The Lost Sea Adventure – Sweetwater, TN

I’d been wanting to check this out for a couple of years now. After a failed visit while on the way to New Orleans (got there too late, and tours had already shut down for the day, and didn’t have the time to stay overnight and go the next morning) back in 2011, I finally carved some time out on my trip out to Texas.

Craighead Caverns themselves are fairly lackluster in appearance, when compared to the other majestic caves I’d visited throughout the last three years (it’s a dry cave, so there are less drippy formations) – but none of the other caves featured an actual underground lake. As you get closer to the lake, there are some small underground waterfalls, which was a nice surprise.

The trip begins with a descent through a round metal tunnel, painted yellow. It feels like you’re heading into a military bunker, and the cavern was indeed used to store supplies and such, many years ago. The caverns were apparently rich with saltpeter, which Confederate soldiers mined in order to make gunpowder, and in earlier days, they were used as a meeting place by local Cherokee, being that the caverns were located 25 miles from the capitol of the Cherokee nation.

Craighead Caverns themselves are fairly lackluster in appearance, when compared to the other

Craighead Caverns themselves are fairly lackluster in appearance, when compared to the other

Parts of the cavern were also used by local moonshiners, and some of the remaining stills can be seen at a point along the journey.

As we wound our way through the caves, our tour guide would light up points of interest and tell us the history of the cave – pretty much standard, but our guide had a good sense of humor. He explained that in 1947, a tavern was built in the cavern – the ‘Cavern Tavern’, and locals descend into the depths of the cave to imbibe and dance often. However, many didn’t realize that alcohol affects the human body differently below-ground – and because they couldn’t really feel the affects of the alcohol, they’d end up drinking far past what they’d normally be able to tolerate above-ground.

As the patrons would work their way back to the surface, they’d get more and more intoxicated, and after enough deaths, the tavern was finally shut down for good.

Throughout the Cavern were these patches of white almost foamy or cottony looking piles. The guide explained that this was where detrius from outside was being cleansed by the internal biology of the cave itself.

The walk down to the part of the cavern with the lake isn’t so bad – it’s the return trip that’s grueling, but not impossible.

As you arrive at the lake itself, the cave opens out into a large cavern with still, non-subglacial water, upon which a small set of docks float. We walked out onto the docks, stepping into the ‘glass bottomed boat’, which is really just dull, scratchy plexiglass that you can see the ghostly outlines of some of the fish that inhabit the lake.

The boat takes you on a looping tour around the lake, and there are underground lights at strategic points throughout the cavern, which give the lake a bluish glow. At one point, the tour guide directed the boat (which has quite possibly the quietest motor on the planet) over to the lights and then proceeded to feed the fish, who then literally leap out of the water and smack down on their fellow fish to get at the food.

There’s a serene feeling on the lake itself, and I wish I’d been able to simply hang out longer on a boat by myself in the middle of the lake.

All in all, definitely worth a trip.