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Discovery in Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave
On a March Friday in 1972, John Wallace checked in his four-seater plane at Charlie Brown Airport in Atlanta for a flight to Tennessee. The plan was for John’s wife Youlanda, and their children Paul and Erika along with Art Smith, and Jack Pace to drive to Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville, Tennessee and rent a house for the weekend. My wife Kathy, our six year old daughter, Deanna and I will fly with John to the Crossville Memorial Airport in Crossville and we will spend a day at the cave the next day.
We will change driving and flying to have transportation from the airport to the cave we visited in the southeast. Half of the group will fly and the other half will drive. This trip was very good in the state and then we followed the state road to Crossville. It was after dark when we arrived and the airport lights were off. The airport is on top of a hill and we were a little worried about finding a landing spot. John’s wife was there but couldn’t call anyone at the airport. Finally John managed to radio someone and they turned on the lights.
It was a big house at the park and we stayed for the night before the next day’s trip. We plan to visit the Devil’s Sink Hole with the family and then the four of us will explore the Grassy Cove Saltpeter Caves on the side of the mountain. Kathy and Deanna spent a beautiful day walking around the park while we went to the caves.
A few miles south of Crossville lies Grassy Cove, a depression between two mountains that by all rights should be a large lake. The rainwater that falls in the cave flows to the north into a cave, then out of the Devil’s hole, south of the cave and over the mountain. This long mountain has many caves and large streams flowing under it. Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave is well known as a cave with dust and dust masks to prevent histoplasmosis, a lung disease that occurs in dusty caves and buildings Chicken. I came down with the problem of this later and it could very well come from this cave. The doctor wanted to know if I had been around the chicken coop.
We entered the cave and discussed whether to search for the line in the dry west or go to the waterfall in the east of the cave. There are reportedly many caves under the waterfall. However, strings will be needed and we are not ready for that. The waterfall is so beautiful that we choose to descend the chasm and go to the waterfall.
The Chasm is a short passage that can be elevated if your chimney exits the narrow part of the drop. However, we have chosen to use the tie for the drop. We continued to the waterfall room and poked around looking for an easy way to continue. John was checking behind a large rock on the north side of the road when he saw air blowing through the rocks. We all got excited and started helping with the simple digging.
In less than an hour we had a small hole that looked open below. I was chosen to try, I’m not sure why I was the first but I’m grateful. I went foot first into the hole to remove my hard hat to squeeze through. At the bottom there is a low craw that goes to the northeast for about 50 feet and then a ledge with a short drop of about 5 feet into a large room downhill. I learned on the floor and couldn’t do a single match. I sat there shouting encouraging others to come down. We have seen big things.
I felt like Neil Armstrong on the moon when I took the first step on the floor below and put the first foot where no one had stepped before. The mud has a black layer on top and when you lift your foot it comes out of a very clear orange about 1 inch deep. It felt strange to walk into that huge room and then look back at the lonely feet that would turn out in a good way.
We searched a thousand feet of sixty feet wide and thirty feet high over the weekend, looking for construction along the west wall and crystal gypsum flower covering the floor as the ceiling was lowered. close to the end. We entered through some cracks into a small room at the end and could not find a way to continue.
We are all very excited about our new discovery and plan to come back for this new map next month. We returned on Saturday, April 22, 1972 with the additional help of my wife’s cousin, Bill Meier, and signed up for the March 18 Discovery. I worked for Eastman Kodak Co. At the time and had access to new home cameras. I’m trying out a new low-cost model for taking cave videos. We used a Coleman Lantern for light and a slow shutter speed to capture as much light as possible. This short video can be found on my caving website.
When Jack Pace moved to Nashville he told the caving team there about the discovery. Three years later in 1975 a group of Nashville cavers pushed the end of the Georgia Room and discovered the Nashville Extension, a stream that connects the cave to the far side of the mountain. This is why we went into the cave, to see what was there.
As of 2013, the largest chamber in Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave is unnamed. As I was the first person to walk there, I was happy to name the passage that was thirty feet high by sixty feet wide, and a thousand feet long, the “Georgia Room.”
Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave is now the eleventh longest cave in the state of Tennessee. I think we make it a little easier for future cavers to find the miles of caves that follow in a good cave. Good discoveries were made in the following years, and then in the 70’s Smoky Mountain Grotto closed three small holes with a stone block marked “SMG”
1 Blue Spring Cave 33 miles
2 Cumberland Caverns 27 miles
3 Xanadu Cave System 23 miles
4 Rumbling falls cave 15 miles
5 Nunley Mountain Cave System 15 miles
6 Big Bones 15 miles
7 Snail Shell Cave System 9 miles
8 Rice Cave 9 miles
9 Cuyler Cave 8 miles
10 Dunbar Cave 8 miles
11 Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave 8 miles
12 Wolf River 7 miles
13 Haws Spring Cave 7 miles
14 Zarathustra 7 miles
15 Camps Gulf Cave 6 miles
This is the first big discovery that I have participated in and I am more excited about the caving than ever and the challenge is not to explore but to fill the caves with maps, pictures , movies, and articles.
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