Over The River And Through The Woods
Thanksgiving Dinner At Granny's
Written for the SCAG newsletter in December 1994.
I had started making plans about four years ago, and had to postpone the trip each year, but this time I was determined. Some years we spend Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law's and most years we go to my mother-in-law's, but this year I wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner at Granny's House. So it was that Trina and I arrived at Rich's place at about 4:00 Wednesday afternoon in the midst of serious flurries that were trying very hard to look like winter had arrived.
I had invited many people to go with me, but as the time grew closer most people seemed to have other plans. I began resorting to pressure, and a few people said that they wanted to go, but want and will are not the same. Trina was definite from the first time I suggested that she come along; when a week ahead of time Rich said he was a "definite maybe", I knew that I had a trip that was not dependent on others. Perhaps we would still hook up with others but we had our trip, and we knew that we would have that turkey dinner at Granny's.
As we headed west on route 84 through Pennsylvania we found that the flurries in New York had bigger and stronger relatives out west, toward Scranton, and we hurtled down the interstate at nearly forty miles an hour. When we were moving, that is. After dinner in Wilkes-Barre we spent almost an hour driving three miles south on 81, then cruised at thirty for over an hour before stopping dead for twenty minutes. Obviously all those people who shouldn't drive in bad weather had Thanksgiving plans of their own, and none of those plans involved staying home. We were fortunate to be stopped right next to an exit ramp and a look at the map convinced us to get off and take the secondary roads. Twenty minutes later we were back on the interstate 15 miles further south, with only the traffic that was getting on at the same entrance. We pulled into that night's destination at about 2:30 am, completing a 6 hour ride in only 10 1/2 hours. We were in the George Washington National Forest just south of Front Royal, Virginia, and there was an inch of snow on the ground. We threw down a tarp, covered it with enso pads and sleeping bags, and went to sleep.
Thanksgiving morning dawned cold, crisp, and clear. We rolled out of bed at 7:30 and went in search of breakfast. An hour later we were again headed south down the interstate with Crossroads Cave firmly in the cross-hairs. Of course, just because you're aiming at something doesn't mean you'll hit it, and we spent a bit of time trying to locate the cave. Fortunately we found some hunters on the side of the road and they were able to get us there. We entered the cave about 1:00.
Crossroads is a mostly joint-controlled maze, and despite having a map it took a while to find our way much beyond the entrance room. My only previous trip into the cave had been during a rescue, and we had simply followed a guide without learning our way; that trip had seemed so easy, but on this trip we had to do a bit of hunting around to find one of the twelve ways to the "Duck Waddle". I'm not sure but I think we found the most obscure of the twelve ways. To be safe we flagged the route so that we wouldn't have to waste time on the way out. At least there were a bunch of pretties on the way, and there were even more once we had passed the duck waddle. We spent a couple of hours exploring some tall, well-decorated joint passage, then located a very pretty but tight shortcut back to the duck waddle, through which we stooped. We began following our flagging and discovered that what had been obvious on the way in was now confusing, and despite the flagging we still had to search a bit. As it turned out we followed a much simpler route which we probably won't find the next time.
We exited at 5:00 and changed into cleaner clothes and hit the road once more; we still had about two hours to go to Granny's. On the way we drove through Warm Springs where we watched steam rise from the stream alongside the road. I suggested that we stop and stick our fingers in the water, reflected for a moment, and suggested that we stop and stick our bodies in the water, but my companions were tired and hungry so we pressed on, firm in the belief that our turkey dinner was waiting at Granny's.
Two hours later we pulled into Granny's where we found several other groups already having dinner. Granny's is something of an institution in the White Sulphur Springs area, even with the locals. There were lots of choices, but the turkey and stuffing with two veggies for $5.25 was our unanimous favorite, and all three of us ordered it. Fully satiated by our dinner we headed over to the Greenbrier Mountainaire Campground and set up camp. After a nice hot shower we turned in at the much more reasonable hour of 10:30.
