Stone Doors, Forts, and Flutes

On the Beersheba Springs side of Savage Gulf, there is a huge gap in the ridge of the Cumberland Plateau known as Stone Door. Before they were called Native Americans :), the Indians carved out steps through this breach. It is quite impressive.

I read somewhere—and I can’t find it now—that the Indians who crossed the Stone Door used it as a migratory route every year. This is what piqued my interest. For two years, I searched online for pictures of this Stone Door. I couldn’t find any that comprehensively depicted it, and now I know why. The gap is just twisty enough that you can’t get it all in one shot.

Stone Door at Savage Gulf
Stone Door at Savage Gulf

There are pictures of the gap from the sky. There are pictures at the entrance of the Stone Door and at the bottom. But seeing the whole thing is something you can’t experience through a photo.

Obviously, there are many things you can’t experience about this place from looking at a photo. There’s a cave-like coolness between the walls of stone, only you’re in an open corridor with rock on both sides of you reaching high, high above. There are places where the steps take you beside a flat slab of stone where you can rest; and, if you’re lucky like me, you’ll find a few friendly creepy crawlies that have come to rest there, too.

That ledge under my hand is Creepy-Crawly Central.
That ledge under my hand is Creepy-Crawly Central.

Miles southwest of Beersheba Springs is a place called Old Stone Fort, where the Indians created mounds that surround a 50-acre plot of land situated in the fork of two rivers. It was an excellent place in terms of defense, but there isn’t any evidence that it was used that way. At the opening, the mounds are narrowed and parallel, so that the sun’s position could be utilized at sunrise during the summer solstice. We hiked the one-and-a-quarter-mile diameter of the mounds; and when we came back to the entrance, Zeke from the museum was giving a small talk about some of the pastimes of the Indians. I wasn’t really interested, and would’ve walked on, but he picked up something that looked like a wooden recorder and began to play.

“Oh, let’s listen!” I said, and we walked over. That’s when I recorded this:

After he finished playing, he told a story of a young Indian warrior who excelled in the hunt. He liked a girl in the camp, but she never seemed to notice him. For her, he learned to run the fastest, outrunning all the other warriors. No one could outshine him. But she was not impressed. He was heartbroken and went to the stream to soothe his sorrows with the music of the waters. While he sat there, he heard a strange and beautiful melody he had never heard before. He listened and searched, and, finally, he found the source of the music. The sticks of cane growing in the water had been broken, and the birds had pecked holes along them to get to the bugs that were living inside the wooden tubes. The wind was blowing through their hollow centers, creating the notes he’d been hearing! He learned to make his own flute from the cane and practiced for many days. One morning, he sat outside the girl’s tent and played a song for her. She came out of her tent, for she was impressed. And that was how she came to love him, and how we got the flute!

I just love legends like that! Don’t you?

So, what do stone doors, Indian mounds, and legends have to do with my book? Sorry; that would be giving away too much.

Doing The Research…Naturally

While Realm and I were in Manchester, Tennessee, we drove up to McMinnville to tour the Cumberland Caverns. I’ve toured three cave systems now, and I would like to tour more. Mammoth Caves is definitely on my list, but I was looking for something less commercialized. With that in mind, we drove to a place called Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. I looked it up online, and, at the time, the website mentioned there were caves open to the public. There aren’t that many caves that are open to the public anymore. Many cave mouths we’ve visited have all been fitted with big, steel teeth.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area was no easy place to find. The roads wrapped round and round and up and down, only to land us in front of a wooden sign with a bright yellow update tacked to it. The caves at Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area were closed. *grumble, grumble*

White-Nosed Bats “It’s those snot-nosed bats again,” remarked Realm as we stared at the sign, crestfallen.

I do feel sorry for the bats and the bacteria they’re being exposed to by people traipsing into their caves, but I don’t think blocking off the caves is really a solution for that. The bats in the commercial caves are free to visit and spread bacteria, right?

Our tour to nowhere ended up being a good thing, though. We found a surprise just down the road from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. (Yes, I love typing that name out. It’s a ridiculously long and unnatural name for a natural area.) “Natural Bridge,” announced the sign.

I’ve been to Natural Bridge near Stanton, Kentucky—which is huge. Sewanee Natural Bridge wasn’t big at all. It was super narrow. I noticed that right when I was crossing, at which point my peripheral vision had my brain doing a double take. My knees started knocking. I looked up.

“Can you believe it? I’m freaking over this little bridge!” I exclaimed to Realm, who was already across.

He looked back and said, “Keep your eyes on the step ahead.”

“I need blinders. I’m not even looking off the sides! My brain is just picking up the sidelines!”

“Focus on the next step,” he repeated.
Rilla and Sewanee NBThe area around the bridge is beautiful with lots of rocks to climb and mini-trails to explore. And the walk back across the bridge was much easier.

Now I could go into a long-winded application about how we writers can be distracted or intimidated by things that are just in our peripheral vision, but I won’t. I’d rather talk about how barring up the caves isn’t really about the bats. It’s about keeping zombies from hiding out in them when the Zombie Apocalypse comes. But that’s beside the point, as well.

The most natural question for this post is: Why am I so interested in visiting caves anyway?

The most natural answer is: My protagonist, Casey, with the help of the Dragonfly Prince, must travel through a range of caves to avoid a hunter. I’m interested in the details, like common cave structures and the relative wetness/dryness of different cave systems. It’s research. Naturally.