There are over 350 different climbing routes up Seneca Rocks, making it something of a climber’s mecca on the East Coast. Several climbing schools located nearby make full use of the wide range of technical challenges. There’s an impressive visitor center at the base of the rocks, and along its terrace telescopes have been set up so that climbers can be observed. I’ve never really understood the appeal of rock climbing, but watching the climbers gingerly positioning themselves on the sheer face of Seneca Rocks provides an agreeable ‘thank-god-I’m-not-up-there’ sensation.
Eight miles to the east along Rt. 33 lie Seneca Caverns, one of several major caverns in the area. Smoke Hole Caverns are nearby, not to mention the numerous non-commercial caves popular with spelunkers. While Seneca Caverns arent as impressive as Luray Caverns located just over Virginia border, they’re not nearly as crowded.
I visited early one summer morning, arriving before tours started. I went over to log-cabin-style Seneca Caverns Restaurant, hoping to get some coffee, but found it wasn’t open for breakfast. As I turned to leave, a waitress opened the door and invited me on in. Two employees were having breakfast and soon I’d joined them, wolfing down freshly baked biscuits smothered in sausage gravy – down-home cooking at its best. Hummingbirds were zipping around the feeder just outside the window as I was regaled with the tale of how one of the men had shot the black bear holding pride of place in a corner of the dining room. I was charged a token fee of a couple bucks for this "only in West Virginia" breakfast.
The caverns themselves were very much the standard issue, winding through a series of artfully lit chambers, one of which, "The Grand Ballroom," was admittedly quite impressive. The tour was conducted by a sweet-faced middle-aged woman who had obviously memorized the tour script word-for-word. Speaking in a peculiar sing-song cadence, she pronounced every indefinite article with a long "a" sound – "Here is A column formed by A stalactite and A stalagmite" - like a child reading aloud from a book. What fascinated me most was that she would lapse into normal speech whenever I asked her a question that derailed her from the script. But she’d always pick up the thread of her script again, switching back to the stilted sing-song recitation. I was so intrigued by this phenomenon that I asked question after question, just to hear her do this.
June 27, 2004
From journal Caverns, Critters, and Class V Cataracts