Friday, April 29, 2016

Penn's Cave

On a slightly blustery day back in March, we took a trip to "Historic Penn's Cave" in central Pennsylvania - about 2 1/2 hours drive from home.  Penn's Cave is a series of underground limestone caverns with beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations, but with the unusual feature of only being navigable by boat.  Sounded like fun!

The caves were reportedly first discovered by the Seneca Indians, and there is an old Indian legend surrounding the caves and the ghost who may haunt them, as well as the origins of the Nittany Lion (now the Penn State Uni mascot).  They were first opened to the public in 1885, and an old Victorian hotel (now staff offices) sits close by, which used to host visitors to the cave.

The tour starts by descending a steep stone staircase into the mouth of the cave, where we met our tour guide and our "barge".  The relatively small area of daylit water is a temporary haunt of some large trout, who love to be fed by hand (they can only survive in the daylight waters, and presumably scoot back through the caverns to freshwater when they've eaten their fill!)  The caves are also home to the occasional owl (spot him?) and a large bat population (spot one?) during the winter months.  The caves stay a mild ~50 degrees throughout the year (50 degrees being the average temperature for the area).  

Spot the owl?
Spot the bat?
Once settled, the boat slowly made its way through the caves, mostly in darkness, with occasional modern lighting effects, or simply the tour guide's torch, to highlight some of the beautiful formations.  The caves are vast, and at times it was difficult to get a fix on the actual size of some of the areas we were shown.  And the tour only covers a very small percentage of the caverns which have been explored so far...  Lots of the shapes were named after everyday objects or famous sights, such as the Liberty Statue and Gibraltar Rock.  There was even a naturally formed heart shape.

The headroom got a little low at one point, too!

And then suddenly the air moved a little differently, a spot of daylight became visible, and we were back in the open, through the "back door" which links with the wildlife park also on site (sadly not yet open for the season when we visited).

After a little trip round the lake, and a long distance view of some of the residing animals, we headed back into the darkness again, through the caves for a last glimpse of the limestone forms, and then all too soon we were back at the stone staircase at the end of the tour.

We'll definitely be back - if only to get a proper glimpse of these bison!

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