My Third Most Favorite Cave, Tumbling Rock

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Of all the caves that I have explored, Tumbling Rock Cave in Alabama ranks number 3 on my list of favorite caves. I have made many visits to this famous and Alabama’s most visited cave. Tumbling Rock Cave is over 6 miles long and is mostly walking passage. At one time it was referred to as Blowing Cave. There is a stream that flows almost the entire length of the cave and forms a spring just below the entrance. This is the only cave that I know of that contains oil, the Asphalt Ooze occurs in Allens Alley near the back of the cave and covers the floor with a layer of dust hiding it. It drips from the ceiling and flows down a long slope to the floor of the cave. I keep a sample of it in a bottle labeled Alabama Crude!

After a visit with the owners and paying our parking fee, we climb a short distance up the side of the mountain, open the gate and crawl through the three-foot high entrance. The first room, Ante Room, is large walking passage that crosses over the stream. Care must be taken from the start, if you eyes have not adjusted to the dark, you may step into the crevasse that crosses the path. This is a three foot wide drop that you step over. You then follow the stream to the Saltpeter Works. These are large Civil War vats which have long rotted away leaving the square mounds of dirt remaining.

My first visit was in July of 1971 with the Dogwood City Grotto and it was on this trip that I meet John Wallace, a long time friend and caving partner. John shared that when he was dating his wife, Youlanda, he spread out a table cloth near the Saltpeter Works, and set up a candle light dinner that he had carried into the cave.

A short distance from the Saltpeter Works we climb up out of the stream passage and into a large room with two large formations called the Elephants Feet. If you climb up to the top of one of the feet, near the ceiling one can enter a small crawl that goes up above the ceiling and over the stream passage into what is now called Vujade’ Extension.

Continuing up stream we climb over the Wildcat Rockpile and pass the Little Hall of Mysteries. There is Formation Grotto off to the left and we have explored The Sewers to a 15-foot drop. We then returned to the stream and went through the Wind Tunnel to the Totem Grotto, Craters of the Moon. Chucks Music Box is in a side passage to the left and well worth the visit to view the tall then columns. At this point you need to be with someone who is familiar with the cave in order to locate the Hidden Door, if you miss the Hidden Door on the way back out of the cave one ends up in a dead end stream passage.

Just beyond the Hidden Door and just before entering the Great Hall of Mysteries, is the Kings Shower. When the upper passage to the Topless Dome and the lower passages were mapped it was found that there were only inches between the two. So a sledge hammer was used to make a short cut up to the Topless Dome. The stream from the Dome now runs down and drops through the hole creating the Kings Shower. Pulling up through this hole and going a short distance to the right brings you to the bottom of the Topless Dome.

The Dome is 396 feet high and was climbed by Don Davison and Cheryl Jones around 1979 over a two-year period. The climb is 555 feet long, which makes it the longest underground technical route in the United States. Read about Topless Dome Revisited in the October 1982 NSS News.

For a long time the Great Hall of Mysteries was the end of the cave. Now there are two passages to continue to the back of the cave. Both are challenging, I will describe the Blue Crawl first as it was the first to be discovered. Straight across the room, to the left of the Christmas Tree formation and up the mud slope, is Johnstons Junction, a short squeeze into the Emperors Room. Cross the Emperors Room and climb up in a crevice and into a 75-foot long round crawl that one must decide which arm goes first at the start. Because you cannot change positions again until you emerge out the far side of the Blue Crawl. When exiting the Blue Crawl it is a narrow ledge and in order to get your body out of the hole one has to extend out over the ledge. I have made the crawl one time, but never again. However I think that everyone should try it once.

Exiting the Blue Crawl and into the Inter Sanctum breakdown room and on the far side climb down and under the Surprise Waterfall into Allens Alley.

The second route that was discovered or I should say was dug open is the Suicide Passage. Back in the Emperors Room climb down and along the right side of the Christmas Tree formation to the stream level. Follow the sandy crawl along the left side of the stream until you can climb up into the rock pile. After several tight bends and climbs one enters Allens Alley. This is a shorter route and is usually preferred to the Blue Crawl.

Allens Alley is a nice long canyon passage with the stream flowing down below. About half way through one has to climb up near the ceiling and crawl through a two-foot restriction. It then opens back up again into a huge long room. Watch out for the Asphalt Ooze along the right side, which crosses the path.

The reward at the end is the Pillar of Fire, and it is well worth the climb up Mt. Olympus. This large bright red formation sets at the top of a mud mountain called Mt. Olympus. This is were most cavers stop after a four-hour trip in and another four hours to get out. If one wants to see the bitter end, Terry’s Tiger Teeth, then just before climbing Mt. Olympus, go over to the right side of Allens Alley and look for the D-T passage. This is a tight break down crawl for about 300 feet. After emerging back into walking passage again in Grants Tomb, the stream is down and to the right, called Grants Pool. Terry’s Tiger Teeth is on ahead to the left.

The cave continues, though the passage may not be discovered, more than the length of the known cave to a small cave called Timber Cave on the far side of the mountain. Dye tracing of the water entering Timber Cave was traced to Tumbling Rock Cave. If you are looking for a good eight hour wild cave trip, then I would recommend Tumbling Rock Cave.

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