Howe Caverns is the second-most popular natural site tourist attraction in New York State (Niagara Falls is the first). Howe Caverns, in the area of Cobleskill, NY, is named after Lester Howe, who discovered the cavern in 1842, and capitalized on its attraction. Walking the fields everyday, Howe noticed that a small herd of cows regularly clustered at the bottom of a small hill on hot summer days. Howe decided to investigate, and discovered a small opening into the ground from which came cold underground air. He and a neighbor spent days exploring the massive subterranean network of caves and waterways.
Almost immediately, Howe saw the means for financial prosperity. He cleaned up the entrance and began giving tours of the cavern to the the public. I found a very informative and compelling video about Howe Caverns done by National Geographic. In it, they say that Howe had the “audacity to charge the equivalent of half a day’s wages.” Not much has changed. It is still extremely expensive to see the Caverns. I have been there twice when I was young, but my kids have not been there (yet). I hope to take them this summer, perhaps!
Howe Caverns are approximately 200 feet below the surface. Underground rivers formed the caverns, creating strange rock formations and mysterious lakes and streams. When I visited years ago, we were able to ride in small boat across an underground lake. It was really amazing. The entire experience was amazing! We walked and walked for miles, deeper into the caverns, seeing beautiful and colorful geographic formations. One of the Cavern’s main pathways is called The Winding Way, and is considered to be the best example of underground erosion in the world. The walkways are mostly paved, with rails and bars for walking support.
Here’s the National Geographic video I found. It’s very good.
The Caverns have not been without their problems. Years ago, I read a book about the history of Howe Caverns (I forgot the title, rats!). There were stories of tragic deaths of cave workers, of the discovery that the underground lake sometimes flooded, and of the first attempts to run electrical wiring and lights throughout the caves.
Howe Caverns has also seen a good deal of financial upheavals, from the very beginning. Lester Howe tried to create the Caverns into a P.T. Barnum-type amusement center, with hotels, restaurants, and making deals (and enemies) with other small businesses nearby.
The Caverns almost died as a public attraction, when poor business decisions, the loss of the hotel to fire, and an unwise partnership with a mining company closed the place for half a century. Blasting and mining of limestone destroyed about half of the original Howe’s Caverns.
And there was discussion this time last year of closing the Caverns to the public and mining the area of its precious minerals for the pharmaceutical industry. I think this fell through, because the Caverns is still open for business. The Caverns is open all year round except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Temperatures inside the caves are very cool, and it is recommended that you wear long pants, a light jacket, and comfortable walking shoes. Admission is right around $18 for adults (last I checked) and $10 to $15 for children. Tours are usually about 2 hours long.
Photos courtesy of R at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Howe_Caverns.JPG and of the images provided by howecaverns.com.