Blue Holes in the Heart of T.A.G.
by Kelly Smallwood NSS 58745 RL FE
When you spend as much time in the outdoors as I do, you are bound to come across some very interesting geological features. In this article I am going to feature some of the blue holes we have either stumbled upon or been informed about.
So what is a blue hole you ask? The technical definition is a large marine cavern or sinkhole, which is open to the surface and has developed in a bank or island composed of carbonate bedrock such as limestone. Blue holes are roughly circular, have steep walls and are so named for the dramatic contrast of blue color. One might not think that the heart of TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) is a place you’d find such blue holes but we have found they are actually plentiful in this area.
Jasper Blue Hole, Jasper, Tennessee
One of the most well known blue holes in Marion County is Jasper Blue. It is the water source for the town of Jasper and is guarded behind a fence and gate. The city draws over one million gallons from it daily for Jasper’s municipal water supply and the remainder flows into Town Creek, which later flows into the Sequatchie River and eventually ends up in the Tennessee River. In 2011, a team led by Jason Richards, who is a cave diver, cartographer and member of the National Speleological Society, was able to obtain permission from the Town of Jasper to map and explore the cave. There were some concerns about a new subdivision that was being built on top of Jasper Mountain so it was imperative to know where the city’s water supply was coming from and if it was in danger from the development above. Since 2011, Jason and others have surveyed over 10,000 feet of underwater cave at the blue hole, making it one of the longest known underwater caves in the US outside of Florida. The cave is over 140 feet deep.
Mitchell Cove, Marion County, Tennessee
This blue hole is man made but is still a pretty impressive site none the less. It is on private property and permission is required for access. The water emerges from a 700 foot long cave and is blocked by a dam which is located next to a two hundred feet deep sinkhole.
Blowout Blue Hole, Marion County, Tennessee
In 2014 we were helping Ben Miller with a dye trace project that would help determine the resurgence points/springs for some of the caves in the State Forrest and their relation to Sweeten’s Cove. While out setting charcoal packets in the valley, one of the landowners who we were working with told us about the Blowout Blue Hole. Local legend is the blue hole just literally blew out overnight one day in the 1960’s. Upon seeing it, we immediately knew it needed to be included in the project as it was significant. Ben’s project successfully linked several caves with a distance of more than 5 miles underground to the blue hole and provided information on the karst watershed in this area. Once the dye trace project was complete, we knew we had to share this blue hole with cave divers. We contacted Forrest Wilson, who put together the first team to dive the blue hole in April of 2016. To date they have surveyed over 1000 feet of underwater cave with a depth of 60 feet. Please note - This blue hole is on private property and permission is required to access it.
You can also watch a really cool short video put together by Brian Ham on the dye trace project by going to:
Blowout Blue during flood
Forrest Wilson and Josh Shouse; first dive at Blowout Blue
Richard City Blue Hole, Marion County, Tennessee
This Blue Hole was brought to our attention by Troy Fuqua in 2016. After doing some research, I realized I knew the landowner so I asked her for permission to hike out to it. She very graciously allowed me to do so and after seeing it, I knew it needed some divers to check it out. I contacted Forrest Wilson and on May 1, 2016 with the landowner present, he and Josh Shouse came out to dive the spring. For years, the locals believed this blue hole was “bottomless”. Once Forrest and Josh dove down, they were quickly able to find where the water was coming from. They were not able to get into the passage because it was so tight but they did notice it was also blowing out a bunch of small black flakes. Forrest took a sample of the black flakes and had it sent of for analyzing. The lab said it was “Coal, mostly vitrinite.” If you look at the close proximity of the Richard City Quarry, it is more than likely that these flakes are coming from them. No dye trace has been done in this area but it is highly suspected the water coming from the blue hole is coming from the Poplar Spring Branch, which is the cove that Jason and I live above.
Forrest Wilson & Josh Shouse diving the Richard City Blue Hole
South Pittsburg Blue Hole, Marion County, Tennessee
This one is another man made blue hole. It is located on the east side of Lodge Point above the Richard City Quarry. There is no cave associated with the blue hole but it is obvious someone a very long time ago built a dam to create it. Perhaps it was used as a water source at some point.
King Cove, Jackson County, Alabama
This spring is marked on the topo map just simply as Blue Hole and is located in Tanyard Hollow. The northern part of King Cove has a rich history from the early twentieth century as it was an old mining town. In 1909, investors from New York purchased the head of the cove and began building a railway from nearby Richard City up into the hollow. By 1910 they had a 19 room hotel, seven room office building, two story store and nearly thirty five three and four room workers cottages. Unfortunately, they also soon discovered that the prospects of a large coal vein in the hollow did not play out as expected. By 1912, the town was abandoned and all that is left are some stone walls. I would suspect that residents in the area at that time knew of the blue hole and perhaps even swam in it. Troy Fuqua brought it to my attention and in early 2018 Jason and I decided to check it out. We have notified cave divers about it but so far to date it has not been dove to my knowledge. Please note the abandoned town of Rexton and this blue hole are both on private property and permission is required for access.
King Cove Blue Hole during flood
Kyle Spring, Jackson County, Alabama
This is a major spring located near Neversink on the south side of Crow Mountain. It is likely the resurgence for multiple caves in the area and is also a local swimming hole (beware of trash). Jim Smith, a cave diver, cartographer and member of the National Speleological Society dove this spring in the late 80’s. The spring is road side and is marked on the topo map. The spring entrance is approximately 30 feet wide with a depth of 10 feet. Per Jim, he and Augusto Auler (from Brazil) surveyed the cave to 2100 feet long with it being completely underwater. He states the passage got low around 550 feet while the rest of it was about seven feet wide and seven feet tall. He and Augusto explored the first 550 feet together and Jim soloed the last 1600.
Long Island, Jackson County, Alabama
Jason and I found this blue hole while out paddling. It was not on a topo map nor on the Alabama Cave Survey. We knew from looking at it that it had great potential for an underwater cave so we contacted Forrest Wilson and on May 1, 2016 he along with Josh Shouse joined us for a paddle to check it out. Jason and I had two canoes so we were in one and Forrest and Josh were in the other. It was comical to say the least watching them two paddle together as it was both of their first time in a canoe. Once at the lead, Josh dove the lead. He was able to survey just over 300 feet and the cave was around 60 feet deep. Now that we own a John Boat, we need to get Josh back out there to finish his dive and survey!
Big Coon Blue Hole, Jackson County, Alabama
Also worth mentioning is the resurgence for the Jess Elliot / Iron Hoop cave system which is known as the Big Coon Blue Hole. It is the head of Big Coon Creek and it eventually joins up with Little Coon Creek. Together they flow into Crow Creek and then on into the Tennessee River. During times of wet weather the blue hole is a beautiful green color and is approximately 25 feet deep. In dry times, the pool does not flow and reduces down to a small clear pool under the ledge. Please note that this blue hole is on private property and is not on the James D. Martin Skyline WMA.