I would just LOVE to go spelunking. Or, even better, discover a cave and explore it by lantern light! That isn’t exactly on my agenda this week, but I did go and take a cavern tour. One of my favorite cavern tours (yeah, I’ve done a few) is just 30 minutes from Mariaville Lake B&B. Not only does it have stalagmites, stalactites, strange formations and different levels, but there’s also a section where you get on a boat and float along a river. I’ll admit, one of my favorite parts of the tours are the cheesy jokes the tour guides make. I don’t even think they’re that cheesy – I think they’re pretty good. This week, as they turned off all the lights to show us how dark it is, the tour guide said “Normally I’d make a joke here, but it’s a little dark”.
Howe Caverns has been in operation since 1842, and is the second largest natural attraction in New York State (do you know what the first is?). If you’ve got an adventurous spirit, and some extra cash, you can take the “Signature Rock Tour” and get to see a rock where people signed their names dating back to 1843, and the remains of an original tour boat. This tour goes beyond the traditional tour, and there isn’t lighting or modern walk ways – boots and head lamps people – sign me up! This tour section has only been open since 2015 (not counting the 1800 – early 1900s.
But, back to the history. Of course, Lester Howe, who made the cave famous, didn’t really discover it. The Native Americans knew it was there. After that, there is record that two white men knew about it, and it was supposed to be a secret in case a war broke out, they would hide there. This was in the early 1700’s and those two men “vanish quite suddenly from historical records, as did the Indians of the Schoharie Valley” according to the History section on the Howe Caverns Website. So, there’s that.
Lester Howe came into the picture in the early 1800’s. The entrance to the cave, and most knowledge about it had been forgotten. There was rumor of a “blowing rock”, a section of rock where even on thick, muggy days, a cool breeze would be felt. You know who felt that breeze? Lester’s cows. They always seemed to head to a similar area in the summer, and it wasn’t even on his property, but on his neighbors. Lester went up there and what do you suppose he found? He and his neighbor dug a bit and went in to explore. He opened it up to the public in 1843 and the tour was… 8 hours long. That’s, like, bring-two-meals-long. Now, the tours are 80 minutes, which is a bit more manageable. It’s probably partly due to walk-ways, lighting, and handrails which were put in between 1927 and 1929. It was probably slow going before then.
A hotel was built when things got popular, but Lester fell on hard times financially. He sold off some land above the caverns later on, and a quarry went in and destroyed some of the cave. The quarry also had the hillside with the natural entrance to the cave. The cave closed to the public, until 1927 when an organization was created to save it. They made improvements, including another entrance to the cave, and those safety measures mentioned above, including an elevator, all making it more accessible to the public.
Howe’s Cavern’s is exciting, beautiful, and a great place for both kids and adults. It’s cool because you get a history lesson, geology lessons and some truly stunning sights all in one trip. Also, it’s a great way to beat the heat. The cave is always 52 degrees, despite the outside temperature. If you need a break from the beating sun and shimmering heat waves, this is a fantastic way to escape (I think its better than going to the movies anyway).
Guests at Mariaville Lake B&B receive $2.00 off each paid admission.
And by the way, the first most visited natural attraction in NYS is Niagara Falls.