The DeSoto Caverns are one of the most popular natural attractions in the State of Alabama for several different reasons.
However, it’s extremely long history, its claim as being the oldest cave in the country, and it’s huge size stand out as some as the major reasons.
There is something else that makes it stand out among other caves in the state; it has several other attractions that will appeal to your family.
All of these reasons make it one the best of the Alabama Backroads Day trips.
DeSoto Caverns has been known over time by a couple of names, and the first one is Kymulga Cave, because of its ties to Early American Indians.
It is also known as “Alabama’s Big Cave” and is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
It is located about 30 minutes south of the town of Birmingham, and is found in the small town of Childersburg, Alabama.
It has a very rich history and was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in the year 1976.
DeSoto Caverns original name, the Kymulga Cave, was named in the honor of the Native Americans that first discovered it.
There is an extremely large room in the cave that is called the “Healing All Cathedral”, which came from the early Indian name of “Kymulga”.
Kymulga means “Healing All” and it was believed that this cave was used as a burial site.
Structures such as caves were considered to be good burial spots by the Copena Culture, as they offered both peaceful as well as protected environments.
This was extremely important to these early ancient cultures, as they believed it helped protect the spirits of the dead.
The Copena Culture was believed to be Ancient Indian Tribes that first settled in the Muscle Shoals area, and they left several mysterious mounds as well.
The family of the original founder that bought the caves in the early 1900’s, renamed them in 1975 as the DeSoto Caverns, in honor of the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto.
Hernando de Soto led an expedition to several States including Alabama, and it marked the first Europeans in history to this area.
This expedition is reported to have spent over five weeks in the hospitality of the chief of the Coosa Indian tribe, who lived the Cavern areas during this time frame.
The DeSoto Caverns claims of the “first recorded cave” in the United States, occurred during the Presidency of our first President, George Washington.
The General Superintendent for Indian Affairs during his presidency was Benjamin Hawkins, who visited the caves in December of the year 1796.
He was visiting the then Creek Territory, and in his report about this visit, he described the grandeur of what is now known as DeSoto Caverns.
They also have some history with the Civil War, as the Confederate Army rediscovered it.
Caves at that time were used to collect “bat droppings” to make what is referred to as saltpeter, which at the time was the main ingredient in gunpowder.
The amount of the saltpeter that the Confederates found soon led this Cave to become one of the largest saltpeter mines in the South.
In the year 1912, what is today known as DeSoto Caverns was purchased by Ida Mathis and some of her friends, for commercial reasons.
She and her friends were going to mine it for its abundant quarantines of onyx, which at the time was a semi-precious stone.
However, things did not work out as Mexican onyx became very popular during the same time, and they could not complete with it on a price basis.
Because of this, these Caverns were left dormant for several years.
However, the history of DeSoto Caverns is still not over, as it also played a role during prohibition.
During the early 1920’s and 1930’s, an illegal speakeasy was open in this cave, and it soon became known for several shootings.
This illegal speakeasy was shut down by Federal agents in the early 1930’s.
During this same time frame, Ida Mathis's son, Allen, bought out the mining interests of the other partners, and thus secured the rights to the cave and the surrounding property.
It became a place to explore by the locals during the next 40 plus years, until the early 1960’s.
At that time Mr. Mathis and Mr. Fred Layton begin to develop the cave into a “show cave”, and installed high density lights to showcase the wonderful natural colors.
It has remained in the Mathis family and is today known as the DeSoto Caverns.
There are several natural as well as man-made attractions of today’s DeSoto Caverns, and it all begins with the main room known as the “Healing All Cathedral”.
This main room is huge as it is literally over ten stories high and is over 100 yards long.
It is also noted for one of the largest accumulations of onyx-marble stalagmites as well as stalactites not only in the country, but in the world.
It also has numerous speleothems, which are actively growing rock formations.
There are other numerous formations found as well, and they range from the common columns to flowstones.
Flowstones are known as a type of speleothem that is found on the walls or the floors of caves and are formed by flowing water.
There are also draperies and helicities, as well as numerous magnificent colors that can be seen firsthand in the cave.
There are also several fun man-made attractions that have been added to this natural beauty, and here are just a few of them.
There are also several fun “amusement park like rides” that make DeSoto Caverns one of the most enjoyable of all the Alabama Backroads Day trips.
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