The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Bristol Caverns

Bristol Caverns guide

As Mark mentioned, we started off our staycation with a visit to Bristol Caverns. I grew up in Bristol and am pretty sure I went there once as a kid, but the wonder of this mile-long cave system must not have fully sunken in at that age. Returning as an adult, I was awestruck, and kept our poor tour guide walking at a snail's pace for an hour and a half as I soaked up the beauty...and took 108 photos.

Cave tour

It's hard to capture the full effect of the massive open spaces and intricate formations with still images. At times, I felt like I could barely breath because of the sheer beauty around me...or perhaps I was breathing even deeper than usual. The lighting was near perfect, highlighting features and drawing the eye further into the cavern with every glance. In fact, I felt a bit like I was walking through an art installation in the wild.

Underground creek

There were also interesting historical tales, about Indian raids and about a more modern human who stumbled across the cave entrance while building a root cellar. And geological facts about how the cave formed and shifted. But I have to admit I expended more of my energy tuning into the gurgle of the underground stream and feeling cool air encircle me than doing my usual mental notekeeping. We'll definitely have to go back, so maybe next time I'll pay closer attention.

If you want to visit, I heartily recommend this attraction. Ticket price is $15 per adult. School groups, I've been told, tend to tromp through the cave on weekday mornings, and weekends and summers are also busier. But if you
pick an off time as we did, you may end up on your own private tour, able to travel entirely at your own pace.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Caves around here are still pretty unexplored, in spite of another big cave, Appalachian Caverns, in Sullivan Co, Tn and Wolf Hills Caverns, in Abingdon. There is a caving group, maybe still led by Charles Bartlett (the geologist who advocates for hydrofracking, which seems so confusing to me, as I'd think he would say that our limestone--and karst?--formations are too risky for hydrofracking!). Anna, what do you think now about the "bat cave" under Bristol--didn't you get to go in that, once? And the little cave at Steele Creek Park...Also the cave on the edge of land next to the WalMart on the Volunteer H'way, in Bristol?? Also the fact that the Bristol, Va landfill abuts on sinkholes, and actually, the whole sinkhole geology of our region?

The most awesome cave I ever got to go into around here was off the Mendota Rd, going to the Gate City H'wy, which was up off a ledge, and high enough to stand up in:) This didn't have water in it, and seemed more what we think of, for where "cave men" could have lived. The ones with water, which make me think of the Gollum (in the Hobbit) are longer. (Besides Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, there are so-o many wonderful cave descriptions in novels, from Walter Scott to Zane Gray, and to E.M. Forster's Passage to India--even to Ehle, who whose book, The Road, tells about caves that were used as part of tunnels, in blasting thru the mountains in NC. in building the railroad.

How cold was it inside, when you went? There is also a miles-long cave in KY that has been used by a woman minister for her to feel the darkness in...

I think the people who run Bristol Caverns do a good job, altho some of the naming of the formations is kind of silly!

Comment by adrianne Sat Sep 26 08:47:52 2015

Is the guy who discovered the cave when building his root cellar the same guy from your $10 root cellar book? I suppose his root cellar's back wall could have been a free admission portal if he had put a door in!

In any case, he could try yelling spookily through his heat exchanger tubes to give the cavegoers at the other end a good scare!

Comment by Jake Thu Oct 8 01:16:11 2015
Jake --- Good question! These are actually two different cave-root-cellar stories. I guess it's a theme around here. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Oct 8 15:31:10 2015

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