The Lost Sea, Mysterious Anthodites, and Largest Underground Lake ~ by Don Luenser

mysterious anthodites


The Lost Sea, Mysterious Anthodites, and the Largest Underground Lake in the US

by Don Luenser

A child at play, a thirteen year old boy by the name of Ben Sands, ventured into a cave one day in 1905 in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. With his lantern in hand, he went to explore the cave to see its many wonders and secrets, which included stalactites and stalagmites.

As Ben was exploring, he found a small opening in the back wall of the cave and so crawled through the small opening with his lantern. When he got to the other side he found what he thought was simply another chamber. He knew it was larger than the light shine from his lantern, so he found a clump of mud and threw it to see if by the sound he could better judge the chamber size. He threw it as hard as he could and instead of the sound being a crash on a wall or chamber floor, he heard a distant splash. He threw another and another in different directions to only hear splashes.

Excited about his find, he ran home to get his father, John Sands, to come and see what he had found. His father who was also interested in the cave, in fact gave tours of the cave, was very familiar with the cave and didn’t believe his son. He simply passed it off as just a ‘childish story’ and didn’t go back with him. Eventually, sometime later, his father gave up with listening to his son’s story and went with him to the cave. However, some of the cave was prone to high water and the small muddy opening that Ben went through had been covered in water. It wasn’t too long before they found out that Ben had discovered what is now known as the Lost Sea.

The cave where the Lost Sea can be found is the Craighead Caverns, named for the Cherokee, Chief Craighead. The Caverns had actually been used by both Indians, as judged by the Indian artifacts, weapons, jewelry, and pottery found in the cavern, and settlers since the 1820s. In 1939 boney remains of a Pleistocene jaguar (a feline that lived between 2.5 million years ago and about 11,700 years ago) was discovered and casts of the felines foot prints in the mud were made and submitted to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Today the Lost Sea is known as the largest underground lake in the United States and the second largest in the world. Tours of Craighead Caverns are conducted which includes a Lost Sea glass-bottom boat tour. The surface area of the Lost Sea is about 4.5 acres, but in the 1970s divers entered the lake, and never found the end. Even today’s modern technology using sonar have not been able to determine the lakes size. Divers with sonar equipment dove down and have entered some of the underwater chambers, but the equipment only indicated more water.

The Caverns has a waterfall and also rare anthodites which are also called ‘cave flowers’. Anthodites usually grow downward from the ceiling with needlelike projections that often branch as they ‘grow’. How anthodites grow is still a mystery to scientists. What they do know is that they are made of aragonite or gypsum, and know that they grow at their tips, and they need to have a vacuum of air around them by a thin film of water. If the vacuum is broken, they stop growing.

Craighead is one of the few places that anthodites are viewable by the public, due to how rare and fragile they are.

To this day, most of the mysteries of Craighead Caverns, including the Lost Sea, may not be known except for a young boy who took a chance and crawled through a small muddy opening in a cave wall. One of the wonderful mysteries under our feet.

For further information about Craighead Cavern and the Lost Sea check their site: Lost Sea Adventure


~ by MW TeamWriter Don Luenser

Don Luenser

Author Don Luenser is a retired administrator from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. During his tenure with the college system, he held the position of Forest Technology Instructor, Curriculum Specialist, Dean of Workforce Development, and Assistant Campus Dean.

Don is author of the To Lose the Sun trilogy, which includes the books, To Lose the Sun, The Caverns of Adentta, and Our Only Other Chance. These books are available in paperback from ToLoseTheSun‘s website or the electronic version at

Don is a longtime resident of the historic town of Natchitoches, Louisiana and a lover of puzzles and mysteries.




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6 Responses

  1. Jenny Kile says:

    This sounds like such an interesting place to visit! Thanks so much for sharing it with us Don! It’s another ‘must see’ on my list!

  2. Buckeye Bob says:

    I heard about this lake many years ago when I went to the World’s Fair held there that year.
    I hope I can put this on my list sometime.

  3. Twingem says:

    I’ve got to go here!

  4. pdenver says:

    Thank you for sharing, Don. Another great mysterious finding.

  5. Iron Will says:

    I’ve been there as a kid. The lake trout are huge! On the tour they will shut the lights out to let you see how completely dark it is down there. Of course they warn you not to freak out or more around when they do 😛

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