Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tennessee


When I was a child growing up in Alabama, my parents used to take me and my sister camping in the Great Smokey Mountains. We would see Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and many of the attractions located there.But one place I always wanted to go, we never made it to: The Lost Sea.

The Lost Sea is located in Sweetwater, Tennessee, right off I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga, and is known as "America's largest underground lake".

The caverns are rich in geological formations such as the "cave flower", known scientifically as anthodites. The website says "These fragile, spiky clusters commonly known as "cave flowers" are found in only a few of the world's caves. Their abundance in Craighead Caverns led the United States Department of the Interior to designate the Lost Sea as a Registered National Landmark, an honor the Lost Sea shares with such unique geological regions as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina and the Yosemite National Park in California."
The website also states that the anthodites are so rare, that the cave hosts "50% of the world's known formations".

The underground lake itself is immense, covering about 4 1/2 acres, much of it inaccessible. Vistors can take a glass-bottom boat tour where you will see large rainbow trout swimming in the lake's crystal clear waters.

The cave has a very interesting history as well. Tour guides tell guests of the Cherokee Indians who once used the cave, an giant Pleistocene jaguar who once became lost in the caverns and fell to it's death - it's bones much later found and displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and how the cave was used by Confederate army during the Civil War to mine the cave for saltpeter, "a commodity necessary to the manufacture of gunpowder". The cave was also used by moonshiners during Prohibition.


Outside the cave you will find shaded log cabins housing the General Store, an ice cream parlor, a glassblower's and a Trading Post.

Tours are given to the general public during the day, every day of the year except Christmas. There is also a Wilderness Tour offered to groups of 12 or more, such as scout troops, church groups, etc... It is an overnight tour with some grubby crawling through tiny spaces in the cave and ending with a camp-out in the cavern itself.

For more information such as pricing and hours of operation, visit the Lost Sea's website at http://www.thelostsea.com/home.htm. I know we're headed there this summer and I can't wait!

**photos courtesy of www.thelostsea.com

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