A blog by Outdoor Afro Leader Victoria Evans of Pennsylvania, who shares how visiting a cave with kids can cause a seismic shift in how they might perceive these natural treasures.
After the heat and haze of August, the day started with a refreshing crispness, which was good because there is a spectacular view from the top of Chestnut Ridge where the entrance to Laurel Caverns is hidden among the trees. Laurel Caverns is the largest cave in Pennsylvania with 3 miles of passages.
When I started planning this Outdoor Afro trip, I told my 4-year -old grandson we were going in a cave. He kind of knew what a cave was from Batman, but had some questions about what might be lurking in the cave–you know, alligators, sharks, vampire bats, and other assorted monsters like in cartoon caves. After I assured him that was not the case, I realized how much of a bad rap caves have–dark, wet, scary–and I wanted to make sure this trip would help shed some light on the true nature of caves.
When Evan and I got to Laurel Caverns at noon, Latoya and her family were waiting and absolutely excited to explore the cave on the 1-hour guided tour. So we got our tickets and hopped on the next tour. We entered a small room with a lot of other people for an introduction about the cave and what we would see. Then the tour guide opened a door and cool damp air filled the room and we descended into the cave.
We wound our way down more than five stories into the mountain through a series of passageways that are sometimes wide or narrow or sloping up or down. We stopped along the way where the guide pointed to names scratched in the walls of the cave by early explorers. She told us about how caves are formed by running water eroding the rock over time, and if you are lucky enough to have a drop of water land on your head, you will have 7 years of good luck. Different chambers and rock formations in the cave have names, like the Great Hall, the Devil’s Staircase, the Sea Turtle, and the Grand Canyon. The guide told us the early explorers used these landmarks to find their way through the cave before there were maps to guide them.
I was so proud of the kids for asking the guide questions about the cave, like “what kind of animals live in the cave and what minerals could you find in the cave?” I was also proud of our youngest adventurers. They were so brave when the guide turned out the lights to show everyone how dark it really is in a cave. They never uttered a peep, but seemed relieved when the lights came back on.
Back at the surface we panned for gems and each adventurer filled a bag with gems and crystal to take home. We finished our trip with a little lesson on how to use the binoculars so we could take in the view of the valley below, and we talked about other adventures we could have outdoors in the coming months. As we piled back into ours cars to head down the mountain, it felt good to see the excitement of the children discovering the natural world and the strength within themselves to overcome their fears.
Later at my house, my grandson and I talked about the cave and the dark. We also spent some time in the little bathroom downstairs with the lights off and the faucet dripping because he said “it is like the dark cave,” demonstrating to me that there are benefits, beyond what we might anticipate, of spending time in the natural world that can change us in very profound ways.