Friday, April 26, 2013

Scouting Underground

The intrepid cave explorers of Troop 50
    The scouts of Troop 50 returned from the underworld this past weekend. The visit to Cumberland Caverns near McMinnville, TN was a great trip packed with interesting adventures. After a dinner outside the cave, we met our guide, Kevin (or as he preferred to be called, "Cave-in"). Inside the cave we were assigned a spot on the floor of the cave as our sleeping area for the night. In close proximity we found not only restrooms with flush toilets and sinks but also a snack bar with a wide menu. We were not exactly roughing it!

Fully functioning restrooms for cavemen and cavewomen
The underground snack bar
Just past the snack bar was the Volcano Room, which is a large area complete with a stage and multicolored chandelier. The room is used for concerts in the cavern's Bluegrass Underground series. One of these concerts had just ended as we arrived at the cave. The chandelier, which can put on a light show of its own, was rescued from a New York City theater and installed in the cave in 1981.

We next began a scenic walking tour of the cave. This is the regular tour taken by daytime visitors to the cave. Kevin gave us lessons on geology, the history of the cave, and instructions for how to make saltpeter for gunpowder (once an "underground" industry in the cave). He also showed us a reconstructed moonshine still but refrained from offering a recipe for its use. The tour included a walk through the Hall of the Mountain King (a room large enough for six football fields) and an inspiring light show narrated with the first chapter of Genesis.

Next it was time for the "wild" tour of the cave. After being outfitted with helmets and headlamps, we each made a crawl through an eleven inch high test box. This was designed to test our ability to fit through some of the narrower parts of the cave. Most everyone fit easily through and we were off for our crawl through the darkness. Up ladders and through holes we climbed in what seemed like never-ending passageways. Occasionally, we would come to larger spaces where Kevin would hold forth with stories of people being trapped or killed in the cave. The last section of the tour included an area called bubble gum alley, which received its name from the sticky clay and mud that covered the floor. It also covered us once we were done.

Jake survives a crawl through the test box
Vincent makes his way through a narrow space

The tour ended about 11:30 pm with some (mostly leaders) ready for bed and others (mostly scouts) headed for the snack bar to recharge with nachos and soft drinks. Eventually, everyone found their way to their sleeping bag and we all slept like a rock (or at least among the rocks). Morning came quickly and a breakfast at the snack bar was followed by packing up and hiking out of the cave. The consensus among the scouts seemed to be a big thumbs up for caving. It seems likely that another trip to Cumberland Caverns is in our future. Check out the other photos from the trip in our photo gallery.