Monday, January 14, 2013

(My) History of Caving in Rhode Island


With the relative quite of Winter upon us (at least for this explorer) let's see what topics of interest might be covered at this time. Since there seems be an interest - and following - from the Ocean State, let us look at the history of caving in that State. And yes I'm being serious - for a change.

My roots in caving and history go back a long way now. Just under .... 50 years now. But both developed alongside of one another right from that first cave visit out in the Marble Heart of the Berkshires. And history has always been one of my greatest tools for locating those caves. So starting with perhaps the 'Father' of modern day caving (and one of my influences) and it's history - Clay Perry. Let's see what old Clay had to say on Rhode Island caves. Really - not much. Between two books published in 1939 and 1946 he lists the same four identical entries:

The Spouting Cave - near Newport

Purgatory - west end Sachuset Beach

Hanging Rocks

Pirates' Cave

[Hanging Rocks is an obvious feature in Middletown and I would assume the Pirates' Cave mentioned is the Newport location]

Now if we leave Clay for but a minute I'll flash forward to the late 1990's. By that time I had been exposed to the myths and legends of Rhode Island 'caves' but never really put any effort to investigate further. It was on one cold Winter day I was involved in an engaging instant message discussion with Steve Stokowski, then of the Boston Grotto. Steve had come upon (likely another Grotto member) some pages from a history of an area in northwest Rhode Island. The Wallum Lake area to be exact. In these pages were the the description and pictures of caves in the vicinity of that Lake.


Coon Cave entrance; early 1900s



Coon Cave entrance in more modern times

Now it had been said many times that Little Rhody was the only (or one of two) States that did not have a cave. So greatly excited by the prospect of finding a 'real' cave. The Clay Perry references had never seen much credibility as far as caving went but I had learned by that time the definition of a cave was highly subjective.



Entrance to North Dinosaur Cave

So there were a number of years spent trying to locate a variety of caves in northwest: Coon Cave, Counterfeiters Den (still not located), and Cooper's Den . The search that eventually expanded down to the very southwest sections of the State: Dinosaur Caves, along with minor features Pioneer Caves and Glacier Cave. Once again sifting through the pages of history brought the mention of a cave(s) in the Warwick area and a Pirate Cave down in the Jamestown area.


Entrance to Cooper's Den upper left

It was just before the middle part of the Century's first decade that more and more time was spent down along the ocean. At this point I got my first look at the Hanging Rocks, Purgatory, a bit of the Pirates' Cave, and (from a distance) the rocks of Spouting Cave, also more commonly know as Spouting Rock. It seems some stories persist of this 'formation' (realistically a 'sea-spout') being at least partially destroyed. Everything from the hurricane of '38 to a landowner dynamiting it were the reported causes.

Other sources provided what was to be one of the 'premiere' - but entirely difficult it not dangerous caves to access: a bona fide sea cave in the Narragansett Bay area. It was at this time after countless walks and climbs along the rocky coastlines, a sea approach was considered a serious necessity. So in the summer of 2010 I joined the ranks of kayakers and accessed that sea cave within the Narragansett Bay one early August morning as dawn and low tide coincided. This time period also saw my interest expand into locating sea formed caves, an interest that persists to this day.

Rounding out the 'cave' search were a number of rock shelters and minor features, primarily throughout central to south-western Rhode Island. Some of these were sites that did see Native American use long ago.

So although the preceding doesn't cover every nook and cranny I've stuck my head into, it does provide a summary from which to go forward. Ciao.