Endless Caverns

An Underground Journey into the Show Caves of Appalachia

By Douglas Reichert Powell

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 halftones, 1 map, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6943-4
    Published: February 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3864-5
    Published: March 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8540-1
    Published: March 2018

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For generations, enterprising people in the southern Appalachians have turned the region's extensive network of caves into a strange, fascinating genre of tourist attraction. Visitors pay admission to take a tour deep underground, learning a little about history and geology while puzzling over lit-up rock formations said to resemble anything from Niagara Falls to the Capitol dome. Then off go the lights, enveloping the travelers in total darkness--until the guide flips them back on and welcomes folks back into the safety of the inevitable gift shop. Show caves, as Douglas Reichert Powell explains in Endless Caverns, are at once predictable and astonishing, ancient and modern, eerie and sentimental. Their story sparks memories of a fleeting cool moment deep underground during a hot summer vacation, capturing in microcosm the history and culture of a region where a deeply rooted sense of place collides with constant change.

Reichert Powell takes readers along on his journey through the past and present of Appalachia's show caves, highlighting the characters who have owned and operated them, the ways the attractions have developed and changed over the years, and the odd intrigue that still leads people to buy their ticket and head underground. Tourist tastes may shift as interstates whisk travelers past the backroads and on to trendier destinations, but the show cave--like Appalachia itself--endures.

About the Author

Douglas Reichert Powell is associate professor of English at Columbia College Chicago and author of Critical Regionalism: Connecting Politics and Culture in the American Landscape.
For more information about Douglas Reichert Powell, visit the Author Page.


Endless Caverns is a personal odyssey of the author’s travels through Appalachian show caves. A well-written book that will appeal to readers interested in Americana, the development and management of show caves, and the history of the Appalachian region.”--CHOICE

“Powell leaves no caving-related topic unexplored. . . . Reading the book was like talking to an acquaintance who is able to share his love of a particular topic and make us love it too. Anyone interested in the cultural history of the Southern Appalachian region, or anyone with even the most remote interest in caves, should pick up this book.”--Journal of Appalachian Studies

“Richert Powell is an engaging and often hilarious writer with a passion for show caves and all of the people that make them possible. He is a meticulous historian, an acute and often daring ethnographer, but most of all an audacious and creative storyteller.”--West Virginia History

"A revelatory and compelling introduction to another Appalachia--Appalachia Underground."--Jeff Biggers, author of The United States of Appalachia

"Reichert Powell's research is authoritative, and his love for the topic radiates from the book."--Scott Huler, author of On the Grid