Seneca Caverns

Finally, some pictures from my expedition into Seneca Caverns (aka The Earth Crack, the sign outside proudly proclaims!).

The first thing I noticed was the graveyard next door. This photo is from the parking lot, next to the picnic tables in the upper left of the cavern map from the previous post (reposted above for clarity).


the graveyard

Yup, the caverns are under a graveyard. I’m sure that’s fine.

I didn’t do a very good job of keeping track of what level each picture is from, and because I had to delete a few pictures for room during the tour, they may be a little out of order. Here are some of the natural steps. (All the stairs on the cavern map are actually just natural steps in the fragmented rock; probably some were carved or cut into better steps but they were always very irregular and a few were kind of challenging — you need to use your hands and scamper up some narrow passes.)


The lighting was mostly pretty subdued. I saw some moss growing near the lights, but because this is a fracture cave rather than a solutional cave, it doesn’t matter much. (Solutional caves are damaged by any contamination — the action of moss, oils from your hands, etc.) There very few stalagmites and stalactites, they were all in one area, and so there was not much that you couldn’t touch. Although the whole system floods occasionally, there is very little sedimentary activity. At this point I should stop for a little speleological trivia, because before visiting Seneca Cavern I didn’t know what a fracture cave was. Almost every cavern you can visit as a tourist, in the US at least, is solutional: it was formed by acidic water (probably rainwater with carbon dioxide dissolved in it) flowing through, and slowly dissolving limestone. But Seneca Caverns formed more dramatically. Something like 10,000 to 250,000 years ago (my guide couldn’t pin it down), the layers of rock far below the rock that Seneca Cavern is in now was washed away to the point that many layers simply collapsed. All the “levels” of Seneca Cavern are voids left between layers of various types of rock. In this case I think the lower strat were gypsum or contained gypsum, which dissolves in water. A more detailed and accurate explanation is here. The upshot is that we are left with a number of roughly rectangular chambers connected by shafts. You can see fracture lines all over, and the broken rocks covering the floors can be fitted back into the ceiling with a little imagination.

Now more pics.


That’s a view from the “Cathedral” room on level 4. It’s called the cathedral because the ceiling is highest here — perhaps eight feet in areas. I’m looking toward the “devil’s leap” which is off to one side, across from the tour path. It’s lit be a red lamp, and you can sort of tell it goes down. Our guide said that geologists found at least 13 levels going down, in  a very dry year, but could not explore further due to the water flooding the lowest levels. The water table always encroaches on Seneca Cavern, sometimes flooding all the way to level 1 but usually flooding level 8. It was a little higher when I got there, and level 7 was totally under water.


Looking down one of the ‘stairways’, I think between levels 5 and 6.


Another shot of the same.


There were lots of crawls-spaces you couldn’t safely access.


I think this is some fossilized coral. I missed the large fossilized Macropetalichthys sullivani. From what I read on the web site, it is an armored fish about 11 feet long. Maybe it is not readily viewed from the tour path. In any case the guide did not mention it.


Above and below some good shots of the jagged nature of these chambers. there were spots I had crouch down and almost crawl through. I wouldn’t recommend this tour for someone who is claustrophobic.

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The fourth level also had a lot of graffiti. Apparently in the early days, tours were self-guided and people were fucking vandals. They call this are “inscription hall” and the graffiti is so old it is historical now. 🙂


A view of the stairs between levels 3 and 4, I think.


Below is a view of the best stairs in the cavern, which I think were between level 1 and 2. These were almost like real stairs.


Another crawlspace:


The entrance to “Tin pan alley,” named so because you have stoop like a gold-panner. This was on Level 3.


Level 3 had at least three distinct chambers, though all were pretty low.


I think the above might be the “earthquake attic” on level three?

Below, another shot of the Cathedral room on level 4.


