The Lost Sea Adventure
Driving on I-75 near Sweetwater, TN, I saw a sign next to the interstate, “The Lost Sea Adventure.”
Lost Sea? Adventure? In the middle of the Appalachian Mountains? This I had to see!
So I followed the signs about 10 miles off the freeway. Honestly, I didn’t expect much.
Upon arrival I found nicely kept grounds, but no water anywhere to be seen. Obviously the sea had been lost!
Nevertheless I entered what appeared to be the main building and asked the attendant about the adventure.
“We have a cave with the largest underground lake in America. You can take our 90 minute tour; we also offer special group tours with reservations, including the overnight Wild Cave Tour,” she responded.
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Now that really got me interested because I vaguely remember being in a small rowboat on a great big underground lake in a cavern as a child. I always thought it would be fun to experience that again. So here I was totally on the spur of the moment, with the opportunity of a lifetime! God sure works in mysterious ways… I decided to take the next tour.
Upon entering the cave through a tube-shaped tunnel, one is immediately aware of the immense size of this cave. Lighting is dim; the temperature comfortable; the air dry. The dim light makes photography difficult. The path descends quickly lower and lower into the cave, which is full of deep canyons; trestles and bridges provide passage. A few small green plants dot the scene here and there.
The trail is smooth, but steep enough in places that the group had to stop and rest on the return trip. Seating is provided at strategically located rest areas.
Large rock formations form great chambers connected by low passageways, but they generally lack the intricate stalactite and stalagmite structures of other caves. The cave is not devoid of such formations, but they do not dominate one’s view. Large, rather flat boulders form the jagged walls and roofs.
Two features require special mention:
- The cave is the home for 25% of the world’s anthrodite population, rare white plants that look like rock formations also known as “Cave Flowers.”
- The other is a strange formation called “The Devil’s Face.” This is a hole in the rock; at the bottom one can see an image of the devil’s face. (See photo, looking straight down into the hole).
The winding path leads down and down to a lake 140 feet underground, big enough to navigate with powerboats. We get into the boats and begin to explore. The water is 70 feet deep, as I recall, and is connected via an underwater tunnel to an even larger, mostly unexplored lake even deeper underground. Obviously that second lake is not part of the tour since accessing it requires scuba equipment. The water is crystal clear and a comfortable 58 oF .
No one knows where the lake’s outlet is. At one time the owners decided to populate the lake with some trout, hoping in vain that the fish would find the outlet. They didn’t, but there are are still a number of sizable trout in the lake; they must be fed to stay alive.
The cave has a colorful history dating back many centuries. Cherokee Indians had explored and used the upper portions of the cave. During the Civil War it was used as a Confederate mine for saltpeter, which was required to make gunpowder. For many decades it was the home of moonshiners, and during prohibition it served as a bar to sell the moonshine produced locally. One can still see remains of this colorful history, including a still, the bar, and a wagon used to collect the saltpeter.
In addition to the cave tour, one can spend time and take photographs at “Old Sweetwater Village.” The village comprises authentic log cabins housing a Restaurant, Sweets Shop, General Store, Blacksmith Shop, and Glass Blower. Prices are fair and food is good. The Glass Blower’s Shop featured many beautiful items; you could watch them being made in front of your eyes. One can easily spend several hours, then enjoy the picnic facilities and a gem mine.
Definitely a worthwhile adventure!