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Author Topic: Touring the Underworld with Porte Crayon (1853)  (Read 3844 times)
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Paul Hamilton
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« on: 08-Jan-12, 01:09:22 pm »

Last weekend we visited Grand Caverns, near Shenandoah Regional Airport (SHD).  There’s much more to it than that, so here is a trip report.
 
The story began when I found some 1856 lithographs showing what appeared to be highly idealized views of something called Weyer’s Cave, in Virginia.  Victorian tourists, decked out in top hats and hoop skirts, regarded the formations with utter fascination, viewing them with the aid of candles with tin reflectors.
 
I did a search on Weyer’s Cave, and quickly found SHD, because that’s the town where SHD is.  Further research determined that 1) SHD has multiple courtesy cars, 2) Weyer’s Cave is now Grand Caverns, 3) the entrance to Grand Caverns is only a few miles from the airport, and 4) a forgotten writer-illustrator who called himself Porte Crayon visited the cave in 1853, wrote about it in Harper’s, and was the artist responsible for some of the pictures that has so captivated me.  Antiquarians may enjoy his trip report from 1853 at:  http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/porte.crayon/porte.html.  The Shenandoah Valley was a wild and mysterious place then.  It still is, it turns out, but one has to know where to look.
 
The flight was mostly IMC at 6,000 feet.  Routing from VKX was direct BRV direct, and about 50 minutes each way: http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N6309V/history/20111231/2000Z/KSHD/KVKX/tracklog We broke out over the Blue Ridge and proceeded to the airport.  A Luscombe Silvaire landed just ahead of us, the pilot doing a great job with the 18 knot crosswind.  We watched him land while we were on downwind, and he never wandered more than a foot from the centerline. SHD is what an airport should be, offering quick, no-hassle ground transportation.  We were on the road minutes after we landed.
 
The cave is amazing! The lithographs are highly accurate depictions of the experience.  It’s a classic case of a once-popular and famous destination bypassed by the Interstate and nearly forgotten.  It’s the country’s oldest show (commercial) cave, as it opened in 1806, with an astounding nhistory that includes underground formal balls (with orchestra) and Civil War action.  It’s very low-key – no rock pianos, minimal lighting, no hype.  In other words, unlike most show caves, it’s a natural wonder, not a theme park.  Best day trip ever.  I’ve learned that Western Virginia is full of both history and forgotten natural wonders and we will visit more of them.  I also want to support places like SHD that make general aviation convenient and useful.  We put about $60 into the local economy, and it was a bargain for what we got.  If you want to see the cave and flight, try:
 
http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/sharing/shareRedirectSwitchBoard.jsp?token=5141994070103%3A386704083
 
As a ”thank you” to our guide, Porte Crayon, also known as David Hunter Strother, I got him some national publicity:
 
http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=8144
 
 
Paul
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« Reply #1 on: 08-Jan-12, 01:24:26 pm »

That was way cool Paul. Good times, loved the pics. Thanks
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Patti from Kentucky
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« Reply #2 on: 08-Jan-12, 02:06:25 pm »


Thanks Paul, it looks like a nice cave.  We enjoy touring caves, which is easy since we have both the Indiana and Kentucky cave countries within spitting distance.  Mammoth Cave N.P. is one of those heavily toured, heavily marketed caves you talk about, but it's so enormous there are many tours offered, some of which are "historic", or by lantern light only, and have few participants.  Their Wild Cave tour is one of the most strenuous things I've ever done (and I was in my early 30's when I did it) -- every muscle in my body was sore!  We've also done plenty of trips to Mammoth Cave where we didn't bother going into the cave at all since the hiking, birding, and biking there is so good.

One of my favorite experiences as a high school Girl Scout was an overnight in Southern Indiana cave called Marengo...sleeping bags just spread out on the cave floor.  They turned the lights entirely out, so when you woke up in the middle of the night you were in utter darkness...and had to feel around for your flashlight if you needed to visit the latrine.  Very cool.
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Patti from Kentucky
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« Reply #3 on: 08-Jan-12, 02:08:22 pm »

Now that you have me babbling on about Caves, another great experience was the bat show at Carlsbad.  We actually planned that trip specifically to see the gazillions of bats exit the cave at night; the rest was just a bonus.
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Annette
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« Reply #4 on: 08-Jan-12, 02:14:51 pm »

Nice and very interesting picture report! I love that brown bat!  thumbsup
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Wing Goose
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« Reply #5 on: 08-Jan-12, 04:22:44 pm »

Very interesting slide show Paul.  Really
enjoyed it.  Catherine is piloting?  Wow,
I am impressed.  Good for all of you.
                 dance1good post dance1
                         Lola
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Lola
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« Reply #6 on: 09-Jan-12, 05:33:50 am »

Thanks Paul!  A number of interesting tidbets jumped out at me the Harpers connection being the first.  My old home of Greenwood Lake was featured in Harpers (used to be a copy for sale on eBay, haven't looked recently) because of the railroad and the "easy" accessability to NYC (50-60 miles NNW).  I'm guessing that your cave at 110 miles was a bit more of a journey for Richmond and DC tourists.  However, 110 miles is a very doable overnight trip for those of us that don't fly. 

Like you, we are finding western Virginia to be a treasure trove of places and things to do.  A number of terrific wineries out there, btw.  Stauton (a wonderful old town), Waynesboro (Wildlife Center of VA), UVA, and I-81 are all nearby.  Lynchburg and Roanoke are a bit further away, but very much part of the overall area.

You won't get me into a cave, but I do appreciate the beauty and wonder.  Thanks again.
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Paul Hamilton
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« Reply #7 on: 10-Jan-12, 11:45:00 am »

Janet is absolutely right.  Google Maps says the drive from the DC area to Grottoes, VA, is about 150 miles and 3 hours.  You could start out in the morning, stop at a winery, spend time at the caverns (or the nearby Natural Chimneys -- good birding and return, all in a day trip, although, all the interesting B&Bs make an overnight stay very attractive.

Other western Virginia wonders include hot springs for bathing (Thomas Jefferson visited them and may have designed the rustic, enclosure that dates to 1761), a river that vanishes underground and reappears some miles away, a natural bridge, lots of waterfalls, and valleys so steeply-cut as to convince you that you have just entered a Chinese woodcut print.

Paul
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« Reply #8 on: 10-Jan-12, 11:59:21 am »

 wave That was fun Paul thanks for taking us along!  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: 11-Jan-12, 04:58:59 am »

Janet is absolutely right.  Google Maps says the drive from the DC area to Grottoes, VA, is about 150 miles and 3 hours.  You could start out in the morning, stop at a winery, spend time at the caverns (or the nearby Natural Chimneys -- good birding and return, all in a day trip, although, all the interesting B&Bs make an overnight stay very attractive.

Other western Virginia wonders include hot springs for bathing (Thomas Jefferson visited them and may have designed the rustic, enclosure that dates to 1761), a river that vanishes underground and reappears some miles away, a natural bridge, lots of waterfalls, and valleys so steeply-cut as to convince you that you have just entered a Chinese woodcut print.

Paul

To continue singing the praises of Western VA, the Natural Bridge is off I-81 and if you ARE out that far, dinner at the Bavarian Chef in Madison is a must.  As for the B&B's, Virginia has a number of them and some WONDERFUL Inns and Spas (plan to overnight in Charlottesville, for example).  Go!  Get out of town, hit I-66 and Go!
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