Friday, June 23, 2006

Cave #9 - Twin Caves

This past Wednesday night, Bill Overton had a trip scheduled to visit Johnson Cave, which is located in Davidson County, TN where I live. The cave is mentioned in Dr. Barr's book "Caves of Tennessee," and had been closed for many years, so I was happy to have a chance to visit it. As it turns out, there were some complications getting the key at the last minute, so Bill decided we'd visit Twin Caves instead.

Twin Caves are also mentioned in Dr. Barr's book, and they are located just off a wide creek in Cheatham County. Joining the trip were Steve Cooper, his fiancee Michelle, David Wascher, and his eight year old son Ian. We all met up at the Walmart in West Nashville and then headed out to the parking area. I put my stuff in Bill's truck and rode with him.

After we got there, I of course discovered I had left something in my car, which was my coveralls. I always forget something on a trip, it's just my nature. Don't make me tell you the story about the scorpion and the frog. I wasn't going to let that stop me though, so I got the rest of my stuff ready and we headed out down the trail around the lake.

Now calling it a trail is being very generous. At times it actually resembled a trail, and at other times we were just crashing through briars and undergrowth, just following the edge of the lake. Bill had an excellent idea of where we were going, which was "somewhere on the other side of the lake where the creek is."

At one point we came within 20 yards of an old road, but we missed it on the way in and made our way through a swamp. I sank into mud almost up to my knees a few times, and did I mention it was about 92 degrees that afternoon? I guess I didn't. Well, it was and so it was hot, sticky, and smelly until we finally intersected the old road again on the way to the creek.

After we made it to the creek, we still didn't know where the cave was. Bill was wearing thigh high muck boots, so he just waded on out into the creek and headed up it, while the rest of us made our way down a trail on the bluff along the creek, which was 20 feet or so above the water. Finally Bill hollered that he had found the cave, just as it was about to get dark out.

Twin Caves is two caves, as the name implies. I went in the northern entrance first for about 20 feet, but it looked like a really low crawl and nobody was too anxious to do that, so we decided to try the southern cave since it looks like it goes further back without any crawling. It goes straight back for about 250 feet and then gets too low to continue. We didn't spend much time in it, but did see several bats flying around. I got a decent picture of one when it roosted for a minute, but I'm not sure what kind of bat it is yet.

As we left that cave, it was truly getting dark, and the fireflies were really lighting up the woods along the creek. It's been a long time since I've seen that many in one place and it was magical to just sit there and watch them as it got totally dark outside.

I noticed that at some point in the past, someone tried to brick up one small area near the north cave with stone and mortar. It would have enclosed a small area under an overhang. Bill said he thought it might have been someone building a food storage area back in the days before refrigeration. I'll have a picture of it up soon.

After a brief rest, we headed into the north cave. This was the first time I've done a true belly crawl in a cave, and I have to say it wasn't too bad. I've lost some more weight recently and I've been walking a lot, so I got through it without too much trouble. The passage through this area was about 2 feet tall, maybe a little less, and the floor was mud, so it made it easier on my elbows and knees. The passage was probably 40 feet wide in most places as well. Eventually, it leads to a T intersection where it starts to open up more.

We took at left at the intersection and came into the first large room, which was about 10 feet high, 20 feet wide and 50 feet long. It had a pool off to one side which had some plant debris and a few normal catfish that were probably washed into the cave at some point. It had some large breakdown stones, one of which was set on a fulcrum just right so that you could wobble it back and forth easily. This stone is over a foot thick, 4 feet wide, and 20 feet long, but you can rock it back and forth like it was a see-saw.

This room is connected to another room which is almost the same size, but doesn't have much breakdown in it. It is however, full of mud and water. The mud is thick and sticky, and I sank up past one of my knees with one step. A stream cuts through one end of this room and heads out one side. There is a pile of breakdown with some passage beyond that Steve and Michelle pushed while Bill headed down the stream.

I sat there on the breakdown while they did this and watched a bat fly circles around the room. It would fly about 5 circles, the swoop into the low passage Bill had crawled into, stay gone for a minute or so, then come back out and fly some more circles. I don't think they were too happy to have us in their home.

Eventually everyone came back from exploring their small passageways and we headed out. We took the right turn at the T intersection on the way out, and it ended up just being a small loop that led back into the low, wide crawl. It was still cool though, since this was actually the tightest passage I've been through so far, and it required me to suck my gut in and wiggle through it.

So now we were out of the cave, covered in mud, and had to hike back to the parking area. It was extremely dark since there was no moon out, other than Bill in the creek. As we walked down the old road, an owl started hooting about 30 yards up the hill, very close to us. We could hear another one answering a ways off as well. Amazingly, there were no mishaps with us stumbling around in the dark through the woods, and we made it back to the vehicles by about 10:00.

My thoughts on the trip were that it was a Weeknight Cave, but a Weekend Hike to get to it. Bill told us it was about a half mile hike, but my pedometer said it was right at a mile on the way to the cave and about 8/10 of a mile on the way back since we bypassed the swamp route. It was a nasty, muddy, cramped cave, but it was still a lot of fun.

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