Hiking with Hailey: DeSoto Caverns
As the oldest documented cave in the country, DeSoto Caverns takes visitors on a trip through time, with thousands of years of stories hidden underground.
CHILDERSBURG, Ala. (WSFA) - We all know it gets hot in Alabama. This week, we cracked the 90s, and if you’re looking for a place to cool off, why not go underground? For this week’s episode of Hiking with Hailey we’re exploring Desoto Caverns.
“Thousands and thousands of years ago, a great flood came through this area and carved out limestone, and that eventually opened up the hole in the ground that we’re in today,” said DeSoto Caverns’ lead cave guide, Mitchell Waldroup. “Over time, after that happened, cracks in the roof of the cave let small droplets of water come down, holding minerals inside of them, that would then harden over time and would make all the formations you guys see around you.”
The main room, known as a Kymulga room, or “Healing All Cathedral,” stretches the length of a football field, and reaches 120 feet from the floor to the roof.
As one of the country’s most historic show caves, Desoto Caverns takes you on a trip through time.
“It’s said that in around 1540 when Childersburg first started to develop, Hernando DeSoto himself actually passed by, him and his crew of soldiers in this area. We have the earliest inscription of the cave at 1723,” said general manager Ryan Burke.
“And actually back in the 1700s when George Washington was president, he sent a half-Native informant down here named Benjamin Hawkins to document the cave, and from that moment forward we were the first official documented cave in the United States,” added Waldroup.
Over time, the cave became a dwelling place during prominent times in American history, with the earliest inscription coming in the 1720s.
“It says I.W. Wright, 1723,” said Waldroup. “I don’t know what made him think this, but he thought it would look at lot better with his name written on it, so he ended up carving his name and the date into the rock and basically claimed the cave as his own property.”
It was also home to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and thanks to bats that also called DeSoto Caverns home, the men were able to create gunpowder for their weapons.
Fast forward to the 1920s, and the cave become a secret speakeasy during the Prohibition, where folks would gather to play cards, dance and of course drink moonshine.
Once inhabited by the Coosa natives, DeSoto Caverns has also preserved much of its Indian heritage from over the years, and during a tour, the cave’s stunning features are on full display with massive stalactites, stalagmites and even a hidden waterfall buried deep in the underground crevice.
And as tempting as it may be to touch, Mitchell reminds cave visitors to keep your hands to yourself.
“People would walk through here and put their hand on (the formation) and then squeeze by, and due to that being the case, the top of this one is actually dead,” said Waldroup. “It’s definitely one of those things that it’s sad that this one’s dead, but it does give you a good example of the discoloration that can happen if people keep touching it.”
At the end of the tour, guests are treated to a world-class light show, giving them a new perspective of the cave.
And while it is the main attraction, it’s not the only reason to visit DeSoto Caverns. The park offers gemstone panning, cannon wars and even a massive maze, just to name a few. It’s truly the perfect place to visit as we slowly get back to normal life.
“2019 was such a good year for us, and it was showing that we were continuing to grow, and we had more groups coming in and it was just an honor to serve that amount of people, and then 2020 hit, and it really put things into perspective of how good it can be,” said Burke. “We’re starting to see families come out more, and groups are coming back as well, so we have an opportunity in a small amount of time, you know, three or four hours that the average time that people spend in the park to really just serve them with our whole heart, so we’re excited.”
DeSoto Caverns is open Thursday through Monday. Tickets can be purchased at desotocavernspark.com.
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