Once again morning dawned cold and clear. We got up and cooked breakfast, then headed over to Organ Cave to talk to George, the owner. Pulling into the parking lot we spotted a car with Jersey plates, but no caver stickers. Moments later, who should wander out of the gift shop but our very own Emily, followed by Joe Levinson. When we entered the gift shop we discovered that Bob and Nice Bob were there, too. The four of them were preparing for a trip into Organ. Emily introduced me to George. Even though I've met him before he probably doesn't know me from Adam, so the introduction certainly didn't hurt our chances of securing permission to go caving the following day. With that out of the way we headed off to Acme to spend the day there.
Acme is both a mine and a cave. Mines and caves, really. There are no known caves in Acme mine #4, but in mine #5 there are several pieces of what was probably one cave before the mining removed pieces of it (and left many more entrances than must have been there originally). This makes for lots of short trips with brief intermissions as you explore through the cave until you pop back out into the mine to hunt around for another piece of cave. Whereas we had difficulty locating the parking area for Crossroads but then knew where the entrance was, today we parked easily and then couldn't find the first entrance I looked for, which I was sure was a big obvious entrance. In the course of our search we did discover that there is more mine than I remembered, so perhaps there is more cave that I don't yet know about, but that will wait for another trip. After a brief search I decided that it would be more expedient to enter by an entrance that leads to the middle of the cave and then backtrack to the entrance that we had first looked for. Prior to this trip, Trina's caving experience had consisted of a trip to Salamander and a trip to Pompey's (where she only saw the historic section), so even though Crossroads is nice, she was about to get a pleasant surprise. As soon as we were in the cave instead of the mine we began our slow descent into the intoxication produced by extreme aesthetic overload. We passed a huge cone of ancient flowstone which was exfoliating from the sediment pile it had formed on. As we descended further into the cave we passed ceiling pendants, then entered a canyon filled with formations. There were active and inactive formations, and positively ancient looking formations. There were cave corals, popcorn and helictites. There were brown formations and there were white formations. There were soda straws and fat, gnarled stalactites. In no time at all we had gone fifty feet. Still there were formations everywhere. As we backtracked towards the entrance we hadn't found, the cave became drier (another pleasant contrast to northeastern caves) and soon the walls were covered with a gypsum crust. In short order we located the entrance and found that the big obvious entrance I had been looking for was concealed behind a small hole in the mine, which we had probably walked within 10 feet of.
After exiting we returned to the middle entrance and proceeded to explore the second half of that piece of cave, again succumbing to aesthetic intoxication as we wandered amidst the abundant formations. Too soon we reached the end, but as we exited into the mine we simply walked straight ahead for two yards and ducked into the next entrance. I quickly decided that I should get my camera, so we took a brief break to get my photo gear, as well as follow some of Winston Churchill's advice (you'll have to figure it out). An hour later I had finished one roll of film and we decided to move on to the upper levels of the cave.
Once again the entrances we had used on our last trip proved elusive, so we entered by way of a short climb which was less exposed than I remembered. After a very short trip down one of the many dead ends we found the proper route and proceeded along. At a junction I made a short reconnaissance and found one of the entrances we had looked for in a place we had been sure it wasn't. We continued down a meandering passage that, had it been taller, would have been very much a canyon but the sediment floor was only eight feet below the ceiling. Somewhat further on we came to some signs warning us to stay left; doing so we passed by a forty foot pit in the floor. The passage was in fact a canyon almost fifty feet high, but the fill kept us quite close to the top. Just before the pit this fill forms a false floor about two feet thick; we paused to speculate on the first discoverer of this phenomenon- was he still down there? Was it difficult to get him out? Like me, was he plagued by morbid thoughts whenever the floor had a hollow sound? It was now late enough that we were concerned that we might not be able to get out in time to prevent our safety contact from beginning to worry, but we pressed on anyway. We soon reached what appeared to be the end of this section, and quickly retraced our route exiting by the entrance I had wanted to find earlier; it was in the same place that we were sure that the other entrance hadn't been. We made our phone call deadline by two minutes.
