Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Penn's Cave and State College

June finds us back in my old stomping ground of Pennsylvania, the staging area for our New England jaunt this summer. Plans are well under way for adding another seven states to our visited states map as we finally travel with the coach to the part of the country where we spent most of our lives. It seemed more important early on to hit some of the many places we had not yet visited. But now we are far enough removed from New England to feel like it will be a new experience to go back there. When we were there, we were in "work mode", so going back to play the tourist role should put another slant on things all together.

But getting ready for the next part of the trip doesn't mean all activity stops, and to that end we visited Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park in Centre Hall, PA. For those of you who may not know where that is, it is adjacent to a little place called "State College." Recently we listened to the back and forth banter of the Michigan State and Ohio State members of the LDMA at an outing in Michigan. Well, to all those new friends, State College is home to Penn State. Maybe you heard of us? We know a little bit about football here as well. It's a great school, in a beautiful area of the state and there is much to do and see in the area.
I'm no expert on spelunking, but I do think this is one of only a handful, if not the only cave in the world, that you can explore by boat. I do know from the brochure that it is the only such cave in the United States. And as the entire floor of the cave is covered by water year around, that is exactly how it was first explored after the opening was originally discovered. The toughest physical part of the tour is the steps down to the entrance- and that wasn't bad at all if you take it slow. It's darn steep.

The ride in the narrow flat boat through the cave takes about 50 minutes. The temperature was quite cold. Water temp stays at about 38 degrees. We bundled up for the trip.

Inside the view was quite terrific, as long as the lights from the boat remained on or the installed lights highlighting the features of the cave remained lit. Otherwise, it was dark to the point where you could not see your hand even right in front of your face.

At about the half way point in the trip, an opening in the cave appears and the underwater river exits the cave and opens into what surely felt to us like the lost world of all the science fiction stories.

It's a very small exit at this end of the cave and it serves to point out why the boats are shaped and sized the way they are- it's the only way they can make it through.

Above and below, the exit takes you into a beautiful little lake teeming with large trout.This beautiful swan, part of a mating pair that calls this place home swam over as if to welcome us.

Back in the cave on the return trip to the mouth of the cave, the formations all looked a lot different headed in this direction- evidence that the way we see things is always a matter of perspective.

What self respecting cave, especially one in a land that was once inhabited by native American Indians does not have a legend to explain its existence. Here is the story of Nita-Nee and her seven brothers. From the name of the lovely Indian maiden, the Nittany Lion of Penn State takes its name. This is, after all, lion country.

After touring the cave, we took a ride through the more or less open animal refuge that is part of the venue. There were a number of school trips visiting the park this day, so we were thrilled that the animal keeper decided to take us on our own private tour in his Hummer, rather than sticking us on the park bus with the kids. We do like kids, but trying to see shy wildlife from a bus filled with school kids is not my idea on how to best accomplish that goal. The keeper's consideration was much appreciated and it gave us a chance to learn far more in this one on one situation than if we had been part of a larger crowd.

The lions were cooperating nicely for the camera...

We came across three wolves. Big and Beautiful! But as everyone knows, they are nighttime critters and couldn't be bothered we us in the middle of the day. Still, they are part of a pack of wild wolves and keeping our distance was the order of the day.

Back at camp, it was time for the cicadas to start their hatch. They were coming out and drying their wings, but not yet beginning to "buzz" those wings like they will do later in the summer. Empty shells that they spent the winter in before emerging were littered everywhere around the bases of the trees. These guys were drying out on the fire ring. Not too sure if that's a good idea or not, but it did seem to be working for them so far....

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