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Going Places: Appalachian Caverns

April 25th, 2012 9:25 am by Staff Report

Going Places: Appalachian Caverns

The adjacent campground, with the original 1700s log cabin, is open seasonally and offers electricity and water hook-ups.

By Susan Kendrick Lauhoff

During this time of year in Northeast Tennessee, we are gifted with splendor that dazzles us as nature wakes from sleep. Emerging from shorter days, the adventurer in me was ready to visit caverns that existed over 500 million years ago.

The challenge of caving and possibly spelunking was irresistible, perhaps, because my husband and I are "owned" by two Scottish Terriers (terrier means earth and the little dogs were developed in Scotland over 200 years ago to hunt animals underground).

The private tour was scheduled and I adorned the clothes I would wear in a deer stand. With much anticipation, I headed to Blountville and called a friend of mine who was eager to tag along. Gail, my friend, pulls up wearing capris and cute flats. I wondered if she had dressed appropriately but she responded, "Oh yes, you can take a wheel chair!" My idea of "roughing it" had diminished. Yet, I was eager to see this hidden treasure so I asked Randy Smith, our tour guide and the manager of Appalachian Caverns, "OK, where is it?" He answered, "Right below us." And that, dear readers, was my second pleasant surprise of the tour.

Leaving the gift shop that houses the largest collection of rocks in East Tennessee, we began the descent.
Our very knowledgeable and gracious guide spent the next two hours sharing tidbits of interesting data about what many consider to be Tennessee’s first natural historic attraction.

Early Woodland and Cherokee Indians used the caverns before the first white men, John and Jim Linville, discovered it. Called Linville Caverns before it became commercial in 1988, Robert Joyner purchased it and renamed it Appalachian Caverns. In 2004, the Hartley family in Johnson City became the new owners.

My sense of smell piqued from the musky earth. The ramp that forms the tour was paved and hand-railed. Lighting was strategically placed throughout the caverns to highlight the rich colored rocks with the three main colors ironically being the same for my alma mater: red (iron), black (manganese) and white (calcium). As a Georgia Bulldog, I felt right at home but Gail, on the other hand, was looking for orange.

As a first-timer, I was exploring new visions. I was awed by the beauty and excited to see the bats our guide had promised.

"These particular bats hibernate alone and not in colonies. When hibernating, they have three heart beats per minute and their body temperature is 32 degrees," shared Smith.

Gail realized another popular feature of the caverns and planned aloud a visit with her grandchildren.

"I can’t think of a better place to take them this summer when it’s so hot during the day because it will be cool in here." And, Smith confirmed, "The average temperature is 63 degrees in the summer and 40 degrees in the winter." Then Gail added, "Well, it’s so easily accessible too, and there are no worries with a 3- and 5-year-old."

As we descended deeper, Smith directed us to observe many different rock formations. He told us, "It can take from seven to 125 years for one cubic inch of a stalagmite to form from the water dropping through the ceiling and mixing with the minerals." He further shared that the South used the caverns to hide ammunition and as a hospital during the Civil War since it was non-pathogenic.

Approaching the lowest point of our hike at 320 feet below ground, we heard the waterfall before we saw it. We examined a still that was founded on the premises and used during prohibition. Catfish, trout, bluegill, spring fish and carp are in the waters though fishing is not allowed.

Property deeds have proven a colorful list of previous owners. Roger Hartley, steward of the caverns, shared some insight, "Daniel Boone inherited the property upon Linville’s death in the 1760s and later, Davy Crockett’s father owned the land."

Boy Scout troops, churches and schools visit annually and Girl Scouts from coast to coast attend the summer camporee. Appalachian Caverns is open every day, except Christmas. The adjacent campground, with the original 1700s log cabin, is open seasonally and offers electricity and water hook-ups.

The caverns and gift shop are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information regarding fees, group rates, spelunking and rock wall climbing, please contact Randy Smith or Roger Hartley at 423-323-2337, visit the website at, or stop in at 420 Cave Hill Road in Blountville.

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