DAY 2 -- Secret Caverns of MADNESS!!!

Trip Start Jun 13, 2004
Trip End Jun 19, 2004

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Flag of United States  , New York
Monday, June 14, 2004

We wake to a day full of cloudy possibilities, pull on our long pants, pack our sweatshirts and jackets, and head for the hills of Cobleskill, NY to check out the chilly withers of Howe's Caverns and the mysterious (oh yes) Secret Caverns, about 2 hours from Lake George in a south-westerly direction. On the way out Route 87 we notice a sign for Betty Beaver's 24-Hour Diner and practically fall off the road, recovering only after resolving to visit it on the way back for a late lunch.

Howe's Caverns is the place that everyone goes around here to see caves. We are greeted by a horrifying plethora of school buses and schoolchildren as we pull into the otherwise fairly empty parking lot after our long drive. The lobby is like running a gauntlet, but I suppose (as I told myself at the time) that it is probably much worse on weekends -- less schoolkids and more tourists. We wipe the sweat from our foreheads as we are told by the ticketseller that the school groups go on tours of their own and won't be rampaging all over us as we try to sedately gawk (ha!) at all the cave formations and passageways. Phew!

While waiting we peruse the gift shop and Chris ogles the fudge selections. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!! I stick a dime in the dime-squisher machine and get a funny little souvenir token for my trouble after watching the little automated rail cart carry it to its doom (or should I say makeover). Over the lobby fireplace is a plaque that reads "Howe's Cavern 1842-1928." Tristan wants to know if that means we are visiting a non-existant attraction, as the dates certainly make it seem as if it stopped existing some time back. There is a poster near the tour waiting area that points out some of the cave's formations including Bacon Folds. Later I will kick myself because I forgot to get a picture of that section of the poster. Duh.

Photos in the caverns are tricky because of low-light issues, but I should really be spending more of my time absorbing the atmosphere of the caves instead of snapping shots willy-nilly. You'd think I'd have learned this by now. I haven't been to the caverns since a trip in the late 1980s as a cynical high school freshman (the blatant crap-itude of the gift shop disgusted me then, now it's just funny), and it looks like they have put in new walkways and railings, quite slick. Everything is very easy to walk through, and some of the formations are amazing. Good stuff! Tristan tries to keep me from getting a marvelous concussion as I try to snap shots on the boat ride where outcroppings from the stone threaten my skull. Chris listens to the legend about the glowing Heart Stone -- if you touch it, you are said to be married within a year -- and decides to get crazy and dances on it like a lunatic.

Actually, she just posed for a funny photo, but we are still supposed to keep track of the date just in case next year brings news of a bridal type (yes, cave madness, it must be)...
Along our route there have been various exclamations of surprise and disgust as tour participants are splatted with drippings from the cave's nether regions far above us. In another touristy twist of romance and sentimentality, our guide insists that these drops of cold clammy cave water are called "cave kisses" and are a sign that the cave likes us and/or we will have good luck.

The Winding Way which is the last part of the tour is the most impressive, because you come in contact with the cave itself on a much more intimate level. Not recommended for claustrophobics, but certainly impressive for those of us not affected by the willies that close spaces bring. On our way out we snap shots of the cool old lamps by the elevator and giggle about the stash of "Cave Cheese" we discover covered in plastic off to one side. Cave Cheese of the Future! Yow.

We beat off hordes of small children to get at the cheezy souvenirs we picked out on our scoping-out visit to the gift shop and amble out with our bag of booty to find Chris mulling over the many flavor choices of fudge. Controversy arises over what exactly Penuche Fudge is made of. The nice old lady, harassed by the clamoring children, is kind enough to tell me that it is in fact made simply with brown sugar. Chris buys some. Later I find out it tastes pretty much exactly like the Maple Fudge she bought at The Farmer's Daughter in Vermont (she ate at least a quarter pound of it before I snagged a piece. No wonder she felt cruddy!). The Howe's Cavern box is miles better than the box for her other fudge because it has a cool BAT on it. Never underestimate the power of a cave-dwelling bat to help in selling your souvenir fudge.

We are disgusted by the paltry meat-free options of the snack bar and thwarted in visiting the restaurant which is only open on weekends, currently. Ravenous and beginning to overheat (the day has warmed up quite a bit), we scuff out to the car and snarf down the small bag of Fritos and a few animal crackers we have stashed in case of emergencies.

Feeling crazy, and driven further mad by the huge schizophrenic billboards used to advertise the marvel that is Secret Caverns, we drive a little further up Cavern Drive to find this sensational often-looked-over neighbor of the bigger Howe's Caverns complex. Secret Caverns tantalizes us with a score of amazing signs. Did you know Dentists Prefer Their Cavity to others? I didn't, but now I do.

On arrival we are not disappointed. A wide gravel drive and lot leads us towards a gaping bat's maw -- wow!!! The entire barn that their shop and offices are based in is painted up as a GIANT BAT with glowing red eyes! You walk into its mouth to get to the tour info. Oh, I am in LOVE with Secret Caverns!!!

