Cathedral Caverns an experience not to be missed

Published 2:40 pm Monday, August 25, 2008

Surprise and awe were probably the two most prominent emotions when I recently entered Cathedral Caverns for the first time.

I had heard complimentary talk about the cave for a long time, but apparently I wasn’t listening.

Listen up. Cathedral Caverns State Park is a natural wonder that should not be missed, especially by folks within driving distance of Woodville, only 35 miles east of Huntsville.

The enormity of the cave, which was acquired by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in 1987, is breathtaking.

When Park Superintendent Danny Lewis and I entered the cave, a thin cloud was evident near the entrance. When I asked about the cloud, Lewis said the cave’s initial developer, Jay Gurley, told him the cloud meant it was time to break out the raingear.

“Jay told me not too long after I came here that the cloud we were seeing coming out of the mouth of the cave was a very good weather indicator,” Lewis said. “He said every time he had ever seen that cloud, it would rain within 24 to 48 hours. For the 19 years I’ve been here, Jay has been exactly right.”

Yet the cloud was just the start of an amazing journey into the depths of Gunter Mountain, and the second thing you notice is the absence of the sweltering August heat.

“No matter what’s happening outside, the temperature inside the cave is 57-60 degrees (Fahrenheit) year-round,” Lewis said. “It’s always very comfortable in the cave.”

As the light fades from the entrance, the extensive artificial lighting reveals a sight possibly unrivaled in the world. Water seeping through the limestone for eons formed stalactites and stalagmites from minute deposits of calcium carbonate with each drip. At Cathedral Caverns, there is one spot where the stalactite and stalagmite meet to form a column of epic proportions.

“In my opinion, the most impressive feature of Cathedral Caverns is Goliath,” Lewis said. “We believe it is the second world record at Cathedral Caverns. The formation is 45 feet tall, 243 feet in circumference and about 40 feet thick.

“When people see Goliath, we get a lot of oohs, aahs and ‘Man, can you believe this. I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

Lewis said the first world record Cathedral Caverns claims is the entrance, which is 128 feet wide by about 25 feet tall.

“We also have our frozen waterfall, believed to be one of if not the largest flowstone walls in a showcase,” he said. “We have the most improbable formation in a free-standing stalagmite that is 25-feet tall, growing on a rock that sits at a 45-degree angle. The base of this formation is approximately three inches in diameter and then is about eight inches in diameter about midway and then goes to a needle top.

“All show caves and wild caves are beautiful in their own rights, but to me there’s nothing as massive and nothing as beautiful as Cathedral Caverns.”