We has another excellent meal at Granny's and a good night's sleep, and it was time to go caving again. Somehow we rapidly got our act together, and even after wasting time calling Bob and Bob to see if we could come buy some stuff (it cost us 75 cents to find out that they must not be open on Saturday) we arrived at Organ Cave by 10:00 AM. Since George runs a commercial tour and wild tours but was letting us have free run in his cave we returned the favor by browsing through the gift shop. Between the three of us we spent almost $70.00, but you can never have too many T-shirts. George told us to have a good time and said that if we should get lost to simply come on out and tell him and he would come in and find us. In a flagrant breach of tradition, we walked through the entrance at 11:00 AM, as the cave sucked large quantities of cold air. The wind chill at the gate must have been in the low 20's, but we were soon far enough in that we became warm. We took a short side trip to the saltpeter room, and then headed down the main passage to the 1812 route and then the Gypsum Passage. The Gypsum Passage is about 1000 feet long and we spent 45 minutes traversing its length, not because of the difficulty, but because of the incredible abundance of gypsum flowers. On the way we mentioned the Throne Room, but wouldn't tell Trina why it was so named. She was pretty well convinced that there was some scatological significance (for a beginning caver she understands us quite well). When we reached the Throne Room I had her close her eyes, and I led her to the room's namesake and sat her down. I think she was relieved (if you think that there is some sort of sick pun there it's not intended, and it's not my fault that you have a sick mind) upon finding nothing more than a comfy seat. We signed the register and then cruised downstream to the waterfall room where Trina had an Epiphany wherein she was visited by the God Of Huge Cave who cursed her so that forever after she will take a perverse pleasure in crawling in cold, tight, muddy New York caves while suffering in the knowledge that life could be so much better if only she was further south. Epiphanies are quite draining so we paused for a snack, and then worked our way through the breakdown to the bottom of Bowen Drop, a 130 foot flowstone cascade which marks the beginning of Big Canyon. On my previous trip to Big Canyon Rob and I had explored a short distance, but we were in the company of wimps and wusses who didn't want to wade in the water even though it was balmy by New York standards; we saw only enough to know that we were missing out by turning around so soon. This time around I browbeat my companions into continuing. It was easy to do - I simply wandered downstream a bit, then came back and told them it was pretty. We happily waded through knee-deep water while constantly looking up, as we traversed about 1000 feet of the canyon. Again we suffered the terrible delirium of sensory overload, until the time and a brief absence of speleothems caused us to finally turn around and head out. As a last little excursion we took a trip to see the rest of the commercial tour route, and exited seven hours after we had started.
We finished changing just in time to say goodnight to George as he closed up, and to thank him once again. We decided to break camp and start the trip home since the weather report predicted rain, so it was about 8:00 when we stopped at Granny's for our last meal. We had only been there for a few minutes when Carroll Bassett (whom we had thought we might hook up with) walked in with Neal Lieberman, John Battaglino and Bob Cohen. We moved to a larger table so that we might all BS our way through dinner. We eventually left and drove to Harrisonburg, Virginia where we found that Motel 6 has nothing bigger than double beds. Fortunately, Rich volunteered to sleep on the floor, so I didn't have to snuggle up to him in the hideously under-sized bed. Some laconic idiot had left a light on, but by closing the drapes we were able to get a decent night's sleep. In the morning we ate our last meal at a Waffle House (last at a Waffle House, not last of the trip), and drove to Luray where we took the tour of Luray Caverns just to fill out the trip and finish my last roll of film. We returned to New York just in time to enjoy the first real snow of ski season.
Unfortunately, some of my relatives (including one close relative with too much clout) think that I should spend future Thanksgivings with them, so it will be a couple of years before I get to have Thanksgiving dinner at Granny's again, but Memorial day is only six months away. Maybe it's just stream noises, but I think I hear voices calling me back to Big Canyon.