Gigantic limestone boulders surround the cavern entrance framed with railroad ties. Inside, old black lanterns light the dark pathway descending into the cave. We pass delicate, brown rock formations of two conjoined elephants with a monkey straddling their heads and a miniature Statue of Liberty, before ascending a stairway to another room. Tiny stalactites and stalagmites create a Little Town of Bethlehem display lit with red and blue lights. Glistening "cave ribbons" with coffee and cream-colored stripes, resemble pulled taffy. Every so often a droplet of water slides down a stalactite, splashing the gravel beneath it. I inhale deeply and smell the cool, damp air.
A small back room contains a "cave chimney" and a skinny cement staircase leading up to the original entrance. Millions of years old and growing very slowly, the height of the chimney hole reaches sixty feet. It is estimated that it will take approximately another 2,000 years for the chimney to create the first natural cave opening.
Shannon, our tour guide, points out fragile cave coral, also known as "cave popcorn," and ancient fossils on the towering walls. Trilobites, Brachiopods, and other creatures that once lived under the sea still cling to the rock in fossilized form. Shannon shows us tight coils of helictites (growths that defy gravity) emerging horizontally off the wall. Thin hollow tubes known as "soda straws," hang from the ceiling. Old, grooved seaworm trails wind through the sand-brown rock bed. Near the center of the cave on the ceiling, a section of black volcanic rock provides proof of tectonic plate activity.
Since the cave has no natural openings, no tales of cave dwellers exist. However, I find the story about the first explorers of the cavern amusing. A small hole discovered by miners was not large enough for a grown man to fit through. Seeking outside help, three local Boy Scouts jumped at the chance to investigate the cave. Lowered down by ropes, they explored the cave and reported their findings. After four years of preparation the show cave opened for business in 1932 as Wonderland Coral Caverns. Later, "Wonderland" was dropped from the name and a new, safer entrance dug out.
Another cave tale has a romantic side. In June 1984, the cave owner at the time, Steven Hall, married his sweetheart in the "Cathedral Room" with friends and family gathered by their sides. Wedding photos are on display in the cabin where tour tickets are purchased.
The tour runs twenty-five minutes in the fifty-two-degree cavern. The ancient history is very interesting. The coral reefs and fossils date back to the Devonian Period (354 - 417 million years ago), when most of the United States lay under The Great Inland Sea. To learn more about the Devonian Period, check The Devonian Period.
Coral Caverns is located in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in a small town called Manns Choice. To get there take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to exit 146 (old exit 11). Go south to the town of Bedford and take a right at the first light (Pitt Street, Route 30). Continue west on Route 30 to the Jean Bonnet Tavern. Bear left on to Route 31 West for three miles to Manns Choice. Just before the town, look for a large sign on the left and bear left. Then turn left on to Cavern Street.
The hours of operation are daily, 10am to 5pm July and August. During May, June, September, and October, the cave is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. The cavern is closed November through April.
For more information check Coral Caverns . The phone number is (814) 623-6882. For places to stay, eat, or other things to do in the area, check Bedford County or call (800) 765-3331.