Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Located in the heart of Anthracite coal country, lies a unique glimpse into a once operational coal mine. A job that requires a tough individual who's unafraid to get dirty, hurt, maimed, and even possibly killed. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous professions in the United States, and here's a chance to see life just like they did.
Ducking our heads we climb aboard a rickety mine car. Steel mesh surrounded the carriage to protect our heads and hands. Slowly we disengaged and went down the bumpy tracks and descended into one of America's oldest deep coal mines. As we approached the darkness, flickering lights shine our way down the tracks. The passing flashes have a haunting effect on you.
The guide slowly maneuvers the group down the wobbly railroad going deeper into the Earth. After coming to a halt we all feel a little more relieved knowing we survived the ride down. But here's where the true dangers lurk.
We exit the mining cars and it loudly races back up the tracks leaving us alone with our guide. We are trapped several hundred feet underground. We make our way through the mine which had been in operation from 1855 to 1972. Along the tour we learn of the dangers associated with mining as well as the history. A few stops are made on the trip. First you get a chance to admire an old mining elevator. Trust me you wouldn't wanna ride this. As well as an original mining car. And even a glimpse down a few hundred feet where another mining tunnel is located.
The group learned along the way about how mules and children played key roles in the early days of mining. Our guide even gave us a glimpse into the mining world without modern technology. It wasn't easy to see. The hazards of this profession are clearly pointed out to all as well, there's even a hospital located inside the mine.
Staying roughly 55 degrees year round it's a great place to visit in the Summer. Just as long as they don't try and put you to work.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Not too far from the tourist friendly Crystal Cave, rests another grotto, but with a much darker history. Part of the same system of caverns as Crystal Cave, this one is not quite as tourist friendly. Due to it's natural opening in the Earth, this cave may have been used for thousands of years.
The Dragon's cave is one of the oldest known caves in the state of Pennsylvania. Located in the town of Virginville, the cave has been on maps since the 1770's. And since then the cave has had it's problems. Initial adventurers into the cave would often have to be rescued. One such group was found in a frenzied panic after losing light and being trapped for hours in the darkness. The cave attracted visitors from as far as New York and Philadelphia. However this all became overshadowed when the much larger Crystal Cave was discovered nearby. Crystal Caves marketing strategies and sheer size difference quickly made Dragon Cave irrelevant.
Many believe the cave is named for a large formation located inside resembling a dragon. But others believe the name was given for a different reason. An old folk tale dating over 200 years; tells the tale of a young Native Indian who had fallen in love with a European settlers daughter. The man's family forbade the relationship and refused the two to ever speak again. In a haste the two young lovers ran off to die together in a nearby cave. Before parting from the tribe, the young Native told several friends to keep on the lookout for a dragon flying over the Blue Mountains. The dragon would come to the place where their young bodies would rest in eternal peace.
Monday, July 29, 2013
There's no better place to beat the heat on a hot summer day than in a dark cool cave. Crystal Cave, located in rural Berks county, Pennsylvania, draws more customers than any other cave in the "Keystone State." In fact it's regarded as the most popular natural attraction in the state. Since May of 1872 the cave has attracted millions of visitors. It was not only the first show cave to open in the state, but is also one of the earliest tourist attractions to operate in Pennsylvania. Astoundingly the cave had only been discovered slightly more than 6 months before becoming an attraction.
In November of 1871, William Merkel and assistant John Gehret were blasting for limestone to be used on the Merkel farm. The two men however made a more remarkable discovery. The two men stumbled upon a small opening in the side of a hill near the Merkel farmhouse. Digging away the exposed dirt, the men made an opening large enough to peak their curiosities. Once inside the cavernous hole the men discovered blackness.
Encouraged, and with word quickly spreading about their unusual find, the men quickly made plans to follow up with the proper equipment. A few days later John Gehret along with some daring neighbors returned outfitted with lanterns, ropes, torches, and ladders. What they discovered had astonished them. Resting on a farm in rural Kutztown was a cavern dating back millions of years.
A few weeks later another group of explorers went back to explore more of the cave. While inside they became fixated upon the diamond-like crystals that had adorned the inside walls of this mountain. Flabbergasted by their extraordinary discovery the men quickly had these crystals examined by an expert jeweler. Only to be disappointed that they hadn't discovered diamonds. However discouragement didn't last long, as the men had learned the size and depth of their discovery. The cavern became known as the "Crystal Cave."
As word spread about the cave's discovery, so did the interest in seeing it. Within months the cave had been visited by dozens of unknowing neighbors who were quietly putting the natural formations in quick danger. A local neighbor who had a passion for Native American artifact collecting as well as geology purchased the property from the Merkels and immediately placed wooden planks over the caves opening.
Almost instantaneously after receiving the property Samuel Kohler began plans for a cave tour. Laying wooden stairs with railings, as well as boardwalks along the inside. He then began to give structures within the cave names. Choosing animals that the formations often resembled. Using candles and laterns to illuminate the interior of the cave. Mr. Kohler soon began his tours.
On May 25th 1872 the Grand Illumination of Crystal Cave occurred. Admission was twenty-five cents. From that point on the cave became one of Pennsylvania's first tourist attractions. And has remained relatively unchanged since then...well except the price.