A Visit to Linville Caverns, North Carolina
Into the Caverns
When you enter the Linville Caverns in Marion North Carolina, you will discover an exotic subterranean world. Multicolored limestone and dolomite rocks glitter and almost seem to glow in the dark. The walls, floors, and ceilings of the cavern form crazy angles and passageways. It is like no place above ground.
100,000 years of the erosion and accumulation caused by carbon dioxide rich water flowing through Humpback Mountain has carved out a long and winding cavern complete with stalagmites and stalactites, and glittering colored rock formations.
A proper tour of the Linville Caverns begins or ends with a stop at the visitor center and gift shop where there is information about the caverns available, and some interesting rock-themed gifts. The cavern tours line up just outside the giftshop. A knowledgeable and friendly guide will take you and your group through the caverns, where it is always about 52 degrees Fahrenheit, and usually a bit drippy here and there. The drips are part of why Linville Caverns are caverns and not caves; caves have been sealed off from water and are dry and "dead." Caverns are alive and still forming rocks from mineral deposits in the groundwater that seeps in through the cracks in the canopy above. New rock formations are growing even now, at a rate of about one cubic inch per 125 years.
There are three levels, or floors, of the caverns. The main floor is the walkway that extends throughout the caverns. The "upstairs" is too fragile to sustain the weight of walking tours, and the lower level is called "the bottomless lake" as it extends further than 250 feet, the deepest measure attempted so far.
Follow the Fish
Henry Colton and Dave Franklin discovered these caverns in 1822 when they noticed trout that seemed to swim in and out of Humpback Mountain. They entered with pine torches and discovered the "wondrous splendors of that hidden world"
The caverns have been privately owned since 1937, and open to the public since 1939.
The Search for Platinum
In 1884, Thomas Edison sent an expedition into the caverns, led by William Earl Hidden, to search for platinum to use in the incandescent bulb. They didn't find any, but Hidden carved his name deep into the rock wall where it is still visible.
Deserters from both sides of the Civil War army used the caverns as a hideout. One of them was apparently a cobbler, and they raised funds by repairing shoes for locals. They used a natural rock hollow as a hearth, but didn't know that smoke from their fire would escape from holes in the cavern ceiling. The fire created smoke signals that gave away their hiding place, resulting in their discovery and recapture by the army.
One of the most interesting stories told on the tour concerns two teenaged boys who ventured into the Caverns in the year 1915, before the caverns had been renovated for touring. The boys brought an oil lantern with them, but somehow dropped it. When the lantern broke, they were in total darkness. Although only about several hundred yards into the caverns, it took the boys two days to find their way out by following the sound and flow of the running water below.
At this point in the tour, and after a specific warning for us to prepare ourselves, our guide cut the lights and we experienced the disorientation of total darkness.
The Real Batcave
During the winter and early spring months, visitors can see Eastern Pipistrelle bats hibernating in the cavern. The Eastern Pipistrelle bat is threatened by the White Nose Syndrome. This is a disease that does not affect humans, only bats. Although harmless to us, people can be carriers of the disease. To help protect this species, visitors are asked to asked to wipe their feet on a specially treated mat outside of the cavern.
The Linville Caverns are without a doubt worth a drive to the North Carolina mountains. Large cavern environments like this are unlike any other places on Earth, and the sights from within leave a vivid memory. After a tour through the weirdly beautiful rock formations here, it may be easy to see why so many people become addicted to cave exploration.
The Linville Caverns are located on route 221 North in Marion, North Carolina. They are not hard to get to, but don't try using a gps: there is no physical address listed, and a mapping system may send you off track. Directions from any direction can be found at LinvilleCaverns.com.
The Linville Caverns are open year round; seven days a week in the spring, summer, and fall, and weekends in winter, but the hours vary a bit; another good reason to visit their website.