Monday, April 28, 2014

Secret Caverns, Cobbleskill, NY

We had discussed stopping at Howe Caverns located outside of Cobleskill, NY on the return ride home, but found this place had coupons, longer hours during our visit and a much cheaper price tag.
 Howe caverns is an amazing place, we have all been there (except Gavin) at least once and the attraction continues to expand as does the price of admission. I am not saying that this attraction is not worth the nearly $25- adult admission  and $20- child fee for a trip into some beautiful caverns under ground and a short boat ride in an underground stream, but its one of those..been there done that kind of things.   My last visit was about 15 years ago with my elder two kids, and I even went with my own parents when I was about 8-9 years old. Not much inside the cave has changed I'm guessing, so I don't feel to sad missing it to try out something just as cool at 1/2 the price.
 Gavin was a little disappointed at first, but once we got to this unusual attraction with it's quirky illustrations staged for miles before we got there and literally everywhere when we did, he knew he wasn't missing much.
We had researched it a bit before we left, only review complaint was that there hours were unpredictable, but when we pulled up the doors were wide open.

Open MOUTH doors.
The artwork continued through out the building, often with funny stories or cartoon like illustrations.

The picture below of the bats was featured in the women's bathroom. The art continued throughout the building as well as some of the outdoor space. Once we purchased our tickets (google Secret Caverns for coupons, I found $2- off adult admission prices). we were told it would be about 15 minutes before we would be starting our tour. This gave us an opportunity to do a little more exploring around the area.

First stop was the stockade.

 I am not sure why or what these had to do with the caves, but the family enjoyed posing in them just the same. We took a short walk to the "Ice" Cave. Gavin and I made jokes about our recent watch of Frozen and entering the ice cave. Sadly it was not all that interesting, but there was one big piece of ice lodged between two rock walls. None of us were entirely convinced that it was ice, but here's the story of the ice cave, just in case you were wondering.

I wish I had in hindsight. Anyone aware of how this might work if it was there all year long?
More exploration took up back into the building and examining the several things on the walls. There was just a whole lot of WEIRD stuff all over the place. I think a person could spend a good deal of time, just looking around the walls. Interested in some random weird stuff?  How about a replica of a dinosaur footprint.

Or the legend of the mummified tour guide King.

or...the vampire bat of Secret Caverns.

(No real bats were hurt for this blog...and NO THERE REALLY ARE NO VAMPIRE BATS IN THESE CAVES) Gavin was concerned that there might be a vampire bat flying about ready to turn into Count Dracula at any moment. There are bats, but they are very small and from what our guide told us several hundred had died a few years ago due to a bat like cancer that killed a biz-illion across NY and many upstate areas. Sorry I can't recall the name. We did search for some in the cave with no such luck in finding any.

We spent some more time walking around the building and bought some souvenirs before the tour started. I found key chains with a bottle opener and a bright flashlight with the Secret Caverns logo on it for the boys. There was an amazing SALE...2 for $1-. I couldn't resist and the boys actually used their flashlights in the cave. I got my more recent collective magnet souvenir with bats and logo on it. (I used to collect key chains from places I visited, (some are over 20 years old) but my collection is soooooo big and un-organized I changed over to magnets a few years ago. Some day I might post some of my collection. I enjoy reminiscing about the trips taken in the past. The cool thing about the key chains is my Grandmother used to collect them too, so I have tons of hers as well.)
Back to the Caves.
Finally the tour was about to begin and WE were it. Us and the tour guide. I can't recall his name, but he was pleasant, well educated on the cave and had a pretty healthy fun loving sense of humor. It made for a nice tour.

 First we were told of how the cave was found. Much like Howe's cave, cows were the leading cause of the original finding. Secret Caves were found by cows searching for some cool air that was escaping up through the opening in the ground. These cows seemed smart finding an outdoor air conditioner, but pretty stupid in that they fell in.  OPPS!!! Apparently Secret Caverns was found after Howe's and one of the engineers working at Howe's in their expansion of building the cave into a tourist site thought he too would cash in own his own tourist attraction. Roger Mallery (the engineer) convinced a flashlight company (then a name I had never heard, but later became  Everlast.) to donate flashlights to a group of young boys (ages 17)  who volunteered to help in the exploration of the cave. These boys headed down into the hole full of anticipation and brand new bright lighted flashlights. As the got deeper into the caves their flashlights began to dim until every last one was out. (apparently flashlights were made of cardboard/paper in the early 1900's and with damp caves, these flashlights simply started to disintegrate. other OPPS! Long story short, the boys made they way out in the dark and Secret Caverns was born.

The story was told so that we were aware that pretty much everything we were about to explore was pretty much like what these boys experienced except we had lights, stairs and yes there was some removal of rock, otherwise we would be crawling through tunnels in some areas. (grateful for that).  The original tourist attraction initially started in the area seen above. People would climb down a narrow iron ladder, but the ladder would become slippery and quite dangerous so they decided to fill in the original entrance and created today's less difficult, but still pretty rugged stairway. THIS CAVE IS NOT IN ANY WAY HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE. Howe's has an elevator and brick laid walkways. Secret Caverns is as close to RAW cave as I care to ever get.

 You really had to watch your step as you walked. Some of the steps were quite steep and small. These first few flights shown above were the only steps like this the rest of the walk down. There were several that seemed to be simply stones.

