Raccoon Mountain Caverns

A highly reflective pool below cave formations

A highly reflective pool below cave formations

As unbelievable as this may seem, there is a place within 15 minutes of Chattanooga that we haven’t been to before.  It’s called Raccoon Mountain.  There is the Raccoon Mountain Caverns part of Raccoon Mountain, a tourist attraction advertised by a multitude of billboards.

Outside the gift shop, an old cable car did not instill confidence

Outside the gift shop, an old cable car did not instill confidence

Then, there is the Raccoon Mountain Reservoir part of Raccoon Mountain.  While I’m anxious to hike in the Reservoir part of the mountain, it was a rainy Sunday and my husband is still struggling with stress injuries in his feet, so, it was a good day to go discover the caverns part of the mountain.

A city of stalagmites

A city of stalagmites

We headed out with the Tom-Tom app running on my iPhone since we weren’t sure how to get there.  However, given that we knew we needed to take interstate 24 towards Nashville and once on 24, there was a billboard telling us where to turn every 100 yards or so, using the GPS was probably overkill.

We made it there without a single wrong turn.  When we pulled into the drive, there were two directions to go:  one was to the campgrounds while the other was toward the gift shop.  The “campgrounds” reminded me of my very first “camping” trip as an adult.  I went with a group of friends who had to explain to me, first of all, that we would be parking next to the tent.  I had visions of us backpacking into the woods, so this notion of sleeping where we would park was somewhat disappointing.  However, I still pictured us with a secluded camping site next to our parking spot.  When they started loading up their truck with coolers and junk food and cases of beer, I grew suspicious that we were not going to enjoy the outdoors at all.

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In fact, we paid for a tiny little campsite that had just enough space for the truck and two tents next to a fire ring and a picnic table.  The site was so narrow, there was less than 3 feet between our tent and our neighbors’ tents on either side.  There was little shade, no privacy, and I really thought we would have had a better time camping out in our friends’ backyard where we’d have had far more privacy and indoor plumbing much more conveniently located.

While the campgrounds made me worry about what the caverns were going to be like, there was no need to panic.  The caverns were well maintained, respected as a natural artifact, and lighted with natural lights (I don’t know why, but I’m just not a fan of colored lights in natural caves).

Stalagmites in silhouette loom in the background

Stalagmites in silhouette loom in the background

The 45 minute tour we took covered only about ⅓ of a mile in the largest open area.  They also offer “wild” cave tours that involve dragging oneself through mud and tunnels and the like.  I’ve done that once in my life, but that’s a long story.  Maybe some other day we’ll come back to experience the less traveled part of the caves.

The lower right area is just big enough for a raccoon den

The lower right area is just big enough for a raccoon den

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