As summer's heat is settling in, June's Mountain State Mini (a three-day Wild, Wonderful West Virginia vacation) moves us toward a cooler climate near the foot of Allegheny Mountain east of Harman where two major caving excursions are offered. Only an hour from Elkins, Smoke Hole Caverns and Seneca Caverns afford families experiences that are not only full of fun and recreation, but also education.
Featuring the world's longest ribbon stalactite, Smoke Hole Caverns maintains a 56-degree, year-round temperature. Originally a Seneca Indian site where slow-burning wood fires were built to smoke wild game, the smoke settled throughout the valley. Mountain dwellers named the area Smoke Hole.
The secluded cavern area also was a desired spot to make corn whiskey after the Civil War. At one time, an estimated 20 stills operated there. Part of the cavern tour will illustrate this.
Photo by Shannon Bennett Campbell
Well-lighted areas allow Smoke Hole Cavern explorers safe walking amid the many formations they will pass during their visit.
Open year round, visitors will find more than just a cavern tour offered. Comfortable cabins are available for rent with pool accommodations. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing await in the nearby North Fork of the Potomac River's South Branch.
Boasting the largest Gift Shop in West Virginia, groups are hosted daily and honeymooners are often found there. Call 800-828-8478 or www.smokehole.com for more information.
Another temperature-taming tour a few miles away near Riverton can be taken at Seneca Caverns, the oldest recorded West Virginia cave. First open in l928, a nice picnic area invites family lunches. A new full-menu restaurant is near the cave opening.
Two- and a half hour-adventure tours are available and several are scheduled daily.
In addition to the regular caves at Seneca is the Stratosphere Cave open to guests age l3 and older. It is undeveloped with visually stunning geological formations.
Children will enjoy the opportunity to do gemstone mining near the cave opening. Nice souvenir hard hats can be found in the gift room. Call l-304-567-2691 or visit senecacaverns.com to reserve your spot to go down under.
Throughout this area, bikers, photographers and campers thrive.
Between Seneca Rocks and Petersburg, a bevy of new cabins have been built for vacationers.
Horseback riding also is a possibility at Yokum's Stables at Seneca Rocks for those age 6 and older. Reservations are suggested by calling 304-567-2466 or online at email@example.com .
If outdoor camping is desired, Yokum's Vacationland Campgrounds, 304-567-2352, situated at the Mouth of Seneca has a facility beside a mountain stream where overnight stays are possible. Harper's Old Country Store sits just across the road for any necessary items forgotten. Their Front Porch Restaurant sits atop the store for a convenient home-cooked meal.
I am pleased to share with you this cool place conveniently located for a quick, low-cost drive. Not only will the crisp and clean air be uplifting, but the entire family can learn a lot while adding pep to a ho-hum day.
We are reminded of the words of Rosalyn Yalow, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in l977. "The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you're learning, you're not old."
Explore, keep cheerful, stay young. These things are all attainable for those who have membership in the Mountain State.