Caves have always fascinated the human species. Throughout our history, caves either meant refuge from the cold or a place where dangerous creatures lurked.
Caves are about much more than that, however, as they represent an underground world where unique geological things happen for all who dare to explore. The forces of nature are just as active under the earth as on top. The combination of gravity, water and minerals often combine to create beautiful formations that can take millions of years to form. Stalactites are rock formations that form on the roof of a cave while stalagmites are formations that form from the ground up. Depending on the minerals and rock types involved, the formations can be found in a multitude of colors and variations.
Other caves have become documents of history as artifacts of human inhabitance have been found in them all over the planet. As humans have explored the many caves that have been discovered, unusual, more modern history has been made in them as well. One famous instance is the case of Floyd Collins.
Collins was one of the early explorers of the massive Mammoth Cave System in Kentucky. That turned into an important and potentially lucrative endeavor. Because of the lure of exploring a cave that exists in humans, the Mammoth Cave System was soon exploited by those out to turn it into a tourist attraction.
Eventually, Collins started his own tourist-oriented attraction called Crystal Cave, yet its remoteness was its downfall as the public had problems finding it. So, he found another, more accessible cave called Sand Cave and promptly went underground to work on making it a fitting tourist magnet. While underground one day in the year of 1925, Collins fell and became cornered in a small passageway.
After some rocks fell in the wrong place, Collins was trapped underground for 14 days. During that period, all of the nation’s newspapers and the new technology known as radio kept a daily track of his fate. As the rescue effort continued, Collins was interviewed from his section of the cave by a reporter named Skeets Miller, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his articles about the incident in the Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, Ky. Unfortunately, Collins died three days before a rescue vault was completed. Since then, books, a musical play and songs have all been written about the plight of Floyd Collins.
Collins story is not meant to scare folks from caving, also known as spelunking, but it is to remind all that caving can be dangerous without cave knowledge, a good guide and preparation with the right spelunking gear.
The mountains here in the High Country do hold small caves throughout the region. As for caves big enough to explore, surprisingly, there are just a few.
A lot of adventure companies based here in Boone and surrounding communities offer caving trips and the No. 1 destination is Worley’s Cave located in nearby Bluff City, Tenn. The cave features almost 7 miles of passageways and is suitable for beginner spelunkers who explore with a guide. Not only are there stalactites and stalagmites and other formations, there is Civil War history to be found as saltpeter and other minerals were mined there and artifacts were left behind.
There are a couple of caves at Grandfather Mountain State Park but they are closed as of this printing. Black Rock Cliffs Cave and Indian House Cave contain various species of bats, however that very important species of insect-eating mammal is unfortunately in decline. The culprit is a fungal disease called White-Nose Syndrome. The Asian-borne disease did not exist in the Americas until it somehow made its way over to New York in 2006. Now, a scientific survey that took place last year showed that the bat population continues to be affected by the disease. Therefore, it is imperative that caves you explore be vetted for such things because while it does not affect the health of humans, spelunkers can easily spread it to other caves with their clothes and shoes.
As for a true caving adventure geared to the tourist, nothing beats Linville Caverns located just a couple of miles from Linville Falls and Linville Gorge.
One fascinating aspect about how the earth works is that deep in caves all over the world there is the steady temperature of 52 degrees due to the internal heat of the core of our planet. So, when you visit Linville Caverns, be sure and wear a sweatshirt or a light coat. Big caverns are also wet and moist by nature so proper footwear helps, and even a raincoat if you are touring Linville Caverns on a heavy rain day. The attraction is wheelchair accessible, but only in certain parts of the cave. Common sense should pave the way on your guided trip through Linville Caverns, meaning please do not touch the stalactites or stalagmites that take centuries to form and are still forming.
Linville Caverns is a designated North Carolina Natural Heritage Area and should be respected as such. The 15-person tours last about 40 minutes and for those who want to continue their adventure above ground, Linville Falls and Linville Gorge are just around the corner. Please consult our hiking page for important information on those natural wonders.
As for the current status of Linville Caverns, which has been open to the public since 1937, please check ahead as heavy rains can close it for a time.