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June 13, 2007   Email to Friend 

Explore One of Alabama's Coolest Getaways
Rebecca Leigh White

When the Alabama heat in mid-summer gets to you, escape to someplace "cool" not just in temperature. Deep beneath Gunter's Mountain in northeast Marshall County is hidden a treasure that offers breathtaking sites and chilly temperatures.

No matter what the weather is outside, inside Alabama's Cathedral Caverns, the constant year-round temperature is 60 degrees in the 14-acre underground wonderland. Surrounded by some of the most beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations in the world, visitors can explore Big Rock Canyon, the Frozen Waterfall, Mystery River, Stalagmite Mountain and Goliath - believed to be the world's largest stalagmite column standing 45 feet tall and 243 feet around.

The cave has one of the widest entrances in the world, measuring 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. Its scenic beauty and mystique are why the cave has been used as a filming location for movies including Disney's "Tom and Huck" in 1995.

Excavations at the cave's mouth lead archaeologists to believe it was occupied by Indians more than 2,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 8,000 B.C. In more recent times, 29-year-old Jay Gurley, known to locals as the Cave Man, discovered the cave in 1952. In 1955, Gurley sold all of his possessions to buy the 160-acre hole in the ground. He worked many years to clear the surrounding land to create road access and remove tons of rubble to form inside trails. The cave known originally as Bat Cave, was renamed Cathedral Caverns after Gurley's wife told him the big room looked like a cathedral. Gurley and his family opened the magnificent caverns to the public in 1959. Cave explorers and tourists visited Gurley's attraction for more than 20 years until financial troubles forced him to shut it down in 1982.

Today, Cathedral Caverns State Park is captivating the imaginations of young and old alike.

Designated as a Registered National Natural Landmark in 1972, it was purchased by the State Parks System in 1987 and officially became a state park in 2000.

Cathedral Caverns State Park offers amenities that include cave tours, nature trails, primitive camping, picnicking, concessions, a climbing wall, souvenir shop and a rustic welcome center where guests can wait during cold or inclement weather to enter the cave.

Cathedral Caverns is about 4,000 feet long and wheelchair accessible with concrete walkways. The park is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided cave tours are given hourly. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free. The park also is open for school field trips.

So, when summer heats up and you feel like you're going to melt, load your family and friends into the car, pack a picnic, and take them to a really "cool" spot almost a mile below the surface of the earth.

Cathedral Caverns State Park is three miles south of Highway 72 between Woodville and Grant, Ala., which makes it an easy drive from most places in the state.

For more information on this incredible wonder, visit www.outdooralabama.com or call 1-800-ALA-PARK or Cathedral Caverns State Park at (256)-728-8193.

Rebecca Leigh White is with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

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