the Civil War. He said that local legend had deserters from both armies hiding out in the caves at that time.
We entered the double gates and started our descent. It was kind of dark and there was water in places on the sidewalk so be sure to wear good walking shoes (no sandals because you will get wet). Our guide said because of the construction of the walkways, the natural ponds in the cave were disrupted so artificial ones had to be built. It seems that caves, to continue “living”, have to have plentiful water sources. Just before you enter the back part of the cave, the State has erected glass doors that are closed to keep the moisture inside. Humidity inside the cave is great and my hair immediately began to fall and straighten.
The first structure we came to was “Goliath”, a huge column standing in the middle of a pond of water. I believe the guide said it was the largest column found in any cave.
The crack in the base was caused by the earthquake in the 1800’s, the one that caused the Mississippi to flow backward.
We passed the frozen river that was a marvel to see. It was a huge wall of flowstone caused by constantly running water over the face of the stones.
I snapped a picture of this stalagmite which, to me, resembled Santa Claus with a cane.
We finally entered the area that gave the cave its name – The Cathedral Room. The two columns at its entrance are magnificent.
There are so many beautiful stalagmites and stalactites in that area. It really is a marvel to see and experience.
The tour ended at the back of the cave to the point where walkways have been built. The guide said that the cave went back another mile and there were many more beautiful rooms which are not accessible to the public. However, there is something called “The Wild Tour” which lasts about six hours and you can scramble and climb the rocks to get to those rooms. It’s tempting…
Have you ever been spelunking? It never appealed to me before (I hate closed places and the dark) but this place definitely inspired me. To what, I don’t know, maybe insanity if I consider that tour. Tell me about any of the caves you’ve visited. Or better yet, tell me a new adventure to go on that is local. Maybe I’ll drag you along for the ride!