Ruby Falls Cave

Tennessee has a lot to offer from the Great Smoky Mountains of the Appalachians to Graceland to the world famous music hub that is Nashville.  Nothing may be more beautiful and spectacular in Tennessee however, than Ruby Falls Cave.  Jessica and I took the opportunity to tour it after awaking in the town of Chattanooga where we had stayed for our first night of our drive back from Florida to Utah.

Thursday - December 29, 2016

This day would mark the 12th anniversary of our wedding for Jessica and I.  We could have stayed in Atlanta for our first night of driving back to Utah from Florida, but I had stumbled into learning about Ruby Falls Cave at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennesee, as I was looking up sights to see along our route back to Utah.  I decided it might be worth the extra hour beyond Atlanta to get into Ruby Falls Cave earlier in the morning and beat some lines.  I think it proved to be a wise decision, as we were among one of the first tours to get through with very little waiting time.

Ruby Falls 'Cavern Castle'

Ruby Falls 'Cavern Castle'

Entrance to Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls Cave has quite a history.  It was discovered by accident on December 28, 1928 after a man by the name of Leo Lambert had gathered a crew in the fall of 1928 to build an elevator shaft seeking to establish a new entrance into a different cave further down inside of Lookout Mountain, a cave that had been known simply as Lookout Mountain Cave.  Lookout Mountain Cave had been known about for centuries, having played host to Native Americans, cave explorers, outlaws looking for a hideout, and even soldiers fighting in the Civil War, among others.  It was said to be over 12 miles long with nobody able to find the end of it.  It remained a popular cave for visitors to explore until in the early 1900's when geography forced a railroad to  have a tunnel blasted and built through a portion of Lookout Mountain.  The tunnel ultimately intersected the cave and caused the natural entrance to the cave, which sat at the northern foot of Lookout Mountain, to be sealed off from the public.

As a member of Leo's crew was making progress down the elevator shaft, he hit void where a blast of air gushed out at him 260 feet below the start of the shaft giving him a big surprise.  Leo and his crew knew that Lookout Mountain Cave was still another 160 feet further down from the top of the shaft.  This newfound void space was found to be a hollow channel through the mountain measuring 18 inches high by 5 feet wide. Curious, Leo later led a small crew down through the shaft and into the space.  There they crawled further and further along until they found themselves able to stand and walk along a slim but tall corridor lined with stunning and unique geological formations.  About three-quarters of a mile later, they were halted by a dead end in a chamber where they discovered a 145 foot high waterfall pouring down from the chamber ceiling.  It would take the crew 17 hours to make the round trip in returning back to the mountain's surface.  Leo would later lead his wife, Ruby, to the waterfalls where he told her he would name it after her.

Eventually Leo and his crew did successfully extend their elevator shaft down into the longer Lookout Mountain Cave they had been aiming for and then built an structure in the style of a 15th century Irish castle to house the shaft that became known as "Cavern Castle".  For a time, through the early 1930's, Leo offered tours into both caves, but as word spread about Ruby Falls, the crown jewel of the newly discovered cave, and all the formations that existed leading up to it, it quickly became the more popular tour, attracting virtually all the interest.  Tours to the lower cave were discontinued and all resources were put into the Ruby Falls Cave tour enabling to it evolve into what it has become today.

Now, exactly 88 years and one day after it's discovery, Jessica and I would have the good fortune of experiencing the wonders of this treasured cave ourselves.  To get into the actual cave, we too would have to descend down the 260 foot deep elevator.

Getting ready to descend 260 feet

High tech "SmartCave" let's you connect on a 'deeper level' with Wifi

Once in the cave, it was all about enjoying the wonder of the many interesting and detailed formations along the way to the waterfall.

Walkway carved out through the initial channel that lead to Ruby Falls

A look up into the narrow corridor that rises up from the initial shallow section

Cactus and Candle, the one stalagmite approved for visitors to touch

Cactus and Candle

Cactus and Candle close up

Approaching the "Crystal Chandelier" and "Totem Pole" formations

The "Donkey" formation

Elephant's Foot

Entering the "Hall of Dreams"

Along the "Hall of Dreams"

"Hall of Dreams"

"Hall of Dreams"

roof of "Hall of Dreams"

Columns and stalactite formations in "Hall of Dreams" 

The "Fish" formation

"Leaning Tower" Column Formation

The "Turtle" formation (upper right corner)

Formations inside of Ruby Falls Cave

"Angel's Wing" Drape Formation

"Angel's Wing"


"Potato Chip"

Going deeper into Ruby Falls Cave

Wrinkles and creases galore throughout the cave

So much detail

More formations

Moving along

"Tobacco Leaves"

Walking along side some cave pools

The walkway along side a cave pool

"Niagra Falls" flowstone formation

"Niagra Falls" flowstone formation

Western Sunset

Continuing along in Ruby Falls Cave

Deep inside of Ruby Falls Cave

"Beehives" formations

Near the "Mirror Pool"

"Mirror Pool"

"Mirror Pool"

"Mirror Pool"

"Leo's Passage"

"Steak and Potatoes"

At last, it was now time for the grand finale: Ruby Falls.

Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls

A little closer up to Ruby Falls

Jessica and myself

It was incredible to think that after descending down only 260 feet down an elevator shaft and walking a very gradual descent down the cave's three-quarter mile long corridor, we were now standing nearly 1,500 feet below ground.  That all had to do with the fact that the elevator shaft and surrounding visitor center for Ruby Falls was built into the north foot of Lookout Mountain, not far up in elevation from the nearby Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga and not along the very top of the mountain.  Lookout Mountain actually gains over 1000 feet of elevation from the point you enter down the elevator shaft to the point you stand at the falls.  

As I reflected back on it all, if I had to describe the whole experience of seeing the falls and the rest of the cave in one word, it would be: Magical!  We knew the waterfalls would be spectacular based on pictures and video seen prior to being there in person, but of course, nothing compares to really being there in person.  The waterfall was indeed spectacular.  For the brief time we got to stand at its base, the lighting effects all combined to make it a very romantic atmosphere as well.   For Jess and I, it was a perfect way to start off our wedding anniversary.  The long string of formations along the way were much more than we anticipated making it all a delightful surprise.

Once back up and out of the cave, we finished off with some views outside before getting back on the road to continue our drive back home to Utah.

Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga from Ruby Falls observation deck

Downtown Chattanooga from Ruby Falls observation deck

Myself and Jessica on Ruby Falls observation deck

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