Below, another photo that came out pretty badly, but the brightly lit stone has a very nice cursive inscription made by a tombstone engraver who visited early in the Cavern’s history — the C.D. Royer rock mentioned on the map. I should mention that this cavern was discovered in 1879 by some kids who fell in through a sinkhole. It wasn’t until much later that someone bought and excavated the glacier-clay choked caverns and turned it into a tourist attraction. A lawyer named Bell (his family still owns the cavern) had some clients dig out the clay in lieu of paying his fees. Before that the upper levels were totally choked with glacial clay and you had to crawl through on your belly. The first tourists went in with candles and rope tied around their waists. When their candles burned out, they were to follow the rope (tied to a maple tree near the entrance) out.

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Because of the red light, I think the next photo is another view of the Devil’s Leap.


If you look closely, you’ll see tiny, pencil-eraser sized stalactites. They are white because they are wet and reflect my flash:


The stalactites are across from the Devil’s Leap and the only parts of the cavern you mustn’t touch. As you may know, the oils on your filthy fingers will stop the minerals in the water from sticking and being deposited, ending the slow growth of the stalactites which grow about 1 inch every 100 years. Because the cavern has only been cleared out for 70 years or so, the largest stalactite is less than an inch long!


More ‘inscriptions’:

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I think the white specks below are chert deposits.


Level 3 I think.


More pictures of various areas I can’t really identify:

000_0033 000_0035 000_0036 000_0037

The next photo looks down into the flooded stairway to level 7. There is a metal railing that was added some time ago, and you maybe can see the clear water below. That’s the “Old Mist’ry River” — not a river at all but the water table. It might seem to flow from level 7, but it is just the water table. A ‘message in a bottle’ was released in the “River” and took four years to emerge about 14 miles away in a water hole to the north. That water hole is also known to be an exposed bit of the water table.

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Down by level 6, I noticed this void between level 5 and 6 that is about 18 inches high and apparently reinforced or stabilized with re-bar.


Well, that’s it. If you find yourself near Sandusky, Ohio, do check out this cavern. The tour was about an hour long and very fun. You’ll also be pretty close to attractions like Ghostly Manor and Cedar Point, and short ferry ride from Put-in-Bay which boasts another cave to visit and a geode big enough to go inside and conveniently located below a winery, as well as a neat naval museum.

Published in: on August 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm  Comments (5)  
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Spelunking we shall go, and, A giveaway!

Well, visiting a tourist cavern, not hardcore spelunking into a cave.

This weekend we’re taking a little getaway and one of our stops will almost certainly be Seneca Caverns, a  little tourist stop near Lake Erie that I never even knew existed, despite my interest in caverns. It may not be huge or especially colorful, but I really dig the map of the caverns on their web site which makes it look like an eight-level dungeon.

Seneca Caverns map, used with permission.

My wife says that I will never make it to level 7, but thinks my daughter can get there (I assume level 8 is off limits). If you’d like to make your prediction about how deep I’ll get before becoming lodged, freaking out, or fleeing in panic, leave a comment. The correct answer (or a randomly selected correct answer if I get more than one) will win their choice* of fabulous prizes from my collection of stuff I’m trying to get rid of.

*Some restrictions apply: One prediction per comment. Excludes boxed games. Winner must live in North America or be willing to cover postage costs over $5 US.  Giveaway cancelled if I drown in Ole Mist’ry River, fall to my death, disappear in the Wild Cave Area, or am eaten by cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.

Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 10:56 am  Comments (9)  
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Last week was a vacation to Williamsburg, Va., and the environs.  On the way home we stopped at the Shenandoah Caverns, which is a really big cavern complex (there’s also a sort of museum of parade floats and inauguration decorations, no pics of those in this post).

For some reason I really amused myself calling Shenandoah “Shabbadoah,” and getting my daughter to do it too.  I was curious about at what point my wife would put an end to the tomfoolery and it turns out she drew the line at my singing “O Shabbado, I long to hear to you…” in the car.  Can’t blame her.

