At the top of a mountain is the opening into the earth that leads to Seneca Caverns. I have always been fond of tunnels, caves and any old, deep dark place. My husband is of coal miners blood and he too likes the closeness and beauty that is found in places that make you feel the earth wrap her arms around you. Here in West Virginia it seems only natural to mine the ground, drill through rock and go caving, because we are so close to heaven already the only other place to go….. is down.
Seneca Caverns are one of around 100 limestone caves that spread along the Appalachian ridge tops of Pendleton County. The caves range in size from shallow to very wide and deep. Seneca Cavern only reaches 165 feet into the cool earth but is quite long and the path can be twisty. It was first used by the Seneca Indians around 1400 as a shelter and ceremonial center. The cave was then officially explored in 1742 by German settler Laven Teter while trying to find a water source for his family and cattle. The property and cave remained in the Teter family until the late 1920’s when it was sold and the cave reopened to the public in 1930. Not much has changed since the discovery of the cave in the 1700’s. The only additions are the walking path, handrails and lights to make it easier for visitors to see the fantastic mineral formations.
Once below ground the air is cool and damp giving my family a nice break from the hot summer day that we visited. The temperature inside the cave is stable 54 degrees unless over the small pool in the end of the cave where the temperature sometimes drops to 49…. a little cool. Guides recommend jackets for those who get cold easily. This day Christopher was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and began to complain that he was cold over the pool. It is hard to believe that the pool (the coldest portion of the tour) is only feet from the outside world that was a toasty 85 degrees. Before doors covered the exit portion of the cave it was not uncommon to find deer and other animals drinking from the cool water and staying in the shade of the cave.
This cave is small and low unlike other caves that are known for the high ceilings and wide views. It has some taller rooms but it is wise to wear the hard hat that guides require to enter the cave. Even I hit my head while passing from one room to the next. At 5’8″ I am too tall to not lean over in several places. I also recommend that people who are claustrophobic skip this tour and take another one. Some rooms are small and passages tight… very tight. So tight that a man of 6 foot and in the weight range of 220 fits but it could be a squeeze if you are heavier.
The tour takes around an hour with groups of 10 to 15 in the summer. The first few rooms are tall and wide and as the tour progresses the unique features of the cave get closer and tighter. You are asked not to touch any of the formations because of the slow growth of the stalagmites and stalactites, some taking centuries to grow a few inches, yet the crowed passages almost force you to touch the wet walls.
Floors are WET! Beware if you wear Crocs! I should have worn any other kind of shoe on the planet. Well maybe not flip-flops but the floors are slick and there lots of stairs to go up and down. I am thankful the stairs are a rough concrete so I at least had a chance to keep my balance. I never did fall but it was a constant worry.
3/4 of the way through the cave you drop to its lowest point at 165 feet below ground level. The room is commonly called Hell’s Kitchen.The room is small ( maybe the size of a compact car) but has a high and narrow opening almost to the surface. The view up reminds you of a stove-pipe or chimney. It is also one of last rooms that has evidence of use by the Seneca Indians. Making it a great place for ghost stories and interesting views.
Then my favorite portion of the tour is the formations that look like a fairyland. These formations are Calcite and sparkle in the low light… I think they look like snow or ice frozen deep under ground.
Then for dramatic effect some of the formations are back-lit to show off the true strangeness of the world underground.
Finally the tour ends with all us slowly crossing a narrow foot bridge over the pool of water that Laven Teter was looking for. In his months of exploring the cave Teter finally found the small pool hundreds of yards from the opening where we also ended our journey. Had he continued through the pool to the other side he would have found a small exit way only 20 feet from the pools edge. Where his livestock could get water with little effort.
We return to world of light and heat, I think each of us moaned with dread.The sun was bright, the heat and humidity unbearable.Our eyes had become very accustomed to the dim lighting and dark paths, our bodies liked the cool dampness of the cave. I see where being a hermit in a cave could be very comfortable in the hot humid West Virginia summers. My family really enjoyed the tour and finished up with a stop at the restaurant for some hand dipped ice cream.
As we had only a few more hours to get to our campsite we left the small park and headed back to the main road to continue our trip. In passing we stopped at a road side memorial in Riverton. The stones and flags looked new and I wondered if by some chance it was for climbers, hunters or Veteran’s who had lost their lives near by…. what we found was shocking and kind of creepy.
We walk up to the stone to get a better look and read the inscription.
The stone tells of two men who died at the battle and one of them shares my husband’s name…… We have family that have lived in Randolph county but did not know of any who lived in Pendleton County. How strange It felt taking this photo, Tom standing next to the stone with his name inscribed on it from 1862.
Also unique is the fact that my husband, his father and his grand father were all name Thomas Powers along with this man. All but one was a Veteran of a war, proving that Thomas Powers is a great name for any one who wants to serve our country! What a cool way to end our trip to Seneca Caverns, seeing this made both of us feel like we are a part of these mountains and caves ,that we have roots the run deeper than any Cavern.