This made the adventure all the more fun. The boys were certainly in their glory.

We continued down and made our way deeper into the caverns.
 This picture makes it look kind-of gross...but the water is not muddy at all, and the rocks that appear to be covered in slime and moss is not yucky slimy and gross but smooth and the colorization is due to calcium deposits. The greenish color has to do with different types of rock as well.
 I do wish I had a better brain for remembering everything...but I just don't. Limestone (I think) is what lines the walls of this cave and some of the walls are hundred and millions of years old. We gained a short geology lesson. (Again I apologize that I am not so well versed of cave formation). Simplest way to say it is that water erosion forms most caves. Water, over time breaks down the rock and "volia" a cave is formed.
(Both boys have their fingers on their flash lights...wonder if they were waiting for the lights to go out?)
The water was flowing nicely in this cave. We heard the dripping all around us and for most of our walk we had a nice stream that ran along side our trail.
 Notice the multiple levels, colors, and shapes of the rocks along this wall. This shows just how many millions of years these walls took to form. Each layer created with the running of water and the sediments that lodged as it moved along.
 Notice the texture of this formation. These are often created by stalactites or stalagmites. Mostly formed from years and years and years (and add a fell more hundred years) of water slowly dripping.
The boys touch the walls feeling how smooth the rocks are.
 This circular shaped dome area was most likely formed by a whirlpool according to our guide. He reported this is where they leave the unruly children on the tour to be picked up on the way back. Our boys were doing fine however and none were needed to be left behind.
 Notice how the rocks jet out in this area possibly due to the direction and flow of water. Here is also a nice representation of the multiple different types of rocks that formed over the years.
One of the caverns nicely lite up. I have to confess, if your looking for BEAUTY in a cave, this one is not staged as well as Howe's. Again, this cave was really bare bones raw and real. I even submerged my foot in real running cave water. Apparently that's nothing, our tour guide inform us of people who had smashed their heads on the low bearing ceiling. Certainly you have to keep your wits about you throughout the entire tour.
 Some of the formations have been named like this one. Elephant feet.

This is a photo of a cavern shelf that formed.
 This was cool with the reflection in the pool.

Can you see the creepy face in this formation?

 Some more neat rock formations. They were like watching clouds the more you look at one the more likly you could see something in them.
It was all pretty neat.

 If you look close you can see the formation of green moss growing. Most things are unable to grow in caves due to lack of sunlight. This garden of green most likely came in on spores off tourist clothing and hair. They have grown with the help of the lights running through the cave. We also noticed racoon footprints permanently in the walkways cement. According to our guide they find ways in from some of the side area tunnels and these opening have since been covered with bars to keep them out.
 This formation named the beehive also looks like Beethoven's white wig.
At the very end of the tour trail we find the waterfall. (Howe does not have a waterfall).
 Its not incredibly large and there is no lake at the bottom, but it give a nice cooling breeze and a gentle water spray. By the way, the average year round temperature is about 55 degree's so wear a jacket.

We made it all the way down to the far end of the cavern. Now it was time to head back.

As we returned we went a little bit faster in our pace, but we still stopped for some featured attractions like the alligator, the wishing well and some neat reflections off the water. We also passed the fountain of youth. Discussion on weather Mark and I should drink some water was mentioned, but we decided against it. At one point our guide turned off all of the lights to help us get an idea of just how dark it is in these cave. Gavin requested that he hurry up and turn them back on, but both boys were grateful to have my 50 cent flashlight find during those moments in the darkness.  It sure gets BLACK with those lights out.
Interesting sparkle rocks found on this formation.

The liberty bell formation. 

Now that's a tooth.
 A few more steps and we were soon back to the stairs. We did our last few discussion and answer piece before we started on the part of the tour I disliked the most....dragging my arse up those stairs. Everyone agreed with me about those stairs. Thank God we were not climbing up a long iron wet ladder.

We continued to walk UP and UP and UP!!!!! I could have done without the walking back up in the end, but we all got a good workout and up ahead is sunlight. We made it we cheered for our guide and made our way towards the van ready to find a place for lunch. Hint: There is not alot of ANYTHING around the area so grab something in nearby Cobleskill or your choices will be near ZILCH until the next big town/city. We breezed through Cobleskill as Mark was trying to find his way back to the Interstate. Once we left Cobleskill we drove for some time before all we could find was a McDonalds and we were all hoping for something...anything else. Now we know and you do too if we ever come back!!!
 So maybe Secret Caverns was not Howe, but we sure enjoyed it. I'll admit I currently have no desire to visit is now one of my Been There Done It places, but it was sure pretty cool. Honestly I think the boys enjoyed it better then they would Howe simply because of the rawness of the cave and the freedom to touch, climb and explore as they did. At one point they were even offered an opportunity to crawl through an area off the main trail. They declined since the walk way as totally under water, but both noted they would have taken on the adventure if they had the "right" shoes. Not sure they would have enjoyed it as much if they were younger. I am thinking younger children might enjoy the boat ride, mining, and other "fun" things that Howe offers. My kids found this place just about right for their taste and we had NO CROWDS. (If you have read my blog you know Crowds are my number one pet peeve of travel. No crowds gave this place a bonus star. TTFN