Huntsville school field trips have come a long way since my mother’s day when all they had was the Space & Rocket Center (and it didn’t even have the fun stuff), no botanical gardens, no Burritt on the Mountain, and no Cathedral Caverns. But in my childhood, we had all of these things, and I always enjoy revisiting the trips of my youth, particularly around Huntsville, and gaining a fresh, new experience.
And it’s always fun to bring my parents along for the ride. So I convinced them it was time for a spelunking adventure in Cathedral Caverns.
Okay, so it’s not a real spelunking adventure, it’s a guided tour.
Cathedral Caverns was opened to the public by Jacob Gurley in the 1950’s. Back then it was called Bat Cave. Gurley renamed the cave when he brought his wife back to one of his recently explored rooms and she said that room looked like a cathedral. The caverns were purchased by the state of Alabama in 1987, it was opened as a State Park in the summer of 2000. In 1995, it was used as the cave setting for the Disney movie Tom and Huck.
While my mother never got to take a field trip to the cave in her school days, she has been plenty of times in her adulthood (probably for my and my brother’s field trips), so she shows off her cavernous knowledge: The massive entrance is naturally formed and is wide enough to fit an airplane. This is the point where the tour guide offers to let her take over, and she claims that that’s all she can remember about the cave. The opening measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high and is a possible world record for commercial caves.
The entrance is grand, but the cave just gets grander as you keep going further in. We come to a stalagmite that measures 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference. My mom says, “I bet this is called Goliath.” Guess who’s right? Guess who knew didn’t forget as much as she thought? Goliath is one of the largest stalagmites in the world and is still slowly growing at a rate of 1 cubic centimeter every 100 years.
Further into the cave is a “frozen” waterfall formation and the large stalagmite forest that is the caverns’ namesake. Past the cathedral room, we reached the end of the public cave. Beyond the path lie three more rooms that are only explored by park staff to keep note of cave conditions. One of these rooms is the crystal room, filled with soda straw formations made of pure white calcite.
At the end of the trail, the guide turns off the light and we experience total darkness.
On the walk back, we use our flashlight to guide us as the tour guide takes up the rear and is slow getting to the light switches to turn them back on. Up a set of previously unexplored stairs we find a nook where we come face to face with a snoozing bat. We let him be and find way back to the massive entrance and the light of day.
Tell me your cave adventures in the comments!