Onondaga Cave State Park

Adventurers: Julie, Becky and Michelle

Since we had shortened our backpack trip, we had time to explore the area. After an ironically cold night at Johnson’s Shut-ins, we decided to visit Onondaga Cave State Park. I had been here years earlier when my kids were little and it had been one of my favorite caves to visit.

The drive to the cave turned out to be quite the adventure. Michelle was planning on leaving for home right after our cave tour so we drove both vehicles with Michelle playing follow the leader. Since this was a last minute decision, we just threw the address into our phone GPS and headed out. All started well but we soon found ourselves on some gravel roads that kept getting narrower and narrower. We were kicking up quite a dust and wondered how Michelle was fairing with her broken window. We probably should have let her take the lead but her phone signal wasn’t as strong. Our “road” turned into little more than a goat path and we even came across intersections that did not even have road signs indicating who was to stop! Guess traffic isn’t much of an issue. Our mapping showed us getting closer and we continued on despite our concerns. Isn’t this how people end up trapped in mountains by blizzards or driving over cliffs?? I did not remember following goats paths the last time I went to the cave. We kept a sharp eye out for hazards and a sharp ear for banjos… Finally, at long last, we popped out onto a short stretch of paved road and wallah, the park entrance! Of course there was a nice, paved, real road leading to the entrance … from the other direction.

Michelle stepped out of her car, shook the dust off, and we went in to inquire about cave tours. I had no expectations other than wanting to see the lily pad room.

We started our tour with a greeting from a colorful salamander. When the cave tours originated, adventurers were brought through a narrow, dark passage on a wooden boat. Sounded fun but the boats no longer appear seaworthy!

Some speleothems, as they are officially called, were massive. This is particularly impressive when you consider that they are formed water drop by water drop over hundreds of years. The drops of water pick up minerals that are redeposited to form the ornate cave formations.

Other formations were more delicate, creating an otherworldly array of stalagmites, columns, soda straws and the like.

When the cave was first explored, the skeletal remains of a bear were discovered. One theory is that the bear entered the cave to hibernate but was unable to leave in the spring due to flooding.

The last part of the tour brought us to my favorite place, the lily pad room! This area is only 20 feet underground and is more active than other parts of the cave system. The experts aren’t sure why the “lily pads” form but the theory is that the water drips faster, runs down the forming stalagmite and spreads out from the base. In years past, people would toss pennies onto the lily pad formations and on my last visit, the tops were green from the oxidation of the pennies. The tour guide at that time said they no longer allowed people to throw pennies and were in the process of removing them. It was interesting to see the result of that removal and the return of the formations to their natural colors.

In some areas, the color differences were striking! The color of the formation is determined by the minerals that are deposited as they form.

Following our cave tour, Becky and I headed back to Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Michelle headed home to attend her son’s high school graduation. Another Herd of Turtle adventure in the books! And yes, we took the paved road back to Johnson’s Shut-Ins.

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