HOWES CAVE, N.Y. - A trip across New York State is bound to be one full of adventure! From the Great Lakes to the Adirondacks, you never know what you're going to find.
Nowhere is that more true than here at Howe Caverns in the eastern part of the state.
The park itself is nestled in the foothills of the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and it's beautiful all by itself, but to see the really amazing part of the park, you have to go underground.
That's 156 feet underground, to be exact...down deep into the earth on a rugged elevator that seems to be taking you to another planet, and it may as well be, because this subterranean museum is like nothing you've ever experienced.
Bob Holt is Howe Cavern's General Manager. "I think it is the uniqueness in that it is an attraction that's underground. It's a naturally formed cave, obviously, not man made. There are so few of them open to the public, in our National Cave Association there are only eighty some caves, probably a hundred show caves around the United States that are open to the public. They are so few and far between from where the average person lives."
The natural origins of the cave began millions of years ago, transformed through the unstoppable force of water.
Holt explains, "Water erosion is mighty powerful. Obviously it's formed everything you see on the surface of the earth, so after the great glaciers when the cave was formed here, the water power was pretty powerful and found its way into the ground, and again, it took millions of years to form it started out as a stream, and there's still a stream that goes through the caves. So it carved everything out that you see down in that cave today."
Although known to man for hundreds of years, the caves were largely untouched until May of 1842. That's when a local man by the name of Lester Howe accidentally discovered the caverns that would forever bear his name.
Sara Pratt, a Tourguide at Howe Caverns for 14 years, tells the story. "His cows, on hot days, instead of being underneath the hot sun, they were underneath this area where there were bushes, and he felt a cool breeze coming out, and by complete accident he discovered our caves."
Holt continues, "The land that it sat on was the land of his neighbor, Henry Wetzel, and he and Henry explored, it took about a year to do it, and he convinced Henry to sell it to him for $100. And in 1843, one year after the discovery, he opened the cave to the public, charging fifty cents to go through."
The caverns have undergone some ownership changes since the hey days of Lester Howe, even closed as a tourist attraction for a little while.
The land was and still continues to be mined, and limestone from the caves were used in construction of the State Capital in Albany and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Two local men bought Howe Caverns in 2007 and have made a lot of improvements. The main attraction however, remains much the same, and that seems as it should be for such an enduring natural wonder.
"When you're down in that cave for an hour and a half, you have no idea what's going on on the surface," says Holt. "I remember back in July of 1989, we had a tornado that came through here, and folks who were downstairs in the cave had no idea what was transpiring up above, as our buildings shingles were coming off and awnings were flying away. The whole world could change in a matter of minutes, and you would not know it."
Howe Caverns' timeless nature seems to extend to those who visit this underground wonder, returning for generations to experience its incredible beauty.
Pratt has seen many people return over the years, "A lot of times people who visit the cave, they come as kids, then when they get older, they bring their kids, and their grand kids. So it's just a unique thing in Upstate New York. I'm down here every day and can notice something different. We all have an appreciation for it, all of us."
Holt concludes, "Curiosity...I think it's the same thing...folks were curious in the 1800's, and you saw that, nature's curiosity, and I think that is still true today."
Howe Caverns is open year round, and has a lot of attractions above ground too...including a new zip-line course, gift shops, and even a motel!
At a little over four hours drive from Buffalo, it's well worth the trip to visit this unique natural wonder. For more information, visit their website at www.howecaverns.com.