My third favorite cave, Tumbling Rock

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

After a visit with the owners and paying our parking fee, we climbed a short distance up the side of the mountain, opened the door, and crawled through the meter-high entrance. The first room, Ante Room, is a large pedestrian walkway that crosses the stream. You have to be careful from the beginning, if the view has not adapted to the dark, it can enter the crevice that crosses the path. This is a three foot wide drop that you walk over. Then follow the stream to Las Salitreras. These are large Civil War vats that have long rotted leaving the square mounds of dirt that remain.

My first visit was in July 1971 with the Dogwood City Grotto and it was on this trip that I met John Wallace, an old friend and partner in caving. John shared that when he was dating his wife, Youlanda, he spread out a tablecloth near the Saltpeter Works and prepared a candlelight dinner that he had brought to the cave.

A short distance from Las Salitreras we left the stream passage and entered a large room with two large formations called elephant feet. If you climb to the top of one of the feet, near the ceiling you can enter a small creek that rises above the ceiling and over the stream passage into what is now called the Vujade Extension.

Continuing upstream, we climbed the Wildcat Rockpile and passed the Little Hall of Mysteries. There is Formation Grotto on the left and we have explored The Sewers to a 15 foot drop. Then we return to the stream and go through the Wind Tunnel to the Totem Grotto, Craters of the Moon. Chucks Music Box is in a side passage to the left and is well worth a visit to see the tall columns. At this point you need to be with someone who is familiar with the cave to locate the Hidden Door, if you lose the Hidden Door on the way back from the cave one ends up in a dead end passage.

Just beyond the Hidden Door and just before entering the Great Hall of Mysteries, is the Rain of Kings. 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 mallet was used to make a shortcut to the Topless Dome. The stream from the Dome now runs downward and falls through the hole creating the Shower of Kings. 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, making it the longest underground technical route in the United States. Read about Topless Dome Revisited in the NSS news of October 1982.

For a long time, the Great Hall of Mysteries was the end of the cave. Now there are two passages to continue to the bottom of the cave. Both are challenging, I will describe the Blue Crawl first as it was the first to be discovered. Directly across the room, to the left of the Christmas Tree formation and up the mud slope, is Johnstons Junction, a little squeeze in the Hall of Emperors. Go through the Hall of the Emperors and up a crevasse and into a 75 foot long round crawl where you have to decide which arm goes first first. Because you can’t change positions again until you come out the other side of the Blue Crawl. Coming out of the Blue Crawl, it is a narrow ledge and to get your body out of the hole you have to spread out over the ledge. I’ve done the crawl once, but never again. However, I think everyone should try it once.

Exit the Blue Crawl and enter the Inter Sanctum breakdown room and at the other end go down and pass under the Surprise waterfall to Allens Alley.

The second route that was discovered or should I say opened is the Suicide Passage. Back in the Hall of the Emperors, go down and travel the right side of the Christmas Tree formation to the level of the stream. Follow the sand skid along the left side of the creek until you can climb onto the rock pile. After several hairpin bends and climbs, you enter Allens Alley. This is a shorter route and is generally preferred to the Blue Crawl.

Allens Alley is a nice long canyon passage with the creek flowing down. About halfway through, one has to climb close to the ceiling and crawl through a two-foot restraint. Then it opens again into a large 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 to Mount Olympus. This large, bright red formation sits atop a mud mountain called Mount Olympus. This is where most cavers stop after a four-hour drive and another four hours to get out. If one wants to see the bitter end, Terry’s Tiger Teeth, just before climbing Mount Olympus, head to the right side of Allens Alley and look for the DT passage. This is a tight break crawl of about 300 feet. After returning to the walkway again at the Grants Tomb, the creek is down and to the right, called the Grants Pool. Terry’s Tiger Teeth is ahead on the left.

The cave continues, although the passage may not be discovered, more than the length of the known cave to a small cave called Timber Cave on the opposite side of the mountain. The dye trail of the water entering Timber Cave dates back to Tumbling Rock Cave. If you are looking for a nice eight hour trip to a wild cave, I would recommend Tumbling Rock Cave.

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