Lost River Cave and Valley




"Three miles from Bowling Green on the Nashville Road we visited Cave Mill. A growth of fine timber here skirts the road, and would prevent the casual observer from noting a large sink of an oval form, at the bottom of which (100 ft. below) flows a river 20 or 30 yard. wide: Descending its precipitous sides, a scene of wild and rugged beauty presents. At one end the river rising at once full grown, flows about 300 yards, enclosed by the steep and rocky sides of the ravine, then enters a cavern 150 ft. wide at its mouth, and a least 40 or 50 ft. high. A solid arch of rock about 50 ft. in thickness forming the roof. Under this arch an enterprising Kentuckian has located his grist mill, and the noise of the falling waters, and the clattering of the cog wheels by giving life and animation, increases the picturesque effects. Finding a small board, we secured upon it a Bengal light, ignited it, and committing it to the current, it floated away, illuminating the extensive cavern, with the intense brilliancy of its light, until a change in the course of the cave hid it behind a projecting rock from those at the mouth, who were anxiously watching its progress." 

description by Thomas Kite in 1847


In the book "The Spirit of Lost River" it is estimated Native Americans were living in the Lost River Valley as far back as over 11,000 years ago. In 1792 it passed into the hands of a pioneer named Shank, who built a mill within the cave opening.  When my wife and I visited in 2003, The Friends of Lost River, "an organization dedicated to preserving, revitalizing, and enhancing the natural beauty, the historical significance, the ecological uniqueness, the water quality, and the scenic importance of the site," had been working on their goals since 1990.  Both history and folklore abound here.  Today, the expanded city (Bowling Green) surrounds the location. 

Two brothers,

Kurtis & Kody,

were working as guides and manning the gift shop when we stopped.

I cannot remember which one this picture is of, but they were both very personable, informative, and excellent at their jobs, making our visit particularly enjoyable.


The Lost River holds the distinction in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the "shortest deep river in the world."  Described in the Louisville Courier Journal, "this elusive stream near Bowling Green, KY, emerges from a cavern and flows only a few hundred yards through a deep channel before disappearing again into the ground."  A whirlpool and deep waters (engineers for the L&N Railroad measured the river to be at least 437 feet deep) have claimed lives of those unaware of the dangers below the placid surface of the river.


"Retreating from the raid at South Union, the [Confederate] raiders entered the Lost River Cave Valley and hid themselves and their horses deep within the Lost River Cave.  John Hunt Morgan [Morgan's Raiders] tells in his diary of being able to hear 'the horse's feet and the soldiers, and I knew where they were, but they didn't know they were riding over me 80 feet below the road.'" 


After my wife and I emerged from the tour of the cave, we took some time to walk the trails and explore the Lost River Valley. 

"The Cave Valley is almost a mile long with canyon bluffs on either side. There are four places where you can see the Lost River through the 'blue' holes." 

Those of you now familiar with my photography know that I would find more than just the river and bluffs to take pictures of. The Redbud and Dogwood trees were blooming, and some of the other trees fascinated me with their unusual bark or thorny outgrowths.  The bluff walls actually reminded me a little bit of the Ledges, in Grand Ledge, where I live here in mid-Michigan. I have often remarked that many people travel hundreds of miles to see topography like that just down the road from us. We did.  But, since we were already in the neighborhood, it was worth the visit. 


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