Anyway here’s a metric assload of pictures.  Unfortunately there was no map of the caverns available, and the tour was too fast-paced to map while snapping pictures, but one of the things that really impressed me was all the different levels and passages in these caverns.  I’ve been in other caverns (a huge geode under Put-in-Bay, a cavern toured by boat somewhere in Pennsylvania, and a few small caves), but nothing quite like this.  The floor was covered in fine gravel (otherwise there’d be a few inches to a few feet of water on the whole floor), and although a few spots were chained off, it was a pretty good length tour.

So here’s the old entrance (no longer in use), sorry it’s a blurry one:

Right in the middle of the gift shop/ticket outlet/post office.

Here are some views of the passages:

That formation along the ceiling is called ‘bacon’.  No, really.  National Geographic came and photographed the bacon formations, saying they were among the country’s most realistic, whatever that means.

You can see the gravel floor, about 3′ of clearance, and then another ‘floor’.

Some nice pillars. There is something hiding in that dark recess.

OK, enough of that.  How’s about some stalagmites and stalactites.  Remember, stalacTITES need to hold on tight; stalaGmites grow on the Ground.  Or something like that.


These looked pretty freaky and sparkly.

The ‘bacon’ formations, I think, must be a subclass of ‘curtains’.  There were tons of these sorta-stalactites along the perimeter and making awesome walls.

This is looking straight up at a white curtain. If I’d been more attentive to the tour guide, I could tell you why it’s white. I’m guessing salt.

If you’re wondering how high the cavern’s ceiling is, it varied from about 20 feet at the tallest to maybe 4 feet in a few passages (lower areas existed but are obviously off-limits).  For example:

This is looking straight up at one point where there isn’t a lot of activity.

Here’s a fairly large chamber. Maybe that’s more like 25 feet?

A 4′ gnome navigates a small passage.

We also saw one stairwell that was chained off…maybe that’s where they hide the treasure?

Anyway, there was lots of D&D inspiration here, of course!

Some smaller gnomes (knockers?) tried to distract us with invitations to their city.

But we ignored them.  Instead we found a strange four-armed, fire-juggling critter:

And even the dread Tsathoggua — but he didn’t notice us, as his back was turned.

I also seemed to attract some pesky Facula.

The caverns has its share of dungeon funk, too!

Cave ‘popcorn’. Not very freaking appetizing.

There is also a little bit of moss growing, although they are pretty careful to turn off the lights as soon as tourists walk out of an area (this is a 4e dungeon with lights all over the place, of course).

I mentioned a monster lurking earlier.  See if you can spot him!

Some unsuspecting tourists, looking around…

But ho!

What’s this?!?

‘Tis the ‘bishop’! Looks more like an anti-cleric to me!

Anyway no dungeon is complete without some loot.  We looked all around.  The frosty white formations look sparkly but are not precious.

Snowmen? No, just ‘mites.

A really impressive ‘waterfall’ of sparkliness… a good 12′ high.

There was also a tiny castle, but nothing inside.

Sadly thwarted, we decided to just take a few touristy shots…

It’s a cool 56 degrees down here, so Riley’s wearing her terrycloth cover up over her clothes.

One last look…

But wait! What’s this?

A sizable horde in the ‘wishing well’! (I worry that the money is going to ruin the formations down there…you’re not supposed to touch anything in ‘living’ rock or it will stop growing…)

Huzzah! Another successful dungeon crawl!

We hurry past the cracking columns

OK, that cracked about 10,000 years ago.

And the snapping jaws of a hellmouth!!!

With a final glance back, we take in the cavern

It’s not blurry…we’re just drunk on adrenaline!

Maybe we’ll be back some day.  In just 30 years or so, we’ll find this pair of ‘mite and ‘tite will have grown into a solid column.

At the lower right! The actual distance is maybe 1/4 an inch.

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (4)  
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