The cave we were exploring made a sharp turn to the left and narrowed so that we had to crawl through this new passage. We continued down it, my son going first. Soon we came to a room large enough to stand up in. My son went in and, just as I was about to enter, he turned around and began crawling out crying, ” Quick! Turn around!”
Earlier that day my oldest son and I met in the kitchen, each looking for something eat. We realized that we were both home for the rest of the day; me with a day off from work and he had finished a final at school and was home early. The December day, which had started off with bright blue skies, was now gray but fairly warm. We decided then and there that it was time for a mini adventure, so we did a quick wardrobe change and 10 minutes later we were off in search of a couple caves we had heard about.
We drove south through rolling farmlands on a country highway and eventually turned onto a dirt road. This road wound through a sparse forest until it ended at a small parking lot with only one mud covered pick up truck parked there. We got out and noted the silence around us. The sound of the wind in the pines and a few winter birds were all that could be heard which was surprising because civilization was not that far away. The day had turned even grayer- it would rain for the next two days straight- the kind of colorlessness that you only get in the winter where it becomes difficult to even tell the time of day. We crossed the parking lot to the well marked trailhead and began our hike.
The trail is a short two-ish mile rocky lollipop hike through a forest that eventually opens up on bluffs high above the Duck River. The land at the beginning of the hike, in the not too distant past, must have been all fields because the trees here were young and we passed a number of clearings and old rusty fences.
We walked slowly talking music as my son played songs on his phone. We also laughed at what has long been our family’s trail name- Chubby Buffalo. My son, years ago in grade school, had come up with the name for reasons neither of us can now remember. We decided that people probably picture a large older man who wears cargo shorts and a flannel year round, hiking alone in the woods with wool socks pulled high on his calf’s, worn Timberlands, and a baseball cap. People would be shocked to know that Chubby Buffalo is really a family of six!
The trail soon reached the bluffs overlooking the Duck River. The river, wider than I expected, flowed fast and had a greenish-blue tint which added some color to the day. The Duck River is the longest river located entirely inside Tennessee. It flows freely for most of its length and is home to over 50 species of freshwater mussels and 151 species of fish, making it the most biologically diverse river in North America. We stood and watched it for a bit as it flowed between the high bluffs on our side and flat rich farmland on the other side. Then we moved on; it was time to find the caves.
The caves are not on the trail. I had done some research as to where they are located before we left the house so I had a general idea of where to go. We had one false start down the wrong trail, but quickly corrected ourselves and headed down the correct trail hugging the edge of the bluffs. Soon we came to a section where the woods to the right of us opened into a large flat cleaning. Here we cut over and bushwhacked a few hundred feet until a line of stone disappeared into a depression. We hoped down over the stone and there it was, the mouth of the cave.
My son strapped on his headlamp and went into the cave. I followed close behind. Darkness soon enveloped us with only the headlamps lighting up our path. The floor of the cave was dry but water dripped along the sides creating beautiful muddy stalactites and stalagmites.
I was surprised at how large the cave was, we could stand up in most places. My son went to check out a room located high towards the ceiling of the cave and found a spoon and headlight had been left in it. We were hardly the first to find the cave but I was pleased to see that most visitors had left it in its natural state. There was very little damage unlike some other easily accessible caves we have explored.
We continued on and came to another passage. We crawled through it, my son again going first, and it came to a room large enough to stand up in. My son went in and, just as I was about to enter, he turned around and began crawling out crying, “Quick! Turn around!”
I crawled backwards until I reached the main room, wondering what my son had seen. Spiders? Bats? A wild animal? Could easily be any of those. But nope, it was mosquitoes. Thousands of them. They covered the walls of the room, spending the day in the humid warmth of the cave. But as soon as my son stood up in the room, they woke up and, excited for fresh blood, began swarming him. He made it out unscathed and we decided it was time to find the exit of the cave.
The cave exited onto the side of the bluff a couple hundred feet below where we entered it. The river was closer now and we could hear it rushing by. We continued along, picking our way along the edge of the cliffs, rounding a rock wall, and came upon another cave. The headlamps went back on and we ended this new cave.
This cave too was large with plenty of room to stand in the main room. We explored side passage, most of which required crawling but nothing too tight. At one point we army crawled under a low hanging rock into another room that opened up tall enough to stand up in. Here again we saw that the walls were covered with mosquitoes and we made a speedy exit just as a few were waking up to our CO2.
The cave climbed up and we exited at the top of the bluff, not too far from where we had entered the first cave. Looking back, the entrances were unseen from this vantage point. Nothing but rocks and trees and the river rushing by below us.
We headed back and reached the car as the gray deepened darker into twilight. On the ride home, speeding past cars and buses, we thought of all of those people heading home from a normal day of work and school. But we were different. We had squeezed in an impromptu adventure that we would always remember.
You can learn more about the hike and how to get there here. Some easy research will lead you to the caves.