A Watery Cave

161029_pa-penns-cave_2373acsWe like caves.

My friends and I have been trying to get to Penn’s Cave for three years now. We’ve been to Crystal Cave and Lost River Caverns in Pennsylvania, Seneca Caverns in West Virginia, and Luray Cavern in Virginia. We’ve learned about stalactites and stalagmites, cave bacon, frozen waterfalls, cave draperies and fried eggs. We’ve seen columns and straws and flowstone. We’ve learned how dark it gets in a cave when the lights go out, and we’ve endured just about every bad joke a cave tour guide could come up with.

Luray Cavern pretty much spoiled me for any other cave experience. But Penn’s Cave, in the center of Pennsylvania, looked unique – an all-water journey through the cave in a boat. I mentioned it in my post about Crystal Cave three years ago; we’ve been talking about going to see it for a long time. At the end of October, we finally made it.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2287acsDown a long flight of stairs to the cave we went. A fleet of flat-bottomed boats awaited. These proved to be really tippy as the cave tourists came on board.

Our boat was also packed pretty tight. Turning to take photos was a challenge, and although the boat ceased to rock when it got underway, it was a far from motionless shooting platform. As if shooting in a dark cave wasn’t hard enough!

161029_pa-penns-cave_2294acsThere were fish in the water. Trout, of some sort. I know next to nothing about fish, unfortunately. I do know that’s a fish swimming there in the foreground of this photo.

The waterway flowing through Penn’s Cave is Penns Creek. Named for William Penn’s brother John, one of its sources is a spring in the cave.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2472acsCave curtains, one type of formation typically found in caverns.

All caverns are caves, but not all caves are caverns. Wait, what?

Any cavity in the ground large enough that some portion does not receive sunlight is a cave. A cavern is a specific type of cave formed in soluble rock and decorated with speleothems.

With what?!?

A speleothem is a cave formation. You don’t remember learning all this from the Wild Edge three years ago? Read it again here, there will be a quiz later.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2334acsThe ceiling of Penns Cave. The scale is lost in this photo, but this room was huge, and the ceiling far away.

Like every cavern I’ve toured, the formations have names. Fittingly, there’s the Nittany Lion. The Statue of Liberty. The Straits of Gibraltar was a narrow passage with rock angling in on both sides. We had to duck.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2520acsThe light at the end of the tunnel. Penns Creek exits the cavern into a small man-made lake called Lake Nitanee.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2538acsLooking over Don’s shoulder as we approach Lake Nitanee. After a short cruise, we turned around and returned through the cavern to the entrance.

Quiz-time! (Didn’t believe me, did you?)

How do speleothems form?

161029_pa-penns-cave_2702acsBack on top of the earth. The surrounding area is mountainous and agricultural. Penn’s Cave offers a Farm, Nature & Wildlife Tour. The park’s 1600 acres are home to longhorn cattle, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and wolves.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3046acsSome live in roomy fenced enclosures, like this handsome wolf.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3072acsThere are five wolves in the Penn’s Cave pack.

Like all wolf packs, there’s a pecking order, with an alpha male and an alpha female.

These wolves were hand-raised from pups, so they are accustomed to humans.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3310acsYou’re in Lion Country now, son. Penn State’s mascot, the Nittany Lion, is a mountain lion like this. She was housed in a zoo-like enclosure behind glass. When she heard my camera’s shutter, she turned and looked right at me for a long moment.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3377acsOur last wildlife of the day, a red squirrel. Not behind an enclosure, but free and strolling across the replica mining sluice. These critters make a call most unlike our familiar gray squirrels.

Got your quiz answer ready?

How do speleothems form?

That’s right, speleothems form when rainwater and calcium carbonate form an acid that eats through soluble rock like limestone. As it drips, it leaves behind calcite deposits.

Give yourself an A!

My friends and I gave Penn’s Cave an A, too. Three years we waited, and it was well worth it.

The Hunt for Doan’s Cave

160509_PA Doans Cave_7226acsBUCKS COUNTY, 1781… A band of ruthless outlaws known as the Doan Gang rob the Bucks County Treasury in Newtown of 1,300 pounds sterling. It was one of many crimes committed by five Quaker brothers and their cousin. Loyal to the British crown, the Doans made a career out of robbing Colonial tax collectors, stealing horses to sell to the British and even spying for the Redcoats. According to numerous legends, the gang amassed a small fortune, and stashed the loot in one or more caves in the hills of Bucks County.

BUCKS COUNTY, 2016… A band of intrepid explorers go in search of the Doan Gang spoils. The most well-known of the caves is rumored to be along the banks of Tohickon creek. The only clue to its whereabouts is a small dot on a Bucks County map labeled “Doan’s Cave.”

Well, that and a few Internet photos and postings that serve as a signpost to the impossible-to-miss cave.

Conveniently, there’s a State Park, and a trail.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7170acsThe latter was a scenic walk along the creek, with a couple of tricky crossings over steep banked runs that fazed our daring adventurers not one whit. Soon enough, rock outcroppings began to appear on the hillside above them. Just the place for a cave.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7210acsThe first such outcropping held no cave, but sported an impressive covering of lichens and moss. It was also an irresistible place for some camera-mugging by the irrepressible Major Robb, not seen here.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7218acsThe next rocky formation had been cleft nearly in two on one end. Two trails split around it. Which to follow?

Left, and down, to the base of the rocks.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7272acsBehold! Doan’s Cave!

160509_PA Doans Cave_7253acs copyObviously our heroes were far from the first to seek their fortune here. Someone had even been kind enough to put down cushy floor boards for their fellow treasure hunters.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7249acsMajor Robb and Major Don at the mouth of Doan’s Cave…

160509_PA Doans Cave_7188acs… And standing stalwart and resolute amongst the boulders. Why does Major Don look so sad?  Clearly the disappointment of finding no Doan Treasure in Doan’s Cave weighs heavily upon his mind.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7332acsBeing lighter of heart, the other members of the expedition make a foray to the shores of Tohickon Creek.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7158acsOur fearless fortune-hunters, finding no gold or silver, went off in search of other types of treasure. This they found in spades on the far side of the creek. The footpath led over a covered bridge, which was in fact not covered at all. A faux bridge.

The creek-side path yielded a bumper crop of wildflowers. This was a source of boundless amusement for Major Robb, who busied himself attempting to identify each one. Conveniently for the rest of the expeditionary party, it got him out of their hair.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7176acsSpring beauty.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7349acsPhloxWild Blue Phlox.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7358acsDamesVioletDame’s Violet.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7345acsVioletA violet, unnamed, but no less admired.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7415acsWhilst Major Robb was so occupied, the others found their way across a dry gully onto an island of cobble and pebbles. Here a tree was actively swallowing a large rock. In another hundred years, it might well succeed in digesting this stony meal.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7373acsCorporal Kim was suddenly startled by the sight of a large snake at her feet, slithering away from her with all due haste. Seems the plucky lass had unwittingly trod upon its tail. Upon reaching the water’s edge, it forgot its annoyance and fear, and posed quietly for a series of photographs.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7385acsNorthern Water Snake.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7325acsTired, hungry, and quite bereft of treasure of any monetary value, our bold band of explorers bid farewell to Tohickon Creek. Quite content were they with the joys of a day well-spent amidst the natural splendors of Bucks County. Whatever secrets Tohickon Creek yet harbors, she guards them well.