By Mallory Leonard
One of the gifts the Smoky Mountains offers to tourists and locals every year is the opportunity to get away from the hustle and be awed by nature. If you let them, the Smokies will embrace you and let you see a world that goes on and on in the absence of human activity. Of all the sights to see, there is one beneath the mountains that is not to be missed: Tuckaleechee Caverns.
The rocks that form Tuckaleechee Caverns have been in place for around 300 million years. The caverns and all the formations within them have been created by water flowing through the rocks over the course of 30 million years. Streams still flow through the caverns, continuing to make stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate designs that can only be described as art. As you walk through, the flowing water is your constant companion, and you can even see it doing its’ work drop by drop.
The caverns’ name, “Tuckaleechee,” translates from Cherokee to English as “peaceful valley.” The experience of being 450 feet below the Smoky Mountains is definitely a peaceful one. To be in the caverns is to be in the presence of the earth’s wonder.
Each room is entirely unique, but one in particular offers a truly breathtaking experience. In the Big Room, after visitors have had a chance to view the impressive heights and depths, as well as the tallest stalagmites in the world (known affectionately as “the pencil” and “the cactus”), a staff member cuts all the electric lights, giving everyone a moment to experience pitch darkness. For that moment, you are in the cave as it exists naturally, which is quite special.
Tuckaleechee Caverns have been providing such special times to visitors for over sixty years. The caverns were opened to the public in 1953 by Bill Venanda and Harry Myers. The two Townsend men had played together in the caverns as children, and they realized their playground was a buried treasure. Today the business is still operated by the Venanda family.
When you arrive, you enter through a country store that sells fudge, minerals, jellies, humorous cookbooks, and souvenirs as well as tickets for the cavern tour. The tour costs $16.00 for adults and $7.00 for children age five to eleven. The hour and half spent in the caverns is worth every dime, not to mention the climbing and crouching necessary while down there.
No matter when you go, whether August or February, the caverns are always 58 degrees Fahrenheit. They are especially pleasant to visit on a rainy day, because the extra water creates pop-up waterfalls throughout the caverns in addition to the 200-foot fall at the end of the tour.
The beauty of Tuckaleechee Caverns can hardly be conveyed in words. See it all for yourself and make this natural treasure part of your visit to the peaceful side of the Smokies.
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