As I said before, true limestone caves in the immediate region are as scarce as scholars on the Boston City Council. However, northern New England is rich in a number of cave-like formations: talus caves – mazes in jumbled masses of glacially-deposited rock; sea caves — shallow caverns formed by wave action of shoreline rock faces. The chasms known as “purgatories” are a common New England feature. They were originally geological faults; post-glacial streams have carved out and undercut the primary fissure to create deep, gorge-like tunnels, often with only a hairline crack of daylight far above. Purgatories may attain depths of hundreds of feet and extend for miles, and their walls may contain accidental caverns.

Limestone caves are more common west of the Berkshires, but none are very extensive, the largest being only a few hundred feet long. Crystal Pool Cave, near Egremont, is reputed to be the only Massachusetts cave with substantial collections of speleothems.

It is common practice not to publicize cave locations, because stupid people get drowned, crushed, starved, exposed, and crippled in caves with a regularity that would delight cold-blooded Darwinians. To discover the whereabouts of wild caves near you, get in touch with the National Speological Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, Ala. 35810. It seems a long way to go to find out what’s in your back yard, but you will be referred to local NSS members who will also give you the benefit of their experience. Further information about local caves, their whereabouts, and regulations governing their use can be had from the state and national Park Services.

There are upwards of a hundred true and accidental caves in this state, and most of the wild caves are on privately owned land. Never enter a cave without the owner’s explicit permission, or I’ll personally come and stuff you into a tight shaft and throw a pound of wet carbide and a match in after you. It makes for bad blood between landowners and cavers with more sense.

When you’re good and tough, that’s when. Don’t plan on exploring wild cave until you’ve arranged to be in top condition. You may not intend to spend 20 hours in a cave, but you should be prepared to. One caver I know of ducked into a dinky little Massachusetts cave for a quick peek and wound up fighting for his life. Got himself wedged in a tight hole in a water passage and became an artificial dam. He was so good at this avocation that the passage filled with water. Only by the superhuman strength born of true terror did he manage eventually to free himself.

Any time of year is good for caving — down there it’s relatively warm in winter and cool in summer, since caves are uniform in temperature the year round. The constant underground temperature conforms pretty much to median yearly surface temperature in the area. That means that New England caves are generally in the 40s. The season doesn’t matter as much as the daily weather picture. Don’t enter a cave when a lot of water is likely to follow you, such as during a spring thaw, or during or preceding a rainstorm. A summer thundershower may only drop a couple of inches on the area, but a cave collects surface water from all over. A couple of inches outside can mean a few feet inside. A cloudburst in Illinois a few years ago drowned several cavers and trapped still others for days when one of nature’s storm drains filled up.

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