While waiting for our tour to start we check out the Ice Cave which has the first of many crazy instructional signs we find at SC, and I try to talk everyone into having their pictures taken at the pillories out back. All that happens is that Chris takes my picture while Tristan traps me in them. Ahhh!! No one else appreciates the humor inherent in cheezy pillory portraits but me, apparently. That's what I get for not overdosing on pillory humor when I was a kid, I guess.

The guide shuts down the shop to take us on our tour. He leads us into a dark stairwell and down into the caverns. Unlike Howe's, these are smaller passageways, much more natural -- the only manmade additions are a smattering of accent lights at various formations (much fewer than at Howe's), a concrete walkway, and safety lights that run their circuits section by section, so that the guide simultaneously shuts down the lights behind you and turns on the next set of lights ahead of you as you make your way through the stream-carved tunnels, leaving only a set of guidelights running behind you in the dark. By the time we get all the way down through the caverns we are about 150 feet below the surface, and we are in front of the amazing 100-foot tall underground waterfall. The cavern walls are bejewelled with water droplets and condensation this far in, and it looks like they are coated in strange space jewels. Or maybe tiny alien eggs. Anyways, it's cool. The falls are loud and the water moves so fast it's just a white blur in the dark. It's pretty frickin' cool.

After staring dazedly at the natural wonder, we wind our way back up to the surface. The gift store hides a few prize souvenirs -- $2.00 posters, coffee mugs that are as crazy as the billboards, and more sedate magnets with bats on them (one gets bought for my boss Marti's magnet collection). Off to the side are murals telling about the areas geological history, including mention of the DEVOnian era (Mark Mothersbaugh would be proud, I hope).

On the other side of the barn is a series of clippings about the Secret Caverns' history, including articles about a suspicious fire in the 1990s that leveled the barn and left behind over $1 million in damages, with no insurance to pick up the cost. Rumor has it that the pranksters at Howe's Cavern, long rivals of the Secret Caverns, had snuck up and embarked on a brilliant plan to set the Caverns' tool shed on fire. The tool shed had a bunch of gasoline in it and went up like a torch, taking the barn with it, and all the souvenirs for sale, props, art, etc. But the Secret Caverns folk rebuilt, and boy are we glad they did. Definitely stop and take a look around if you go to Howe's Cavern -- it's just up the road!!!

By the time we left Secret Caverns the sun was blazing away and the drive back was great except for the giant house-hauling truck that threatened to tip over ahead of us on the steep road. Almost back to Lake George, we scanned the highway signs on Route 87 anxiously, looking for Betty Beaver. We whooped with joy when the sign finally showed its face and hollered our way down the exit ramp in high hysterics, which only escalated when we saw the sign for the diner down the road, with its GIANT PROTUBERANT BOSOM. I swear I thought the Farmer's Daughter sign couldn't be beat, but what do I know? I certainly hadn't reckoned on Betty Beaver. We are all a little delirious from hunger and too much driving, but really that's hardly an excuse. Just see for yourself!

The diner is actually a truck stop, where if you fill up at their gas pumps you can get a free shower. There is a small convenience store, a room of rental videos off to the side, a dining room full of booths, and a nice old fashioned diner counter for the traditionalist in all of us. The food was excellent, and I followed up my meal with a delicious homemade coconut custard pie! Holy cow, I must say!!! Do try some if you are in the neighborhood. Chris tried the Mystery Pie (a chocolate oreo-type concoction that the waitress didn't know the name for), yum, and Tristan just ate mine. Ha!

Home once more, we play with the ducks (boy they are pushy -- two of them pile onto the dock to try to get Tristan to feed them more quickly).

Things get goofy back in the cabin. Tristan wonders what in the world is going on.

We can't seem to sit still. So, deciding we are gluttons for punishment (either that or we are worried that we won't find enough time during the week to thoroughly tour all of Lake George's wonders, you pick) we trot off to play mini golf at Around the World Golf! We decide to go for the exotic approach when forced to choose from the two courses available. Each is 18 holes, one being the actual "around the world" course, and the other being the U.S. version, featuring various states.

The giant guitar hole is pretty cool, but I really can't remember what country, exactly, it was supposed to represent. You golf down the neck of the guitar using its "strings", which are thin metal pipes, as runners. There is a slight widening of the strings near the mouth of the guitar if you golf the ball down the center of the neck. The rest is history.

Napoleon, having conquered Tristan's ball with his stomping, impetuous foot, coolly surveys the rest of his intended domain. Today a small red golf ball, tomorrow the world.

Meanwhile the boxing kangaroo of Australia meditatively ponders the giant sombrero of Mexico.

This tranquility obviously being too much for our wigged out touristy state-of-mind to take, violence erupts.

The horse-drawn ambulances cart us away giggling and swearing outrageously.

TO BE CONTINUED (stay tuned for days 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7!!!)
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