I wanted to take some time and point to an excellent article and  an undervalue resource in our area. National Geographic has an article out on the caves of TAG (Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia) deserving a look. Though many people are aware of many caves in Alabama and Georgia, I think few people realize that North Alabama and Georgia is  one of the world’s cave hotspots. The TAG region is the home of 14,665 caves (and counting, new ones are discovered every year), a veritable honeycomb of limestone. Take the time to watch the video of the National Geographic caving experience and check out their photo gallery, which has a number of incredible images.

If you’re searching for a reason why people aren’t better acquainted with their local cave (indeed, with nearly 15,000 of them it sounds like everyone would have a pet cave in their own back yard) is because, frankly, many of them are unexciting. Many caves are crack caves, not formed from the erosion of limestone but from collapses in the rock (usually of the sandstone) which don’t really form any of the exciting geological formations we’ve come to expect from caves. They are as they are described – a long narrow crack. Many other caves can only offer a tight-claustrophobic experience, never opening into any grand rooms or chambers (In one such experience I crawled 30 feet only to find a dead end and a peevish king snake). Most caves are on private land, are hard to find and generally not advertised by their owners – for obvious reasons. I was just notified yesterday that I’d been passing by a large “show cave” on one of my regular hikes, the entrance not 50 feet from the trail. They’re easy to miss. Others are basically inaccessible to inexperienced cavers. Of the over 4,000 caves in Alabama I know of only a few open for all experiences levels to all the public: Sequoyah Caverns, Rickwood Caverns, DeSoto Caverns and Cathedral Caverns.

Though generally undervalued…everyone should put a cave on their weekend “to do” list. What’s often not thought about them is how they add to the biological diversity of the region. While we, and most other wildlife live, breathe, eat and sleep above ground, dozens of others of species live below, many completely unlike any other species of life in existence. Cave crickets, bats, blind crayfish and fish abound. In fact the Alabama Cavefish, with only 9 specimens ever identified, is thought to be the rarest vertebrate on the planet. Beyond adding to the ecological diversity caves obviously can provide some breathtaking images.

I toured Cathedral Caverns two weeks ago, one of Alabama’s better known and publicly accessible caves. Unfortunately I left my tripod at home and was left with few high quality images, but here are some of the better ones:

Cave entrance from the tunnel. Cathedral Caverns boasts one of the largest cave entrances in the country.

Cave entrance from the tunnel. Cathedral Caverns boasts one of the largest cave entrances in the country.

A massive pillar of limestone, more than 30 feet wide.

A massive pillar of limestone, more than 30 feet wide.

Though the Alabama Land Trust and Georgia Land Trust do not specifically target caves for protection, we do work considerable in the area of TAG. For example, in Jackson County, boasting the highest density of caves of anywhere in the country, the land trust has currently 5,400 acres of land. The two land trusts protect tens of thousands of acres on the Cumberland Plateau, home to most of the regions caves.

If you have a further interest in the caves of Alabama and Georgia, check out the National Speleological Society (headquarted in Huntsville, AL), the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, or Cave Trip Reports, all excellent cave resources for the Southeast.

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