D is for Dunham Cave

Part of my Alphabet Caving Project is trying to get into some of the less-visited caves, or ones people just don’t hear about. I found that in Dunham Cave. A Google search revealed a very little information and only a few snapshots. So on a cool Saturday morning, we went to get permission and headed to the entrance. Covered in ivy in the early morning, it was extremely picturesque.

I had the map from Alabama Cave Survey, and it proved to be pretty accurate – enough to navigate by. The entrance areas had some spray paint graffiti, along with other evidence local teens use this as a hangout. But further in, the spray paint dwindles and disappears, probably due to lack of wanting to get soaked in some deeper parts of the stream.

It is almost a mile in length, and split for most of the way, a lower stream passage and an upper dry route. If you like scalloping and fluting and sculpted rock, this is a great cave to see. There are also areas that have a harder churt layer, of which the limestone both on top and below has been carved away, leaving a false black ceiling peppered with holes. And even though it’s a shallow cave, the upper levels had some nice formation areas, including a section of soda straws with very yellow tips!

No, this is not Photoshopped – it was quite yellow!

I did wonder if anyone has ever done biological studies in this cave. We saw crawfish and fish, although neither that we saw were fully cave-adapted. In addition there was evidence that at one time it housed massive bat colonies, with guano piles 3-4 feet tall and as wide in diameter. We only saw a handful of Southeastern Tricolors, no where near the number needed to create such huge and extensive piles in one of the chambers. As a happy note, none showed any signs of WNS. 🙂 This cave also had a healthy smattering of various salamander species. The Northern Slimy Salamanders must have recently hatched, as in one section I counted more than a half-dozen tiny ones, less than one inch long.

This little guy was barely longer than my fingernail!

Some areas had impressive formations. Although some of these had spraypaint on them (apparently, sculls are the thing to paint onto flowstone haystacks), viewed from the correct angle they still looked pristine.

Waterfall Room

All in all, I am surprised at how many other local cavers have never heard of this one. I suspect biologists and geologists would greatly enjoy the variety presented, and it’s a cave I would happily go back to. Any conservancy looking for a cleanup project, this would be a good one. A good crew could clean it up probably in one day. The graffiti is not too extensive and mostly on rock, and the trash in it is pretty localized. I would hate to see such a diverse and unique cave be destroyed! I would also be very interested in learning what the guano piles could tell us about the history of bats in the cave; I know some biologists are studying such things.

For more photos of Dunham, see my Flickr set.

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