Underground Beauties

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If you have a touch of explorer in you and appreciate natural beauty, then grab a good pair of sneakers and a jug of water, and head north to Ausable Chasm in Keeseville, just an hour from Lake George. Called the "Grand Canyon of the East", Ausable Chasm is a masterpiece created by Mother Nature, a secret you’re not keyed into when you pull into the parking lot. 

From the deck of the Welcome Center, Ausable Chasm looks simply like a majestic waterfall. Oh, how quickly things change as your tour guide unlocks the gate to the route that takes you 100 feet down to the banks of the rushing waters. If you’re lucky to get "Captain Kirk" Baughman as your guide, you won’t miss a piece of history or beauty this chasm has to offer. He has spent the last six years of his retirement giving tours. Roughly 50,000 annual visitors travel to the chasm, which was formed an estimated 500 million years ago.

"To me it’s a magical place. There’s natural history and human history," he said as we descend down the first of what looks like hundreds of steps to the bottom. 

Baughman explained it simply, "The powerful water over the rock is what created the chasm."

To be more exact, the chasm was formed when natural faults in the earth’s surface began to slowly erode from glaciers. As time passed, the rushing water of the Ausable River began cutting its way into what’s called the "Potsdam" sandstone strata. 

To see the impressive views of the deep rift, the new adventure tour takes visitors over bridges and through rocky trails. One of the first stops on the tour brings you face to face with the "Elephant’s Head." 

"It’s a natural creation. The water wore it and left what looks like an elephant’s head," explained Baughman. 

A little further downstream, you’ll encounter Hyde’s Cave which sits above the water level. It was created as a result of flood waters long ago, a sign of the ancient history inside this chasm. Upstream, you’ll see the ruins of a historic Nail Factory and, weather permitting, you will then continue into the mist of the powerful Rainbow Falls. 

For a different perspective of the chasm, visitors can also take a walking tour on the other side of the river. The inner sanctum trail, which is lined with red pine and cedar trees, descends deep into the chasm for riverside views from bridges and walkways. Visitors can also stroll along the rim trail for spectacular views of the cliffs and caves. After about a mile into this walk, visitors encounter a refreshing break by hopping aboard a raft. 

Said Baughman, "On the rafting tour, you’re floating along the narrowest and deepest part of the river." In the heat of the summer he said its one of the best ways to learn about the history.

After a long day on the trail and in the raft you can take a trolley back to the Welcome Center. Now it’s time to start planning your next adventure at another upstate underground beauty.

Howe Caverns is located in Howes Cave, east of Cobleskill and west of Albany, just off 1-88. Howe Caverns is a destination for kids and adults alike who have always wanted to see a cave up close. And you won’t be disappointed – it’s a living limestone cave 156-feet below the earth’s surface, carved by an underground river over the course of six-million years. If you think that sounds impressive, wait until you step inside. 

"Every time I go down I see and experience something different," said Kathy Condon of Howe Caverns. 

Once you head down in the elevator, your tour guide will lead you out through the main cavern under enormous boulders that hang overhead. On the walking tour, you will gaze at beautiful rock formations, like titans temple and the pipe organ, and head to the shores of the Lake of Venus. Here, you grab a boat ride and head into a sea of darkness that cloaks the natural beauty of the caves. On your trip back, you will stop at what’s called the "Bridal Altar". It’s named this because of the "lattice" heart that adorns it. Visitors are allowed to kneel at the altar, which has also been the site of nearly 600 underground weddings. 

Howe Caverns, which attracts 160,000 visitors a year, was discovered in 1842, when Lester Howe wanted to know why, in the heat of the summer a cool breeze emerged from a spot on his neighbor’s land where his cows consistently grazed. When Howe went to investigate the area, he noticed the temperature was getting cooler. He then slowly moved aside a set of bushes where the cool air was coming from and found what’s called "Blowing Rock", known now as the entrance to the cave. Howe and his neighbor explored their find, then opened the cave to visitors the following year. 

Since then, much has changed: elevators have been installed, as well as lighting and cement walkways. There are also plans to add a new hotel and indoor water park to the site, as well as rides and amusements, which include a zip line and alpine slide, all at an estimated price between $40-$50 million. 

These additions will certainly fill a void, since, according to Condon people are always asking what else there is to do once they have toured the cave. 

"We want to make this a destination, but the cave will always be the focal point."

For more information about tours and accommodations at the "underground beauties" long onto: www.howecaverns.com and www.ausablechasm.com.

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